Tryptophan, Turkey, and Thanksgiving! Oh my!

Many of you have probably heard about tryptophan found in turkey that causes that post-Thanksgiving dinner sluggishness. But what is tryptophan exactly? Tryptophan is actually an essential amino acid that cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through diet. Tryptophan is used by the body in many ways. For example, niacin, which is important in the regulation of blood sugar levels and lowering cholesterol, is a vitamin that is a result of the conversion of tryptophan by the liver. The amino acid can also raise serotonin levels; serotonin helps regulate sleep, appetite, and mood. Low serotonin levels can cause depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

We can now see that tryptophan is important to consume in order to maintain one’s health, so what foods, besides turkey, have it? Some foods that are rich in tryptophan are chicken, tuna, salmon, lamb, shrimp, tofu, spinach, and asparagus. Equally important as consuming foods containing tryptophan is consuming the vitamins and minerals needed to allow that body to use this amino acid. Vitamin B6 is required by the body in order to convert the amino acid into niacin and serotonin. Also vitamin c, folic acid, and magnesium are required for the processing of tryptophan by the body.

By now you are probably torn between wanting to make sure your tryptophan intake is adequate and not wanting to consume foods containing tryptophan because of the supposed sluggishness that results. The good news is that while tryptophan can make you a little tired, it is not the cause of that extreme post-Thanksgiving dinner sluggishness. In fact, the tryptophan level in turkey is too low to make you tired. That’s right.  The culprit behind that sluggishness is eating too much. Processing all that food would make anyone tired.


Does the Tryptophan in Turkey Make You Drowsy? Bytesize Science. Prod. Bytesize Science. YouTube. YouTube, 19 Nov. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2013. <;.

Strand, Erik. “Tryptophan: What Does It Do?” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 01 Sept. 2003. Web. 26 Nov. 2013. <;.

“Tryptophan.” The World’s Healthiest Foods. The George Mateljan Foundation, 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2013. <;.


3 thoughts on “Tryptophan, Turkey, and Thanksgiving! Oh my!

  1. Daniela

    Very interesting Nicole. I especially liked the video you included. The fact I found most interesting is that the actual Thanksgiving dinner makes you sleepy because all the blood flows to your stomach.

  2. Steve

    Wow. Way to bust that myth Nicole. I always wondered why I was tired after Christmas dinner as well, even though I did not have turkey (I am eating too much).

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