Tryptophan and Mental Illness

Filed in Uncategorized by on February 13, 2008 0 Comments


  I feel that there is a strong connection between tryptophan, which is found in the diet, and mental illness. This is not the only factor in mental illness. I feel that stress also plays a role. It may be that a stress chemical goes haywire and causes the brain cells to be flooded with tryptophan. I have worked on this theory for years.

Orthomolecular Psychiatry

  “Nutritional factors are neglected for a number of reasons. Much of the literature on nutritional treatments has yet to evolve beyond the early stages of scientific investigation. Physicians learn so little about nutritional medicine during their training that they feel too uninformed to include it in their practices.”  Melvyn R. Werbach, M.D.

Journal Of Orthomolecular Medicine Vol. 7, No. 1, 1995

  “Deficiencies of several vitamins are known to be associated with irritability.” Werbach

  “In the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, the intermediate step is its conversion to 5-hydroxytryptophan. Surprisingly, supplementation with 5-hydroxytryptophan may increase aggressive behavior, apparently because, while tryptophan appears to enhance the serotonergic system exclusively, 5-hydroxytryptophan also appears to enhance the catecholaminergic system.” Werbach 

  “Despite the relative paucity of scientific evidence from controlled studies, clues from case reports, open trials, observational (correlational) studies and animal studies suggest that attention to nutritional factors may reduce overaggressive behaviors and the devastation resulting from them. Those clues, plus the safety of most nutritional interventions, argue that a nutritional approach should be considered in the treatment of the aggressive behavioral syndrome.” Werbach

  Some of Werbach’s information came from the first five references. I believe that Werbach was correct.

Tryptophan in Food

  The best website I have seen on this topic so far is called NutritionData. This site list food high in tryptophan, including meat, fish, dairy products, soy products, etc. However it does not list foods low in tryptophan.

  Butter has no tryptophan because it has no protein. Gilka of Canada recommended a low tryptophan diet to treat schizophrenia because he thought that a methylated toxin made from tryptophan caused schizophrenia. Himwich of Illinois had a similar point of view, but he did not advocate a diet. However, butter, although it is good in beta carotene and retinol, is very high in saturated fat and cholesterol.


Serving: 1 tbsp
Water: 0.24 grams
Calories: 876
Total Lipids: 99.48 grams
Protein: 0.28 grams
Carbohydrates: 0 grams
Total Sugar: 0 grams
Saturated Fat: 61.924 grams
Monounsaturated Fat: 28.732 grams
Polyunsaturated Fat: 3.694 grams
Cholesterol: 256 mg
Fiber: 0 grams
Lycopene: 0 mcg
Alpha Carotene: 0 mcg
Beta Carotene: 193 mcg
Retinol: 824 mcg
Calcium: 4 mg
Iron: 0 mg
Magnesium: 0 mg
Phosphorus: 3 mg
Potassium: 5 mg
Selenium: 0 mcg
Sodium: 2 mg
Zinc: 0.01 mg
Vitamin A IU: 3069
Vitamin A RAE: 840
Vitamin B5 Pantothenic Acid: 0.01 mg
Vitamin B6: 0.001 mg
Vitamin C: 0 mg
Vitamin E: 2.8 mg
Thiamin: 0.001 mg
Riboflavin: 0.005 mg
Niacin: 0.003 mg
Vitamin K: 8.6 mcg
Folate: 0 mcg
Folic Acid: 0 mcg

  The above data from the US Dept. of Agriculture shows that butter lacks vitamin C. It has no fiber and has only a tiny trace of water. Although butter tastes good and is economical, I do not feel that it is good nutrition.

  Also having no tryptophan is olive oil.


