Roughly halfway between two major annual turkey dinner celebrations, a Texas A&M University professor says it’s time to debunk popular pseudo-scientific mythology associating turkey-eating with drowsiness. That would be the erroneous belief is that the amino acid tryptophan, which is abundant found in turkey, makes you sleepy.
“If you feel sleepy after your holiday turkey dinner, don’t blame the bird,” says Dr. Nicolaas Deutz, a nutrition expert and a professor at Texas A&M University’s Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity (CTRAL), part of the Department of Health & Kinesiology in the College of Education & Human Development at TAMU. He observes that the theory is incorrect on several levels, noting that if you feel drowsy after eating a turkey dinner, the soporific effect is more likely attributable to quantity of food ingested as opposed to anything the turkey itself. Dr. Deutz also points out that turkey contains no higher concentration of tryptophan than other types of poultry, and in fact the amino acid can be found in almost any protein food.
From a scientific perspective, the tryptophan in turkey notion is just a running joke, with no sound basis in the biochemical properties of tryptophan in turkey.
However, Dr. Deutz does hope that he can discover how to use tryptophan to help multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. In a study funded by the Netherlands’ Maastricht University Medical Center, he explores potential ways that tryptophan-enriched diets could improve mood and cognition in people with MS.
“In many ways, multiple sclerosis is almost like the brain getting older on its own,” Dr. Deutz explains. “The memory problems really look similar to dementia, Parkinson’s and other diseases that affect older people.”
Dr. Deutz had previously conducted experiments in which members of his research team who reduced intake in their own diets and experienced several negative effects with memory and cognition. Tryptophan deprivation also worsened negative moods of patients suffering from depression.
The professor deduced that the next logical question to ask would be whether a decrease in tryptophan intake worsens those symptoms, and conversely whether increasing dietary tryptophan would have an opposite effect.
Deutz also performs research on people with minimal cognition deficiency, such as having difficulty remembering where they put their keys, which he categorizes as a very mild form of dementia, and in addition to investigating cognitive improvement, the professor and his research team monitor metabolic changes as a possible factor in memory loss.
Dr. Deutz notes that scientists been attempting similar experimentation for decades, but discovery of a toxic byproduct in tryptophan supplements stopped those efforts. However, it’s now possible for patients to ingest trptophan via natural proteins.
“This research has been around for nearly 30 or 40 years,” Dr. Deutz explains. “What makes it new is finally bringing it to a translational/clinical level and having a practical application. We now have more tools to measure metabolism and safer ways to digest large amounts of tryptophan.”
Persons who would like to participate in this active study can visit CTRALs website at:
The Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity conducts translational research on how nutrition, exercise, and metabolism relate to the aging process and to common diseases that afflict our aging demographic. Examples are cancer, heart failure, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), obesity, cystic fibrosis (CF) and other chronic diseases of older adulthood. The overall objective is to translate knowledge from research into care and clinical practice for older adults.
In investigating the role metabolism plays in pursuit of healthy aging, CTRAL is focused particularly on how changes in nutrition affect outcomes in disease and the process of aging. For example the role of certain macronutrients, specifically the small molecules that are building blocks of proteins, fats and sugars in the metabolic process.
CTRAL’s 5000 square foot facility in TAMU’s Research Park houses offices, a Level 2 Biological Safety lab, a wet lab, utility space, and a clinical research center where scientists conduct research studies on older adult volunteers.
Texas A&M University
The Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity
Texas A&M University