Tryptophan—you’ve probably heard of it in the context of Thanksgiving turkey. The fact that turkey is rich in mood-massaging tryptophan has long been waved around as one of those “interesting factoids” with which people regale each other at cocktail parties. Tryptophan-packed turkey has also been used to helpfully explain why your family’s Thanksgiving banquet inevitably features you nodding off in the middle of Aunt Marge’s umpteenth retelling of her Yellowstone Park story. Yes, tryptophan is an organic relaxant.
What’s more, your body is able to turn tryptophan into the neurotransmitter Seratonin (sometimes called the “feel-good neurotransmitter” for its chemical deliverables of well-being and happiness), and the hormone Melatonin (which connects us to circadian sleeping and waking rhythms). Tryptophan is a trip. But in order for your body to draw this magic out of tryptophan, you first have to get it into you.
Tryptophan is one of the nine essential amino acids, meaning it is necessary to our body chemistry, but is not produced by the body; it has to be eaten. The tryptophan found in animal products can have a difficult time crossing the human blood-brain barrier (BBB) due to some blockage associated with accompanying animal proteins. Where does one find unfettered tryptophan if not in the baby-back pork ribs and tri-tip just delivered to your table? Hint: the answer is mostly underfoot, or thwacking you in the face from low-hanging branches: bananas, split peas, kidney beans, red leaf lettuce, mustard greens, asparagus, pumpkin seeds—the list of vegetables that practically burst with tryptophan is a long one. Eat your found tryptophan with a smallish side of carbs, and the competing amino acids will be efficiently directed to muscle and bone, leaving lonely tryptophan to pass easily into the brain through the BBB bouncer’s velvet rope without the distracting chemical chatter of its amino pals.
The positivity we require as living animals surrounds us like wallpaper. It’s everywhere we look. “Nature”, the incomprehensibly complex machine that produces our bodies, is designed to nurture us. Let it.
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