By Dr. Michael Loes
Perhaps even more than wealth, or even sex, Americans are in constant search for the perfect night’s rest. We want to wake up feeling truly and perfectly refreshed.
But is this even possible? For most of us, the answer is maybe, perhaps, or once in awhile. Whatever answer you have or your health advisor opines, realistically, a good night’s rest is a quest. It’s a continuous search. At night, as we lie down, the chance for that perfect slumber often quickly slips away with intrusive thoughts, a barking dog, or a stomach that just won’t settle down to allow tranquility.
For those of us over 40 years of age, we probably remember L-Tryptophan. This is a simple amino acid that gained enormous popularity in the early 1980s for it ability to help us sleep. Even the hospitals regularly carried and allowed its use. I know—at the time I was an internal medicine physician who prescribed it for most of my hospital patients as the first choice to help with sleep.
And then, almost overnight, it happened. An awful medical disease appeared. It was called Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS) and was linked to L-Tryptophan use. Reports were published that some people (not a lot, but enough) were complaining of increased muscle pain and weakness. They were shown to have high eosinophils (allergy cells) in the blood. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration listened and reacted—over reacted, in my opinion—and then never retracted. They swept L-Tryptophan off all the shelves and formularies and the supplement disappeared into oblivion.
The investigation of this disease syndrome was one of medicine’s most exhaustive searches in our country’s history. It was the cyanide-Tylenol story all over again, reminiscent of the scare regarding that product when cyanide was found in some of the capsules and deaths occurred. However, while the Tylenol market did return in full swing, L-Tryptophan didn’t, at least not until now, over 20 years later.
It was panic, pandemonium and a media heyday. L-Tryptophan had a large market share for insomnia—an enviable one for anyone trying to compete with a prescription drug. Once removed, the void was quickly filled with more major tranquilizers, benzodiazepines, and variants of sedative anti-depressants and barbiturates. Coincidence? I hardly think so.
Eventually, in August of 1992, the exact cause of the EMS breakout was conclusively confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mayo Clinic as resulting from a manufacturing contaminant inside a Japanese company called Showa Denko. This company was in too much of a hurry to get its product on the market (at the time, they were making about 60 percent of the L-Tryptophan sold in the United States), and it had erroneously hastened the supplement’s exacting and precise fermentation process while also cutting back on the amount of charcoal used to filter the newly produced and supplement. In other words, the entire L-Tryptophan industry and millions of satisfied consumers paid for the sins of one company.
L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. We need it. It completes the deck of essential nutrients required for our balanced physiology. Not bringing it back, again in my opinion, was a crime—one that has shoveled profits into drug companies for years as they expanded their “evening knock out drugs.”
So here’s the good news of the year—L-Tryptophan is back! Actually, the FDA lifted its ban on the amino acid way back in 2001, but many nutritional companies were a bit reticent to bring it back as a product.
But now, many natural supplement companies are taking the plunge and are selling L-Tryptophan again, much to the delight of the American consumers, who seem to realize and understand that the supplement was not taken away due to any inherent danger, but rather a manufacturing error. Due to the United States Phamacopia (USP) standards that require 99 percent purity in their products, the EMS scare of the 1980s is certain never to happen again. The L-Tryptophan you can buy today is guaranteed by law to be safe, pure and free of anything harmful.
L-Tryptophan is the logical choice for assistance as you begin to claim back your nighttime health. It is a needed key for nocturnal quiescence. Other dream team members might include the nighttime hormone melatonin, the acclaimed hypericum supplement widely known from its calming, anti-anxiety effect and perhaps also some chamomile.
So the next time the sandman isn’t available and the bounder guy is on vacation, keep your quest for the perfect rest simple and give these nutrients a try. The only thing you’ll have to lose is another night lying awake listening to the neighbor’s dog barking.