Tryptophan in the Turkey: A Whodunit (part 2)

See (https://pulsus.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/tryptophan-in-the-turkey-a-whodunit/) for part 1.

The story I crafted in the preceding blog was an exaggeration of the well-known phenomena that occurs across the country after eating Thanksgiving turkey. It was inspired by my nephew, who heard about tryptophan in turkey causing drowsiness. The question of what was responsible for the unconsciousness of the guests around the Thanksgiving table in my story is a little tricky, really.

Turkey does contain high levels of tryptophan, which is an amino acid (a building block of protein) and converts into serotonin. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle by causing drowsiness. The interesting thing is that the amount of tryptophan in turkey is comparable to the amount in other poultry and meat – equivalent to the amount in chicken, and slightly more than the amount in pork, for example.

The real cause of our drowsiness after Thanksgiving dinner is not all that straightforward. Of course alcohol causes drowsiness, so that must be taken into consideration. But we have to look at what happens when we eat stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, bread, and cranberry sauce. These particular foods (high in carbohydrates) increase our levels of insulin. Insulin helps bring our sugar levels down, but also decreases the amount of certain proteins circulating in the blood by stimulating uptake into muscles. However, tryptophan is not one of those proteins. This leaves a higher percentage of tryptophan circulating in the blood after this type of meal (relative to other proteins). Thus it has a greater advantage in  crossing over into our central nervous system… turning into serotonin….

then melatonin….

you get my drift. (Hopefully not drifting into sleep, though? I will end this shortly).

As far as my multiple choice question from the last blogpost (https://pulsus.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/tryptophan-in-the-turkey-a-whodunit/):

What was the cause of the loss of consciousness of the guests at the Thankgiving table?

A. The wine

B. The mashed potatoes

C. The turkey

D. The maid

E. The butler that was never mentioned

F. The doctor (gasp!)

G. A, B, and C

H. Not enough information to determine

I would have to say “H” is the answer. This is because I have not heard or read of any cases of the tryptophan effect causing a sudden loss of consciousness. As my story was completely fictional, I took the liberty of dramatizing my point.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and, if you want to avoid the drowsiness effect next year, I would recommend that you consider eating fewer carbohydrates with your turkey.

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Tryptophan in the Turkey: A whodunit

The place:  A large home in an undisclosed location.

The time: around 7pm on the fourth Thursday in November.

The story:

The guests, clad in their holiday finest are crowded around in merriment – glasses clinking, voices laughing, music playing. The host surveys his large dining table and notices that one chair is empty. Nevertheless, he raises another glass of wine and offers his toast, “Today, I give thanks to all of you, my dear friends and family, who bring happiness to my life.”  And with that, he signals the maid (who has been toiling all day over this Thanksgiving meal), to serve the food. The guests “ooh” and “aaahh” as the centerpiece, a large golden-brown turkey, is placed in front of their eyes. Adorned with roasted parsnips and carrots and accompanied by various delectable dishes – such as hearty wild rice stuffing,  creamy mashed potatoes, and brussel sprouts bathed in butter – the turkey does not go to waste.

The guests fill their stomachs and begin to slouch slightly in their seats.  “Where is dear Doctor Higgins? He always arrives late, but this is quite unusual,” one young woman said with her eyes appearing quite heavy. “No matter,” she says. “We must dance and continue our festivities.” And with that, her heavy head suddenly drops, her brown curls arranged like a fan on the table. The maid rushes in breathlessly, hearing the sound of the water glass crashing to the floor, and stops in shock at the sight. The gentleman to the young woman’s left also becomes unconscious. In a matter of seconds, the whole table falls into a deep coma. The maid screams in fright, then promptly falls to the floor with quite a loud thud.

            At that moment, the main door opens and a blustery wind forces itself in, along with the long-awaited Dr. Higgins. “I do apologize,” he mutters, as he pushes his brimmed hat off of his face, completely unaware that the room is silent but for the music playing in the background. When he finally looks up, he drops his worn, black doctor’s bag as he witnesses the strange sight.  “Oh, dear!” He said. “There appears to have been some foul play! But who is responsible here?”

What do you think is the answer?

A. The wine

B. The mashed potatoes

C. The turkey

D. The maid

E. The butler that was never mentioned

F. The doctor (gasp!)

G. A, B, and C

H. Not enough information to determine

(to be continued….)