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Home > Anti Oxidants
Part Number 5
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When nutrients are allowed to cross the blood-brain barrier they must be 'ferried' by specialized transport molecules, much as passengers being transported on a bus. This process creates a special 'bottleneck' for serotonin. Serotonin itself cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier, while its precursor, tryptophan, must share its transport 'bus' with five other amino acids -- leucine, isoleucine, valine, tyrosine and phenylalanine.

In any normal diet, animal protein-based or vegetarian, tryptophan is the least plentiful of all 20 food amino acids. Thus, tryptophan is typically outnumbered as much as 9:1 in its competition to secure its transport through the blood-brain barrier into the brain. Eating a high-protein diet in an attempt to increase dietary tryptophan (a typical diet provides only 1-1.5 grams/day) only increases its competition even more. Ironically, the only dietary strategy that increases brain tryptophan supply is a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet. When large amounts of carbohydrates are eaten, the body secretes large amounts of the hormone insulin to lower the resulting high blood sugar. In addition to lowering blood sugar levels, insulin also clears most of the five amino acids that compete with tryptophan for a 'ride' to the brain. The result is that tryptophan has the 'bus' to itself, allowing plenty of tryptophan to reach the brain. (10)

Tryptophan to Serotonin Conversion

When neurons convert tryptophan into serotonin, they must first use a vitamin B3-dependent enzyme to convert tryptophan into 5-HTP. A vitamin B6-dependent enzyme is then used to convert 5-HTP into serotonin. One researcher noted, 'There are several advantages of considering L-5-HTP, as opposed to L-tryptophan, as being the major determinant in elevating brain serotonin levels: L-5-HTP is not degraded by tryptophan pyrrolase to kynurenine, the major pathway for peripheral degradation of L-tryptophan (about 98 percent). Furthermore, L-5-HTP easily crosses the blood-brain barrier ...' (1) Additionally, it should be noted that 5-HTP is not incorporated into proteins, as is tryptophan; nor is 5-HTP used to make vitamin B3, as is tryptophan. Thus, in comparison to tryptophan, 5-HTP is virtually a 'guided missile' that is directly targeted to increasing brain serotonin levels. Strikingly, some studies have shown better results using 200 to 300 mg of 5-HTP per day as an antidepressant than other studies using 2000 to 3,000 mg or more of tryptophan per day. (17)

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