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Those early revelers were probably knocked out by their marathon feast, and most people today are familiar with the post-Thanksgiving food coma. Turkey allegedly causes drowsiness because it is packed with a nutrient called tryptophan.Tryptophan is one of 20 naturally occurring amino acids—the building blocks of proteins.But eating turkey does not translate to amplified serotonin production in the brain, says neuropharmacologist Richard Wurtman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in Cambridge, Mass.Turkey and other protein-rich foods contain many amino acids, and tryptophan is the scarcest among them, Wurtman says.

But eating loads of turkey, or any tryptophan-rich food for that matter, does not boost melatonin production, Wurtman says.As Wurtman and others have shown, when more tryptophan arrives in the brain, serotonin synthesis steps up and serotonin-mediated transmission is amplified among neurons.There is another reason turkey has been accused of causing drowsiness: Tryptophan is also a precursor to melatonin, a sleep-associated hormone manufactured in the brain's pineal gland."Paradoxically, what probably makes people sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner is…dessert," he adds."Eating carbohydrates increases brain serotonin in spite of the fact that there is no tryptophan in carbohydrates." Gobbling a slice of sweet pumpkin pie, for instance, causes beta cells in the pancreas to secrete insulin, a hormone that allows the uptake of glucose and most amino acids into the tissues.Situated outside the blood–brain barrier, the pineal gland has ready access to blood tryptophan, which it uses to make serotonin.