Serving: 1 tbsp
Water: 0 grams
Calories: 884
Total Lipids: 100 grams
Protein: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 0 grams
Total Sugar: 0 grams
Saturated Fat: 13.454 grams
Monounsaturated Fat: 73.901 grams
Polyunsaturated Fat: 10.003 grams
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Fiber: 0 grams
Lycopene: 0 mcg
Alpha Carotene: 0 mcg
Beta Carotene: 0 mcg
Retinol: 0 mcg
Calcium: 1 mg
Iron: 0.66 mg
Magnesium: 0 mg
Phosphorus: 0 mg
Potassium: 1 mg
Selenium: 0 mcg
Sodium: 3 mg
Zinc: 0 mg
Vitamin A IU: 0
Vitamin A RAE: 0
Vitamin B5 Pantothenic Acid: 0 mg
Vitamin B6: 0 mg
Vitamin C: 0 mg
Vitamin E: 14.35 mg
Thiamin: 0 mg
Riboflavin: 0 mg
Niacin: 0 mg
Vitamin K: 60.2 mcg
Folate: 0 mcg
Folic Acid: 0 mcg

  Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, which are considered heart healthy. There is only a slight amount of sodium. Olive oil lacks vitamin A. You couldn’t live on only olive oil, but I consider it healthy and economical.


  People have taken tryptophan, including myself, and have experienced bad side effects. I got a headache from it. Some have died. Tryptophan can cause drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, and loss of appetite. Other side effects include confusion, disorientation, incoordination, etc. Regarding orthomolecular psychiatry, which is very similar to Gilka’s views, I feel that it makes a lot of sense.

  “The author defines orthomolecular psychiatry as the achievement and preservation of good mental health by the provision of the optimum molecular environment for the mind, especially the optimum concentrations of substances normally present in the human body, such as the vitamins.” Pauling

  I feel that Pauling was very close to the truth. However he did not seem to realize that amino acids are the problem.

  “The following therapeutic modalities fit the definition of orthomolecular:

<dl><dd>• vitamins</dd><dd>• minerals</dd><dd>• amino acids</dd><dd>• essential fatty acids</dd><dd>• fiber</dd><dd>• enzymes</dd><dd>• antibodies</dd><dd>• antigens</dd><dd>• cell therapy</dd><dd>• chelation therapy</dd><dd>• dialysis</dd><dd>• plasmapharesis</dd><dd>• hydrotherapy</dd><dd>• thermal therapy</dd><dd>• phototherapy</dd><dd>• electrotherapy (including electroconvulsive therapy)</dd><dd>• air ion therapy</dd><dd>• ddght therapy</dd><dd>• solar therapy</dd><dd>• acupuncture</dd><dd>• massage</dd><dd>• exercise</dd><dd>• biofeedback</dd><dd>• hypnotherapy and other psychotherapies.”</dd></dl>

  I feel that is an outstanding website, but I disagree with the above list. I do not consider ECT as orthomolecular. I do not consider acupuncture as orthomolecular either. I consider acupuncture as alternative medicine. Pauling’s definition of “orthomolecular” is the right amounts of the right molecules. I have always considered antigens as being bad.

  I consider a low tryptophan diet as being orthomolecular.


1. Raleigh MJ: Differential behavioral effects of tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan on vervet monkeys: influence of catecholaminergic systems. Psychopharmacology (Berlin) 93(1):44-50, 1987.

2. Izenwasser SE et al: Stimulant-like effects of magnesium on aggression in mice. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 25(6):1195-9, 1986.

3. Wilmot CA et al: Ascorbic acid inhibits isolation-induced fighting in mice. Fed. Proc. 42:1160, 1983.

4. Banki CM et al: Cerebrospinal fluid magnesium and calcium related to amine metabolites, diagnosis, and suicide attempts. Biol. Psychiatry 20(2):163-71, 1985.

5. Chandra SV: Psychiatric illness due to manganese poisoning. Acta Psychiatr. Scand. Suppl. 303:49-54, 1983.


Schizophrenia: A Disorder of Tryptophan Metabolism Acta Psychiatrical Scandinavica Supplementum 258 by Libuse Gilka (Paperback – 1975)

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