Drink Up for Mental Alertness
IN NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN MEDICINE
Looking for a little edge for your mental skills in the morning? An evening milkshake spiked with the amino acid tryptophan may help clear your morning mental fog if you’re sleep-deprived, according to preliminary research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
About the Study
In a study of 28 healthy young adults, researchers found that accompanying an evening meal with a milkshake containing a protein powder called alpha-lactalbumin (A-LAC), which delivers a high concentration of tryptophan, seemed to improve morning alertness among participants who had mild sleep problems. “Good” sleepers, on the other hand, showed no such benefit.
The protein powder marketed as BioPURE was supplied by Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based Davisco Foods International (www.daviscofoods.com) for use in the study. Dr. C. Rob Markus of the University of Maastricht in the Neterlands, who was the lead study author, and his collegues examined 14 men and women who had mild sleep problems and 14 others without sleep complaints. In one of the two-evening experiments, participants consumed a tryptophan-fortified milkshake with dinner and later for a snack. In the other, they had placebo milkshakes that didn’t contain the A-LAC supplement.
The following morning, participants took computerized tests that measured their mental reaction times, while electrodes on their scalps recorded their brain activity. The findings suggest that the supplement sharpened certain participants’ mental acuity by improving their sleep. However, much more research is needed before tryptophan-laced milkshakes can be recommended as a sleep aid, according to Dr. Markus.
Among the remaining questions is how the souped-up shakes might affect those with more significant sleep problems. And in general, Dr. Markus notes, the precise role of tryptophan and serotonin in sleep is not fully understood. Though they appear to help regulate sleep-wake rhythms, he says, the magnitude of the influence is not clear.
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|Gobble Up the Facts|
Alpha-lactalbumin (A-LAC) is a protein derived from the whey component of milk. It contains a high concentration of the essential amino acid tryptophan, a protein building block best known for its sleep-inducing effects. In the body, tryptophan serves as a precursor for the brain chemical serotonin, which is thought to help regulate sleep.
Tryptophan is found in foods such as beef, chicken, dairy products, and most famously turkey, which is often blamed for the near-coma that follows a Thanksgiving feast. In reality, however, the relatively low concentration of tryptophan in turkey and other foods is unlikely to affect the brain because it must compete with other amino acids and nutrients for absorption.
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