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Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2019 Oct 4:1-8. doi: 10.1024/0300-9831/a000608. [Epub ahead of print]

Dietary intake of tryptophan tied emotion-related impulsivity in humans.

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University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, USA.
University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, USA.
Clinical Exercise-Neuro-Immunology group, Dpt. for molecular and cellular Sports Medicine, Institute for Cardiovascular Research and Sports Medicine, German Sport University, Köln, Germany.


Emotion-related impulsivity, defined as the tendency to say or do things that one later regret during periods of heightened emotion, has been tied to a broad range of psychopathologies. Previous work has suggested that emotion-related impulsivity is tied to an impaired function of the serotonergic system. Central serotonin synthesis relies on the intake of the essential amino acid, tryptophan and its ability to pass through the blood brain barrier. Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the association between emotion-related impulsivity and tryptophan intake. Methods: Undergraduate participants (N = 25, 16 women, 9 men) completed a self-rated measure of impulsivity (Three Factor Impulsivity Index, TFI) and daily logs of their food intake and exercise. These data were coded using the software NutriNote to evaluate intakes of tryptophan, large neutral amino acids, vitamins B6/B12, and exercise. Results: Correlational analyses indicated that higher tryptophan intake was associated with significantly lower scores on two out of three subscales of the TFI, Pervasive Influence of Feelings scores r = -.502, p < .010, and (lack-of) Follow-Through scores, r = -.407, p < .050. Conclusion: Findings provide further evidence that emotion-related impulsivity is correlated to serotonergic indices, even when considering only food habits. It also suggests the need for more research on whether tryptophan supplements might be beneficial for impulsive persons suffering from a psychological disorder.


Tryptophan; diet; emotion; impulsivity; serotonin


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