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Tryptophan (abbreviated to Trp or W) is a natural amino acid that is a common precursor to a number of biologically important active molecule which includes serotonin and melatonin. It can be oxidized by the hormone-sensitive enzyme called tryptophan oxygenase to N-formyl kynurenine, this can then follow a series of steps which produces to amino-carboxymuconic semi-aldehyde. Most of this is able to undergo an enzymatic decarboxylation process which ultimately leads to acetyl CoA being formed.
Tryptophan is an alpha amino acid is essential in the biosynthesis of many proteins. It can be classified as a non-polar aromatic amino acid which consists of an α-amino group, an α-carboxylic acid group and a side chain indole. It is an essential amino acid, so the body is unable to synthesis it and therefore it must be obtained from the diet. Infants and children require greater amount of tryptophan when compared to adults in order to enable normal development and growth. The body needs tryptophan in order to manufacture several important substances and diets which are deficient in tryptophan have been known to result in pellagra (a niacin deficiency disease).
Alternative medicine is utilising tryptophan as a very effective aid in the treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder syndrome (examples include irritability and mood swings) and also to aid people to quit smoking. Tryptophan is also useful in treating facial pain, improve athletic performance and to relieve bruxism (tooth grinding), however, research evidence indicates that it may not be that effective in treating these conditions. Other used which again do not have research backing include treating anxiety, insomnia, depression and attention deficit hyperactivty disorder (ADHD).