top of page


While there are several variables to consider, in general, melatonin is found relatively less in animal foods than in plant foods. Based on published literature, milk and dairy foods, eggs, fish, and meats (beef, lamb, pork) contain some level of melatonin (1). Conversely, animal foods tend to be better sources of dietary tryptophan than plant foods (2), so the ultimate conversion of these foods into significant quantities of melatonin may need to be considered.


Additionally, several nutrient co-factors are needed to support the proper conversation of dietary tryptophan to melatonin via the serotonin pathway (Image 1). First, tryptophan is transported by insulin across the blood-brain barrier. This requires proper insulin regulation. Then multiple cofactors are needed to convert tryptophan to 5-HTP including iron, folate, calcium, vitamin b3 (niacin) and oxygen.  The conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin requires nutrients including pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P-the active form of vitamin B6), niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3), folate, magnesium, methylcobalamin (vitamin B12), zinc and vitamin C. Finally, serotonin will be converted to melatonin, utilizing magnesium to aid in this conversion. 























Authors: Deanna Minich, Ph.D., Melanie Henning, ND, Catherine Darley, ND, Mona Fahoum, ND, Corey B. Schuler, DC, James Frame

Reviewer: Peer-review in Nutrients Journal

Last updated: September 22, 2022




1. Tan DX, Zanghi BM, Manchester LC, Reiter RJ. Melatonin identified in meats and other food stuffs: Potentially nutritional impact. J Pineal Res. 2014;57(2).

2.  Friedman M. Analysis, Nutrition, and Health Benefits of Tryptophan. International Journal of Tryptophan Research. 2018.

3. Bauer KC, Huus KE, Finlay BB. Microbes and the mind: Emerging hallmarks of the gut microbiota-brain axis. Cell Microbiol. Published online 2016. doi:10.1111/cmi.12585

4. Sherwin E, Sandhu K V., Dinan TG, Cryan JF. May the Force Be With You: The Light and Dark Sides of the Microbiota–Gut–Brain Axis in Neuropsychiatry. CNS Drugs. Published online 2016. doi:10.1007/s40263-016-0370-3

Tryptophan Conversion.jpg

Image 1. Tryptophan to melatonin conversion (3, 4)

bottom of page