Tryptophan has had a long and interesting history in North America. While much of its shadowy past is undeserved, it presents an interesting study of contrasts between synthetic and naturally occurring nutrients.
Zenbev Drink Mix is a powdered beverage mix developed in Canada by a Canadian physician, Dr. Craig Hudson. The main ingredient in this rigorously tested formulation is food-source tryptophan from pumpkin seeds. So, what’s the big deal about tryptophan?
An essential amino acid, tryptophan must be taken in through the food we eat. It is the precursor to the important hormones serotonin and melatonin that our bodies produce when sufficient amounts of tryptophan are present. Tryptophan sparked early interest when it was discovered by Dr. Frederick Hopkins in 1901. He was looking for a way to treat a condition called, Pellagra. Unknown today, Pellagra was caused by insufficient protein in the diet of many people at the turn of last century. It was a mystery how this debilitating disease was caused and what could be done to cure it. Dr. Hopkins was the first to identify the importance of tryptophan in our diets and was responsible for eradicating a disease most have never heard of.
Many years later a synthetic equivalent was made and by the 1980s tryptophan was available over-the-counter and became a very popular drug since it boosted serotonin and melatonin helping people feel calmer during the day and sleep better at night. In 1989 2% of the adult US population were taking synthetic tryptophan for anxiety and insomnia. Although synthetic tryptophan is only one water group different from natural tryptophan, these small structural differences can have significant functional differences and the US population was about to be reminded of that in a harsh way in late 1989.
In that year, it was discovered that a small subset of people were dying of Eosinophilia Myalgia Syndrome [EMS] and the FDA circled in on synthetic tryptophan. Tryptophan in pill form was so popular, some manufacturers were cutting corners to produce it and one manufacturer in Japan, the Showa-Denka company, was found to be responsible for the EMS deaths. The FDA chose to react strongly and banned synthetic tryptophan outright. It has only recently been allowed back on the US market.
Protein-source tryptophan has continued to exist, as always, in foods. Natural tryptophan does not have the same risks but has not received the attention it deserves. No one actually knew how to enhance the bioavailability of protein tryptophan because it is the rarest of all amino acids and has a difficult time metabolising to the brain.
Recognizing the benefits of natural tryptophan and undaunted by the challenges of absorption, Dr. Hudson set to work to create a natural alternative that would be safe and effective. Tryptophan exists within many proteins and, with the amount of protein usually ingested in North American diets, it should not be a problem to receive plenty of this amino acid in our diets. Paradoxically, however, the more tryptophan you eat, the less is available to your brain, where it needs to get in order to metabolize to serotonin and melatonin. This is a result of competition from the other amino acids present in the protein which are larger and out-compete tryptophan for passage across the blood-brain-barrier. This is why pumpkinseeds alone will not help you sleep.
The only way tryptophan can get the advantage over the other large neutral amino acids is in the presence of a carbohydrate. This was discovered serendipitously by diabetes researchers at MIT in the 1970s.
There had to be a better way, reasoned Dr. Hudson. If tryptophan is meant to be taken in our food then a food source of tryptophan with a little help from a carbohydrate should be the dietary solution.
After seven years of research and development, Zenbev was born. Zenbev Drink Mix contains only 5 ingredients: organic pumpkinseed flour, dextrose, rice starch, flavouring and guar gum. It comes in two flavours and two sizes. It takes the worry out of sleep by providing the food-based tryptophan your body recognizes in the formulation that your brain can absorb. Zenbev gives you the ingredients you need to make your own serotonin and melatonin. A truly natural sleep aid, Zenbev works efficiently within the chemistry of the body to provide the best possible sleep.
Try it tonight!