The Doctor's Bag
Keith Souter aka Clay More
Christmas Day is just around the corner and with it comes the meal that many people consider to be the best of the year. The conviviality, the party atmosphere, the wine and crackers all contribute to the enjoyment, but the traditional centrepiece of it all, the good old turkey certainly seems to have a part in making you feel good. It seems that it does this because it is rich in the amino acid, tryptophan.
In our house this year we are actually going to have goose. When I was told this I wondered whether it would be as good as turkey in keeping people’s spirits up, so I ran a check. And the good news is that all of the usual fowls are rich in tryptophan, with goose at the top of the league table. Next comes duck, and then turkey and chicken with round about the same amounts, pound for pound. Other good sources of tryptophan are milk, cheese, bread and bananas.
Tryptophan and serotonin
Tryptophan is an important amino acid in the diet, because it is used to build serotonin, which is one of the main neurotransmitters within the brain. Unfortunately, the absorption of tryptophan from the diet depends on several factors. For example, if there are lots of other amino acids available for the body to choose from, then there is a sort of competition to see which are taken in. Tryptophan is often not absorbed whereas other amino acids are.
This is quite significant, according to research published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity. Dutch researchers have shown that people with a family history of depression are fifty per cent more likely to feel down if their tryptophan levels fall. Ten per cent of those without such a family history also get down when their levels fall.
Low levels of tryptophan are liable to occur in people taking high protein and low carbohydrate diets, which have become very popular lately. Low levels also occur in those not eating properly through illness, depression, or through various types of fad dieting. Body builders also need to be careful about how they feel, because they can get down in the dumps without realising why. And the same goes for people who are already down; they may create a vicious circle that feeds their depression.
You have to activate it - get the cranberry sauce ready
You may well ask, will eating lots of turkey and chicken really make you feel happy?
No, I am afraid not. The point is that tyrptophan is not easily absorbed, especially if there are lots of other amino acids in the same meal. But if you do eat it then you are optimising your chances of raising the levels of tryptophan in your system and thereby ultimately raising your serotonin levels. That is what lifts the mood.
One important point about tryptophan, however, is the fact that to activate it you need to take carbohydrate and Vitamin B6 at the same time. And this is perhaps why turkey literally goes down so well at Christmas with cranberry sauce and red wine, which provide the carbohydrate you need and the Vitamin B6.
There is some debate in our house as to what sort of activator we are going to use. Certainly we shall be using a little wine, but it looks as if an accompaniment on the plate will either be cranberry or orange, or some combination with ginger. We shall see!
Merry Christmas, Cowboy!
Matt and Miss Kitty toast each other - but not with wine!
Happy Christmas dinner to you all.
If you have enjoyed, or found some of these medical blogs interesting or helpful, you may like to know that THE DOCTOR'S BAG - MEDICINE AND SURGERY OF YESTERYEAR has been published by Sundown Press, available on ebook or paperback.
He has several other offerings out this Christmas:
This medieval novella of the Order of the Black Rose in ebook
Or a mystery story THE MISSING LYNX, set in the silent movie era in the anthology NINE DEADLY LIVES
A short story about Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty in this anthology
A short story about the identity of Jack the Ripper in this anthology