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Stress-prone? Altering the diet may help

Some people undertake seemingly impossible tasks without frustration, while others become anxious or depressed. A new Dutch study finds that the latter individuals might cope with pressure better if they tailored their diet to fuel the brain with more tryptophan.

The brain uses this essential amino acid, a building block of many proteins, to fashion serotonin, a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter.

Neuropsychologist C. Rob Markus of the TNO Nutrition and Food Research Institute in Zeist, the Netherlands, and his colleagues identified a milk-derived protein—alpha-lactalbumin—that is unusually rich in tryptophan. Moreover, this protein is low in amino acids that compete with tryptophan for absorption by the brain. For their tests, the researchers enriched a chocolate drink with either this protein or with casein, the primary protein in milk. Casein possesses a low ratio of tryptophan to those competing amino acids.

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