Marla Ahlgrimm Shares The Truth About Turkey

Marla AhlgrimmTurkey is a staple of holiday meals. Between November and December, Americans consume more turkey than any other time of the year. And many people claim that their bite of bird puts them right to sleep. This might not be true, however, says Marla Ahlgrimm.

Q: What is it about turkey that makes people believe that it is a natural sleep aid?

Marla Ahlgrimm: It’s the tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid – one of nearly two dozen that occur actually. An amino acid is a basic component of protein. It is found in many meats, not just turkey. Many people mistakenly believes that the tryptophan in turkey immediately triggers their brain to tell their body it’s time for sleep.

Q: Why is that?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Tryptophan is used in the production of serotonin. This neurotransmitter is secreted as the body becomes tired, and it promotes deep, restful sleep. However, eating turkey – even when you pile it up high on your plate – does not provide the body enough tryptophan to jumpstart the release of serotonin. This is because the amino acid has to essentially hitch a ride in the bloodstream to interact with the parts of the brain that produce serotonin. And to do so, it has to compete with all of the other amino acids floating around in your body. While some serotonin makes it to your head, there is simply not enough to have a real impact. 

Q: So why is it that everyone feels a bit more sluggish after a heavy meal on Thanksgiving or Christmas?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Surprisingly, it is most likely the three slices of pie they snuck in after dinner. Sweet treats deliver a massive dose of carbohydrates to the body, which do make it to the brain. Carbohydrates, despite containing no tryptophan, trigger serotonin production.

Q: What if I don’t eat dessert?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Even if you skip the cakes and pies, you likely overeat on holidays. This can stretch the small intestines which, because of a complex series of internal processes, might also induce sleepiness.

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