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One of the essential amino acids. It is a heterocyclic compound that is found in small amounts in most proteins. It plays an important role in the growth and development of infants and in the biosynthesis of serotonin and niacin (thus, deficiency of niacin or tryptophan can cause pellagra). Its occurrence in milk has been suggested as the reason that drinking milk before bedtime helps people sleep. It is used in medicine and nutrition research, in enriched foods, and as a dietary supplement.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on tryptophan, visit Britannica.com.