Dietary Tryptophan: A Potential Ally in Managing Ulcerative Colitis

by Manuel Costa
Ulcerative Colitis Management

Dietary Tryptophan: A Potential Ally in Managing Ulcerative Colitis

Tryptophan-rich Foods’ Role in Ulcerative Colitis Prevention

Emerging studies indicate that tryptophan, an amino acid found in foods like turkey and nuts, might play a role in preventing colitis outbreaks in individuals with ulcerative colitis. Experiments with mice suggest that increased intake of tryptophan could potentially lower the chances of colitis flares.

Thanksgiving, a time when many focus on their dietary choices, brings unique challenges for those with ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease. Recent mouse studies have pointed out that foods rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, pork, nuts, and seeds, may offer a way to mitigate the risk of colitis flare-ups. These insights could lead to non-surgical methods for better long-term management of colitis, pending further research in humans.

Insights from Research

Sangwon Kim, Ph.D., an assistant professor of immunology at Thomas Jefferson University and the study’s senior author, emphasizes the significant impact of ulcerative colitis on patients’ lives, including potential surgeries or cancer risks. This study, published in Nature Communications on November 14, explores alternative treatment avenues.

Ulcerative colitis stems from inflammation in the colon and rectum’s inner lining. Dr. Kim’s research focuses on T-regulatory (T-reg) cells, which can help interrupt the cycle of inflammation. The team discovered that attracting more T-reg cells to the colon could lessen the inflammation that leads to colitis.

They identified a receptor, GPR15, on T-reg cells, acting as a magnet to the colon. The more GPR15 receptors present, the stronger the attraction to the colon. The team found that tryptophan, or its derivatives in the body, could increase GPR15 production on T-reg cells.

The Impact of Tryptophan in Diet

The research team supplemented the diets of mice with tryptophan for two weeks, resulting in a significant increase in inflammation-reducing T-reg cells in the colon, compared to mice not given extra tryptophan. This also led to a decrease in colitis symptoms, with effects lasting up to a week after tryptophan removal from the diet. Dr. Kim suggests this could equate to about a month’s benefit in human terms.

However, administering tryptophan during active colitis flare-ups showed minimal benefits, indicating its potential as a preventive measure rather than a treatment option.

Additional Findings and Future Directions

The research also accidentally uncovered a molecule common in smoke, such as from cigarettes and barbeque, that increases GPR15 levels, possibly explaining why smoking is observed to be protective against colitis. Despite this, tryptophan remains the safer, healthier option.

Future studies aim to verify if these findings are applicable to human colitis patients. Tryptophan supplements are considered safe up to 100 milligrams per day, and further clinical trials are planned to explore their effectiveness in humans.


This study, titled “Dietary L-Tryptophan consumption determines the number of colonic regulatory T cells and susceptibility to colitis via GPR15,” authored by Nguyen T. Van, Karen Zhang, Rachel M. Wigmore, and others, was published in Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-43211-4). Supported by multiple grants and awards, Dr. Kim, holding a related patent, declares no conflicts of interest.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Ulcerative Colitis Management

Can eating tryptophan-rich foods like turkey help in managing ulcerative colitis?

Yes, recent research indicates that tryptophan, found in foods such as turkey, nuts, and seeds, may help prevent flare-ups in those with ulcerative colitis. Studies in mice have shown that increased tryptophan intake could reduce the risk of colitis flares.

What is the significance of the recent study on tryptophan and ulcerative colitis?

The study, conducted by Dr. Sangwon Kim and his team, suggests that a diet rich in tryptophan could attract T-regulatory cells to the colon, reducing inflammation and potentially preventing colitis flare-ups. This could lead to non-surgical methods for long-term ulcerative colitis management.

How does tryptophan affect T-regulatory cells in colitis management?

Tryptophan increases the production of a receptor called GPR15 on T-regulatory cells, enhancing their attraction to the colon and potentially reducing inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis.

Is tryptophan supplementation effective in treating active ulcerative colitis flare-ups?

The study suggests that tryptophan supplementation may be more effective in preventing future colitis flares rather than treating active ones, based on the results observed in mice.

What are the future research plans regarding tryptophan and ulcerative colitis?

Further research is planned to determine if these findings in mice can be translated to humans. Clinical trials are expected to explore the effectiveness of tryptophan supplements in managing ulcerative colitis in human patients.

More about Ulcerative Colitis Management

  • Ulcerative Colitis and Tryptophan Study
  • Dr. Sangwon Kim’s Research on Colitis
  • Tryptophan’s Role in Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Nature Communications: Ulcerative Colitis Research Publication
  • T-regulatory Cells and Ulcerative Colitis Management
  • Dietary Management of Ulcerative Colitis: Tryptophan Benefits
  • GPR15 Receptors and Colitis Prevention Research

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Greg H November 22, 2023 - 8:16 pm

Always thought smoking was bad, but it’s weird how it might protect against colitis? Doesn’t make sense to me.

Sarah K November 22, 2023 - 8:39 pm

This is super interesting, but I wonder how effective it really is in humans? Mice studies are a start but not always conclusive.

Dave R November 23, 2023 - 5:19 am

So if I understand this, eating more nuts and seeds could actually help with my colitis symptoms? Gonna give it a try, nothing to lose.

Linda M November 23, 2023 - 8:10 am

Nature Communications is a solid journal, the study must be legit. Good to see research moving in this direction.

Mike Johnson November 23, 2023 - 9:37 am

Wow, didn’t know tryptophan from turkey could help with ulcerative colitis! Gotta start adding more of it to my diet.

Anna L November 23, 2023 - 12:47 pm

Dr. Kim’s work sounds promising. Hope they start human trials soon, my cousin suffers from colitis and this could be a game changer!


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