The Turkey Myth
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19-11-2012, 03:05 AM
The Turkey Myth
Two things are guaranteed to happen at Thanksgiving - you're going to eat turkey and you're going to fall asleep afterward. Turkey's legendary sedative effects have often been attributed to its high content of the amino acid "tryptophan". Tryptophan is converted in the brain to serotonin, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine. Serotonin is a hormone responsible for increased feeling of well-being, happiness, relaxation, and sleep. Knowing this, the lore of turkey-induced comas only makes sense, right? You eat turkey and the high levels of tryptophan in turkey allow for lots of tryptophan to get into your brain. It is converted to serotonin, and you get sleepy.

While it does seem to make sense, the tryptophan that you are eating via your Thanksgiving feast is not making you sleepy, and it is probably not even getting into your brain to make serotonin.

Amino acids get transported into your brain on the biochemical equivelent of a single-lane highway. If there are lots of amino acids trying to get in then the highway gets jammed up - it isn't like tryptophan gets its own lane. Amino acids, like muscle-building leucine, are also found in turkey and they are competing with tryptophan to get into your brain. As a result, less tryptophan than you'd expect is getting into your brain to be converted to serotonin.

Now, if tryptophan in turkey isn't making you tired, then why can't you make it past the second quarter of the football game without falling asleep? It is everything else you are eating at Thanksgiving - bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, and, if you're lucky, popovers.

All of these carbohydrates that you are eating at your Thanksgiving feast cause your body to dump large amounts of insulin into your bloodstream in an effort to maintain your blood sugar levels in a normal and healthy range. This insulin spike makes you tired via two different mechanisms. First, insulin stimulates serotonin release, meaning that the two turkey legs you ate didn't cause an increase in serotonin, but the mashed potatoes did. Second, in your body's effort to maintain stable blood sugar, it can get aggressive and release too much insulin, resulting in too much sugar being removed from your bloodstream. Low blood sugar is a guaranteed way to make yourself feel tired.

FInally, after a massive feast your stomach and small intestines are stuck with the job of digesting and processing all that food. This is no small task, and in order to help with the digestion and metabolism of your meal, the body sends more blood to those organs. This can result in decreased blood flow to other parts of your body, including your brain, which results in even more fatigue. Put it all together, and you never stood a chance.

Just don't blame the turkey.

(Taken from "Muscle & Fitness Magazine", December 2012 issue. Written by Mike Roussell, Ph.D)

TRIVIA:

Average Thanksgiving dinner: 2,000 calories

Average time needed at the gym to burn it off: 04:02 hours. (Based on a 180-pound male)

Through profound pain comes profound knowledge.
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