As some of you may have noticed, I often mention tryptophan availability in certain foods, many of which are better known for containing other micronutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals), and you may wonder why.
Our diets are, quite obviously, a primary source of the “stuff” critical for the healthy functioning of organs and systems. And while proper functioning and health are frequently (and correctly) associated with measurable, identifiable values (heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, etc.), we are somewhat more prone to dismiss or at least undervalue the impact of nutrition on less tangible, but important, variables, such as mood, motivation, drive.
It is somewhat due to this intangibility and the associated difficulty to provide precise measurements as evidence for a deficit or a cause for a symptom that the aforementioned “variables”– mood, drive, “will,” if you like, have been seen as inhabiting the “other” realm of the mind-body dualism that still confuses the way we speak of (and, consequently, understand) ourselves–the “mental” realm.
What I am clumsily suggesting here is that “mental” illness, often explained via descriptors such as “sad, fatigued, lethargic, withdrawn, fearful, apprehensive, anxious,” and so on, is more accurately understood as a medical problem with psychological (or “mental”) symptoms or manifestations. I think to a considerable degree, this view invites a more physical and less metaphysical look at causally relevant processes. Finally, it makes the relevance of food intake more obvious to a discussion of mental health.
Some of you might be familiar for some reason or another with the debilitating symptoms of depression–disturbances in sleep, motivation, appetite, marked sadness, among others. Treatment of depression usually includes psychoterapy as well as pharmacotherapy (treatment with medications), and the latter often involves targeting the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT), believed to be involved in the regulation of mood, sleep, satiety. And although serotonin per se is not easily made available in the central nervous system through diet (for reasons we do not need to be concerned with now), its precursor, tryptophan, is.
The article below provides valuable insight in the potential of a tryptophan-rich diet to mitigate depressive symptoms. Of course, this blog is not to suggest that diet alone should be used in every case to cure depression. It merely states that diet matters, and can help. And before I paste the link, here are some tryptophan-rich vegan foods:
bananas, mangoes, dates, beats, kelp, potato skins, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, oats, brown rice, wheat, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, soy milk, tofu, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds.