If you’re someone who prides yourself on your ability to take care of your body, you may already know about the different kinds of inflammation, as well as the benefits and risks associated with each.
For example, while acute inflammation—like when a minor injury swells and turns red for a short amount of time—can actually protect your body, other kinds of inflammation can do some damage if left untreated. Chronic inflammation, or low-grade inflammation over a long period of time, can eventually lead to a host of health issues. Now, a new study finds that, if your levels of an amino acid called tryptophan are too low, it could be increasing inflammation throughout your body.
The study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, looked at how tryptophan levels affected the gut’s ability to protect against inflammation in mice. For young mice, low tryptophan levels weren’t much of a problem—their microbiomes were able to keep everything running along smoothly. Though for older mice, not getting enough of the amino acid hurt their gut health and caused inflammation. These early findings suggest that, for humans, consuming adequate levels of tryptophan could be key to keeping inflammation in check—especially as you get older.
“Tryptophan is an important part of a healthy diet, but you’re likely to get the biggest benefit from eating it in the context of a healthy, minimally processed diet that emphasizes plant foods,” Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert, told Eat This, Not That! in an interview. “You can get tryptophan in foods, like poultry and eggs, but plant sources, such as soybeans and pumpkin seeds will boost your intake of tryptophan as well as compounds that lower inflammation and support a healthier gut.”
It may be tempting to just take tryptophan supplements over incorporating the amino acid into your diet through foods, however, we strongly urge you to fight that temptation. Here’s why.
“When taking tryptophan from a supplement it can cause some negative side effects such as stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, belching, loss of appetite, headaches, and dry mouth,” Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND registered dietitian nutritionist and author of My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes. “Also, tryptophan supplements can interfere with some prescription medications so do check with your physician before taking any.”
Potentially reducing inflammation is not the only thing that tryptophan can do for you. One of the other benefits it provides occurs when your body converts the amino acid into niacin. Sheth explains that niacin helps our bodies make serotonin, which lifts our mood and lowers our anxiety levels. But to help facilitate this conversion, she says it’s important that you also consume foods that have two B vitamins (B2 and B6) as well as the mineral iron.
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