Tryptophan Supplement
May Again Carry
Deadly Contamination
By Alice Ann Love
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Researchers said Monday they had found a possibly harmful chemical contaminating a supplement known as tryptophan, sold in health food stores to promote sleep and as a diet aid. It is the second time a dangerous contaminant has been found in tryptophan, although the chemical -- a version of a naturally occurring amino acid -- has been reformulated. Dr. Stephen Naylor and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota said the contaminant is known as peak-X and they said it can cause the potentially deadly eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS). They said tests on six different over-the-counter brands of tryptophan showed evidence of the same chemical contaminant. ``Many alternative medicine strategies seem to offer substantial promise to the consumer,'' they wrote in a letter to the journal Nature Medicine. ``However, this study emphasizes the need for tighter quality control for the production of both synthetic and 'naturally' produced nutritional supplements sold as medications.'' Tryptophan was taken off the shelves in the late 1980s after an outbreak of eosinophilia myalgia syndrome, which killed 30 people and affected about 1,500, was traced to the supplement. The makers, Japan's Showa Denko, paid out an estimated $2 billion in damages and legal fees. But people still demanded the supplement. ``An alternative to L-tryptophan is now being advocated: 5-hydroxyl-L-tryptophan (5-OH-Trp),'' Naylor's team wrote. ``This latter compound is freely available over the counter and is being recommended to overcome 'serotonin deficiency syndrome' as well as obesity, headaches and insomnia,'' they added. Yet whether it works or even is safe has not been evaluated. ``Indeed, the onset of EMS-like symptoms has also been associated with the ingestion of 5-OH-trp as far back as 1980,'' they wrote. They said no cases of EMS have been traced to tryptophan but said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had been notified of their findings.
FDA Finds Impurities In Tryptophan 9-1-98
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that its scientists have confirmed the presence of impurities linked to serious illness in popular dietary supplements. The supplements, 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan (5-HTP) are marketed widely as aids for insomnia, depression and obesity. FDA scientists, confirming earlier findings of the Mayo clinic, found an impurity known as ``peak X'', which was linked to an 1989 epidemic of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, a serious illness affecting white blood cells and causing severe muscle pain. The FDA said it is unaware of any recent illness associated with the 5-HTP products, but it noted that widespread promotion of the product began only recently. ``Although the significance of finding 'peak X' and other impurities in dietary supplements containing 5-HTP is unknown, past experiences with these products suggests vigilance is warranted,'' the FDA said. Similar impurities were found in the closely related supplement called L-tryptophan, used widely in the late 1980s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified more than 1,500 cases of the disease, including at least 38 deaths associated with the use of L-tryptophan. The popular new supplement, 5-HTP, is synthesized from L-tryptophan in the body.