Courtesy LonelyBobI’ve got some friends who are already pushing the Thanksgiving envelope and having some early holiday dinners this weekend. Most of us will wait until Nov. 22 to gorge out on a big meal of turkey, and then feel quite tired and bloated from the experience.
And all of us scientific-minded people like to sound very sciency at those moments and talk about the effects that tryptophan in the turkey are having on our bodies. I’ve bought into that thinking for decades and thought I’d Google around the net to learn more about that, and was surprised to see that I’ve probably been duped.
Turkey does in fact contain high levels of tryptophan, but not anything significantly higher than lots of other meats. Tryptophan is an amino acid that our bodies can’t produce. And taken on an empty stomach, it can have a soothing, calming effect. It was even marketing as an anti-insomnia drug in the 1980s until some other significant side effects – muscle pain and death – led the government to ban it as a medication.
After a big feast, out stomachs are dealing with the amino acids from many different food sources, meaning that the tryptophan has a lot of competition in our body chemistry.
Here’s what’s more likely going on in our bodies to make us tired: the impacts of having lots of other carbohydrates in our stomachs. Carbo-heavy items like mashed potatoes, stuffing and pie take our bodies a lot of effort to digest. That internal work is a lot to handle and our bodies tire out.
So that’s the nutritional answer to why Thanksgiving dinners make us tired. I think you might also be able to chalk up your tiredness to the quality of conversation with the relatives you’re sharing the meal with or the fact that the Detroit Lions are always playing football that afternoon.
How do you deal with post-Thanksgiving dinner lethargy? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.