Wellness Wednesday: Turkey Fun Facts

This post may come a day late, but it’s just in time for your meal!   Read up and eat up!

We’ve all heard it before; the myth that eating turkey on Thanksgiving makes you sleepy because of the amino acid Tryptophan.

Some will say that this myth has been debunked several times, but it does hold some truth.  Tryptophan is an essential amino acid present in high levels in turkey (although not much higher than in other meats).  However, this little extra bit of tryptophan found in turkey has two great benefits.  Tryptophan used by the brain to form serotonin.  Serotonin creates feelings of well-being happiness, peace, and contentment.  Often, those who are depressed lack serotonin in their brains, leading to sad and hopeless thoughts.  Therefore, eating turkey is the ideal meat to eat for a natural mood boost.

Interestingly, serotonin is then converted by the brain to melatonin.  Melatonin is responsible for regulating our circadian rhythms, our sleep-wake cycles, and is often triggered by sunlight.  At night, your brain floods with melatonin which makes you feel a wave of sleepiness hard to overcome.  In the morning, melatonin is no longer present in the brain, which helps you wake up.  Melatonin is also associated with learning and memory function.  The more serotonin your body produces, the more melatonin your body will be able to produce, and you’ll sleep deeply at night, feel awake during the day, and have heightened memory functions.

Therefore, it’s true that Tryptophan ultimately produces a chemical, melatonin, that makes you sleepy, but this process has multiple steps. It will be long after your food is digested that you feel the true sleepiness caused by the turkey in your Thanksgiving meal.  Instead, we experience a sleepy sensation post-thanksgiving meal because of the large quantity of food we consume.  When your stomach is full, blood concentrates in that area in order to break down and digest the food.  This creates a lack of blood stimulation in other areas of your body, leaving you feeling tired and lethargic.  Additionally, many people consume wine or other types of alcohol with their meals, whose depressant qualities also increase the sleepiness sensation.

So, eat up that turkey on Thanksgiving; a little extra happiness, sleep, and increased memory function from the serotonin and melatonin derived from tryptophan in turkey will do us all well over our much-needed break!