This is another chemical compound found in chocolate, and it’s one we all hear about every year at Thanksgiving, since it’s said to be the stuff that causes those post pig-out sleepies among your relatives. But what is it really? Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s critical to human health, but one that our bodies can’t make on their own. Good thing there’s plenty of it around: in virtually every dairy product, every meat (especially poultry), as well as in oats, bananas and chickpeas. Our bodies use tryptophan for a variety of functions, among them the manufacture of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter which (again, among other things) regulates mood. This it does by relieving anxiety.
It’s this particular feature of serotonin that gets a lot of people speculating about chocolate and mood alteration. The problem is that there’s no evidence that eating higher-than-normal amounts of tryptophan results in higher-than-normal serotonin levels in the body. Some researchers say that perhaps if the eater was suffering from low serotonin levels to begin with there’s an outside chance the chocolate could help raise it. But when you consider that tryptophan is as common as dirt in a typical diet it’s highly unlikely that the tiny amount of tryptophan in chocolate would matter even a little. Nope, nothing to see here either.