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It happened again this year.  The Thanksgiving table got cleared and the dishes done and immediately the over 30s crowd sunk deep into the living room couch (there is a very long couch at my folks’ house) and started the evening dozing.  It took the promise of decaf and multiple desserts (gluten-free for me, various cakes and pies for others) to rouse us from our naps. Which raises the annual question: does turkey cause drowsiness?

The reputation of turkey to cause sleepiness is so widespread that it has attained the status of Urban Legend.  This reputation is based on the fact that turkey contains the amino acid L-tryptophan.  L-tryptophan is an important amino acid in brain chemistry.  It converts to 5 hydroxytryptophan (5HTP), which in turn produces serotonin.  Serotonin is a brain chemical that boosts mood, relaxes us, and induces sleep.  In the pineal gland of the brain, serotonin can be further converted to melatonin, the hormone that control sleep cycles.  And so, meals that are high in L-tryptophan will tend to produce the neurochemicals for sleep and sedation.

However, turkey is no higher in L-tryptophan than are many other meats, and a good sirloin steak or a coq au vin do not have the reputation of a sedative.  The problem with Thanksgiving dinner, probably, lies more in the stuffing, varieties of potato, and other starches that are eaten with the turkey.  A high starch (carbohydrate) meal tends to raise insulin levels, which in turn moves certain carbohydrates and amino acids into muscle cells.  L-tryptophan that is left in the bloodstream is in higher proportion than normal, and therefore gets into the brain a little easier.  Dozing ensues.

Another reason for Thanksgiving drowsiness is the big meal itself.  Eating a lot requires lots of blood circulation to the abdomen, which leaves a little bit less to circulate around the rest of the body.  It’s hard work to a digest all that food!  And finally, adding alcohol to the mix provides another source of sedation.

Thanksgiving Dinner 2007And so, when you finally emptied a plate that looks like this  and sink low into the family couch, don’t blame it on the bird.  It’s had enough of a bad day already.

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One Response to “Blaming the Bird: Thanksgiving 2007”

  1. on 11 Apr 2008 at 2:26 am TheTomMan

    Indeed,it is true, it’s always true. Comments ain’t even necessary.

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