Hormones Matter TM

Turkey, Tryptophan and Testosterone

November 23, 2011  |  Chandler Marrs, PhD

C Marrs NAWBO-1

I wanted a little alliteration for the title of this week’s blog post and so turkey and tryptophan were naturals. Little did I know, testosterone was associated with this Thanksgiving Day tradition.

We all know about the Turkey-tryptophan connection. Turkey contains high levels of the amino acid, tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin, and melatonin, the sleep hormone. Many have speculated that by ingesting high quantities of turkey on Thanksgiving, we increase our serotonin levels and hence, our ability to relax. It is more likely, however, that we increase our sleepiness quotient by increasing melatonin. Or as others suggest, perhaps we just eat too many carbs and throw our bodies in insulin overload, which then elicits sleep.

Unbeknownst to me, prior to writing this article was the connection between turkey and testosterone. Eating turkey, especially one that is organically grown, increases testosterone concentrations. There is a feedback loop, however. Too much tryptophan decreases testosterone, at least in male rats.

Interestingly, diets high in estrone (the estrogen precursor to estradiol), not only do not show the same benefits of post-turkey day increased tryptophan and serotonin, there is marked decrease in niacin levels (vitamin B3). Naturally higher circulating concentrations of estrone in women may be what predisposes us to vitamin B deficiencies and whole host of other conditions.

Perhaps even more interesting, eating non-organic turkey appears to decrease testosterone and increases the concentration of circulating estrogens (further slanting our odds of vitamin B deficiency). Researchers and organic food advocates suggests the increased estrone and estradiol concentrations observed in those who eat commercially grown poultry are linked to the many hormone supplements used by today’s food producers. Though evidence is limited, given the overwhelming use of endocrine disruptors throughout our food chain, this association is certainly plausible and merits additional investigation.

As we approach Thanksgiving, food for thought: how food affects hormone health. If any of our followers in the blogosphere have an interest and expertise in the connection between food and hormones, we would welcome your blog posts.

Happy Thanksgiving Lucine Women.