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Tryptophan Steal

Tryptophan Steal

Tryptophan is an aromatic amino acid responsible for the production of the hormone serotonin. From there the hormone melatonin is also manufactured as needed. This is a small pathway, about 1 or 2 percent of the total blood tryptophan, involving the brain and central nervous system. Even though this is a small pathway, it is a very important one as you will see. There is another metabolic pathway tryptophan can take called the kynurenate pathway.

In an environment of inflammation, this can be a preferred pathway for tryptophan over its serotonin and melatonin pathway. This pathway ends in an isomer of niacin called picolinate and a potential neurotoxin called quinolinate. Quinolinate is a compound produced or built up usually due to inflammation caused from a viral infection. So, as you can see, this one amino acid tryptophan is responsible for a lot of metabolic activities in our bodys.

Serotonin is a hormone that makes us feel calm, content and secure. It keeps anxiety and depression at bay. Serotonin also aids in guy motility therefore helping keep intestinal bacterial numbers in check avoiding constipation and diarrhea symptoms. Melatonin, from serotonins down line, helps us fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night. About 1% or so of our dietary ingestion of tryptophan goes to the central nervous system to help with mood, emotional and sleep. A portion of the balance stays in the gut to assist in movement of the intestinal tract contents.

Under an inflammatory demand, many times viral as I’d mentioned earlier, tryptophan is “stolen” or diverted from its intended target in the brain to support this kynurenate pathway. This diversion is accomplished by introducing inflammatory compounds called cytokines that activate a second enzyme forcing tryptophan away from its serotonin/melatonin pathway. This kynurenate pathway is always operational, however, it becomes excessive with this additional inflammatory cytokine forcing tryptophan's hand.

What does this mean symptomatically? These folks usually suffer from sleep disorders. They are also moody, emotional, depressed or anxious. Their bowels don't move regularly therefore they may suffer from constipation, diarrhea or IBS symptoms. This can be a real whole body health mess. So, what to do. The answer is not to pump the body full of more tryptophan, that would just feed this kynurenate pathway and make these symptoms worse. The answer is to calm the inflammation that is causing the tryptophan redirection in the first place by treating the infection with gentle herbal antiviral supplements and managing the inflammation with diet.

Secondly, as an adjunct to treating the inflammation and infection, supplement with 5-HTP for a short period during the recovery period. 5-HTP is an intermediate compound between tryptophan and serotonin. So, by supplementing with 5-HTP the kynurenate pathway can be bypassed while supporting the serotonin and melatonin pathway. Supplementation should only be needed until the inflammation is under control or resolved. Because B6 as well as other B vitamins are some of the cofactors in these chemical reactions, supplementation with B6 may also be of benefit. In conclusion, instead of managing the symptoms of inflammation induced tryptophan steal, treating its underlying root causes as the solution.

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December 28, 2022
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Drew Duquette

Dr. Drew C. Duquette, before practicing Functional Medicine in Bloomington Illinois, began his career as a Chiropractic Physician in 1980. He hails from Michigan, where he studied chemistry and biology at the University of Michigan. Dr. Duquette also holds a BS degree in human biology. His post-graduate studies in Functional Medicine have led him to develop a break-through system of highly effective traditional and alternative methods designed to help patients with serious chronic health needs. Dr. Duquette is a dynamic voice in the Functional Medicine community. He is the leading expert on treating Fibromyalgia, Migraine Headaches, IBS, Thyroid issues and other Autoimmune and chronic conditions, without drugs or surgery, in the Central Illinois area.