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Happy Turkey Day! What Is Tryptophan & Is It The Cause of My Food Coma?

November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on all the things we should be thankful in our lives.  It may involve lots of loud visiting relatives, watching funny movies and of course eating turkey!  The age old tale of turkey and tryptophan seems to come up every year...Does the tryptophan in turkey make you extra sleepy on Thanksgiving?

No, the tryptophan in turkey is not to blame for your extra sleepiness after Thanksgiving chow down.  It is true that turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid which is a building block to produce protein, however, many other food items contain much more tryptophan than the Thanksgiving mascot.  Chicken, cheese, eggs, and yogurt all contain tryptophan.  

Once digested, tryptophan is used to make niacin, which is important for serotonin.  Serotonin is a brain chemical that causes relaxation and improves your mood.  Serotonin is also a component for melatonin, which helps with the sleep cycle.  Tryptophan does indeed play a role in making you happy and tired, but can we blame turkey consumption for the Thanksgiving day sleepiness?   Firstly, there are other foods that contain more tryptophan than turkey, such as chicken.  We don’t seem to become zombies when we chow down on chicken, right?  Next, if it was simply tryptophan that caused the sleepiness, wouldn’t other tryptophan containing foods cause us to feel sleepy as well?  I don’t recall yogurt or fish making me feel too tired the last time I ate them.

 

The more likely cause for the holiday fatigue is that people are overeating and consuming more carbohydrates than usual.  After you eat a big meal full of carbs, blood flow increases to the stomach so that you can digest which can contribute to feeling tired.  In addition to carbohydrates, alcohol is commonly consumed during the holidays and is a well known factor of improved mood, fullness and fatigue.

 

Whatever is on your plate, be sure to be safe this Thanksgiving.  Try to exercise moderation in drinking and eating.  The ER tends to get an influx of patients the day after Thanksgiving due to holiday indulgences.  Drink plenty of water throughout the meal and enjoy your meal slowly.  Slow down and enjoy!  It’s a holiday and you will have plenty of time to nap later!

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