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Let's talk turkey and tryptophan

by Mehmet Oz, M.D., Michael Roizen, M.D. | July 22, 2021 at 9:17 p.m. | Updated July 22, 2021 at 9:17 p.m.

It's hard to believe, but in 2020, Americans ate 5.26 billion pounds of turkey - around 16 pounds per person. If the myth about tryptophan in turkey making you sleepy were true, very few folks would contend with insomnia (up to 30% do). But it's not, even though tryptophan does have special powers.

Tryptophan, an essential amino acid and building block for proteins, is used by the body to make niacin - vitamin B3 - which supports healthy digestion, nerve function and skin. It also helps produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, a hormone that affects your brain and guts (it's made both places), helps nervous system cells communicate and promotes healthy digestion, strong bones and, yes, sleep. To top it off, tryptophan helps control body-wide inflammation and uplifts your mood.

Your body's ability to use it for all that good stuff diminishes with age, and that has consequences. That's the conclusion of a study in the journal Molecular Sciences. Researchers reported that just eight weeks on a low-tryptophan diet disrupts gut bacteria, triggering higher levels of systemic inflammation and reduced production of serotonin - in mice. They call this an "unnatural" process of aging that's associated in humans with impaired digestive health, declining cognitive function and a compromised immune system.

So here's your menu for a steady supply of tryptophan and a younger you: canned tuna (27 milligrams per ounce); poultry (20 milligrams per ounce in dark-meat turkey, 14 milligrams per ounce in light-meat chicken), oats (147 milligrams per cup), whole wheat bread (up to 19 milligrams per slice), chocolate (up to 18 milligrams per ounce) and fruits (banana 11 milligrams; a prune, 2 milligrams).

(c)2021 Michael Roizen, M.D.

and Mehmet Oz, M.D.

King Features Syndicate


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