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For those who swear by ZMA, you’ll be glad to know a new and improved formulation is now on the market.
ZMA isn’t for everyone, because everyone will react differently to it, especially the vitamin B6 component which can keep you awake for hours.
ZMA is meant to be taken at night prior to bedtime. I found it more effective on an empty stomach with water, and besides, you really shouldn’t eat after 8pm unless you’re trying to gain weight or get fat. For a primer on REM sleep, read my previous article on How Much Sleep Do We Need Using REM Cycles?
Everyone knows ZMA is simply zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6. That’s it, that’s all.
New and Improved ZMA?
The new ZMA formulation is called ZMA-5 with two new ingredients:
5-Hydroxytryptophan (known as 5-HTP) and Folic Acid (also know as Vitamin B9)
Let’s take a look at each of these ingredients and its pathways.
5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin and an intermediate in tryptophan metabolism.
5-HTP is often sold as an over-the-counter therapeutic supplement, commonly as an antidepressant and sleep aid. (Side note – I personally use Melatonin products ONLY when I travel West to East on International flights to induce sleep. Otherwise, I never have trouble falling asleep.)
Tryptophan… Good or Bad?
Is tryptophan good for you?
It depends. In sprinting, tryptophan is bad because it causes a sedative effect especially after 20-30 seconds of near maximal efforts.
Tryptophan is also present in turkey and warm milk, which is why everyone falls asleep after a big Thanksgiving meal. It could be from overeating, too. (It can be argued a tryptophan cannot cross the blood brain barrier, but that’s another blog post)
Luckily, we know about the amino acid tyrosine and how it blocks tryptophan, which can be the success of Vitalize, PowerDrive and all the new Red Bull products out there including the 5 hour Energy shot sold at every American gas station.
Serotonin has various functions, including the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, muscle contraction, and some cognitive functions including memory and learning.
Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid L-tryptophan, so you can clearly see the pathway and how it’s all interconnected.
Here’s a good article on Tryptophan, Serotonin and Mood Enhancement from the archives.
Basically, Folic acid has been added to ZMA-5 to increase the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin.
Folic acid is found mostly in leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, but also in orange juice and enriched grains in trace amounts.
Pregnant women know about this vitamin to reduce the risk of their newborn baby born with a serious neural tube defect called spina bifida.
The RDA for folic acid is 400 mcg for both men and women, and 600mcg for pregnant women. Limits of 1000 mcg per day are not uncommon.
Magnesium is becoming popular to seniors as research has been shown to significantly increase the depth and duration of slow-wave sleep. (Why is it older folks have hard time sleeping?)
But watch out… don’t run out to the pharmacy and start buying zinc or magnesium supplements in excess. Excess magnesium will lower the absorption rate for both calcium and zinc. Like the zinc-copper correlation, too much calcium will lower magnesium.
When you think about it, the human body is simply one large balanced ecosystem. Educate yourself first before running to the health food store. See your physician before making any radical changes to your diet and lifestyle.