Amino Acid Supplement and Sleep Aid Tryptophan Usually Microbially Derived; May Be Sourced from Duck Feathers or Human Hair
by Jeanne Yacoubou
VRG Research Director
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning that humans must consume it in their diet. As an amino acid, it is a component of protein. Tryptophan is also a precursor for the neurotransmitter, serotonin, and the hormone, melatonin. This amino acid is readily obtained by common high-protein food sources such as soybeans, certain seeds, eggs, milk, and meat.
Tryptophan is believed by some to help as a sleep aid and is often sold as a dietary supplement for this purpose. There is also a form of tryptophan sold as Tryptan™, a prescription drug intended to aid the uptake of certain psychiatric drugs.
In 1989, tryptophan was banned for sale in most countries due to several reported incidents of death and serious health effects. Known as Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome, EMS was linked to a contaminated batch of tryptophan. Currently, pharmaceutical grade tryptophan is believed to be safe.
Although most sources report that tryptophan is industrially produced by bacterial fermentation, a major food ingredient supplier in the United States told The VRG in March 2011 that its source of tryptophan is duck feathers or human hair.
Ajinomoto AminoScience is one company that produces a pharmaceutical grade tryptophan, known by the trade name TryptoPure™, through microbial fermentation using only non-animal materials. Several dietary supplement companies contacted by The VRG reported in March 2011 that their tryptophan is produced through microbial fermentation and many carry this brand.
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