The Turkey-Tryptophan Myth by Philip Parisot
Conventional wisdom states that the crash often experienced after Thanksgiving dinner is due to high amounts of a chemical in turkey known as tryptophan. According to the urban legend, this chemical induces a state of sleepiness when absorbed in large quantities, in this case through turkey. Here, information is given which shows that this legend is merely fiction, and that there are other factors which bring on fatigue following a large Thanksgiving Day feast.
1. Tryphophan is an essential amino acid which, when taken in large doses, induces a state of tiredness. It can thus be considered a natural sedative. Tryptophan helps our bodies produce the B vitamin niacin. Niacin, in turn, helps us produce serotonin, a chemical that functions as a calming agent and assists in sleep. This led to the perception that tryptophan was a sleep-inducer. However, it works best on an empty stomach. In a large Thanksgiving dinner, there are numerous other amino acids that the body uses, so only a fraction of the tryptophan in the turkey actually end up functioning in the brain.
2. All meat has tryptophan in similar concentration levels. Turkey has gotten the reputation for having unusually high levels simply because it is the centerpiece of what is customarily the largest meal of the year. Whether you eat sausage, pork, chicken, or steak, you’re getting tryptophan.
3. Plenty other food have higher concentrations of tryptophan than turkey. These foods include cheddar cheese, beef, and soybeans. No one says “Be careful with those soybeans; they’ll put you right out.”
4. There are other significant factors which play a role in making us feel sleepy after our Thanksgiving feast. The two most common factors are 1) the body adapting to what amounts to a caloric onslaught, and 2) fatigue resulting from the stress of seeing relatives.
As you can see, there are numerous reasons why the tryptophan in our turkey is not the culprit when it comes to our Turkey Day slumber.