5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid in the protein building block L-tryptophan. Found in foods like turkey and pumpkin, L-tryptophan is the main component in serotonin, which regulates sleep, body temperature, sexual behavior, and pain.
Clinical studies show that 5-HTP supplements may lead to increased serotonin production.
While our bodies produce 5-HTP, it can also be found in the Griffonia simplicifolia plant native to Africa. It is an over-the-counter dietary supplement used to treat several medical conditions in the brain and nervous system.
What does 5-HTP do? 5-HTP is a chemical precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. It is used as a supplement to boost serotonin production.
Uses and Efficacy
Because serotonin levels affect so much of how we operate, 5-HTP offers a broad range of health benefits. More and more healthcare providers are looking at 5-HTP as an effective treatment option for several chronic medical conditions. Here are a few.
5-HTP is similar to a class of antidepressants called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). SSRIs are thought to increase/balance serotonin levels in the brain.
Other common SSRIs include:
- Sertraline (Prozac)
- Fluoxetine (Zoloft)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
Some studies have compared the efficacy of 5-HTP with these antidepressants and found similar results. In fact, one study found that, in comparison, patients who took 5-HTP received just as much benefit as those who took fluvoxamine and suffered fewer side effects.
More thorough research is needed to prove the long-term efficacy of 5-HTP, but it may be a good alternative for those who do not respond well to SSRIs.
Some studies suggest that 5-HTP may be effective as a sleep aid for people who struggle with insomnia. Some insomniac patients exhibit low levels of serotonin, which the body needs to make the sleep-regulation hormone melatonin.
In these cases, the increase of serotonin through supplementation may also help balance melatonin.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes fatigue and pain throughout the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Participants in one study showed improvements across all measured parameters with only mild side effects.
Headaches & Migraines
5-HTP may help reduce the intensity of migraines as well as their frequency. In fact, 5-HTP may be as effective in treating migraines in many patients as prescription medications like propranolol and methysergide.
One study comparing 5-HTP and methysergide suggests that patients who take 5-HTP may suffer fewer side effects. The study comparing 5-HTP with propranolol had both medications offering similar benefits.
Both studies suggest that the benefits of 5-HTP make it a promising natural alternative to prescription medications.
Research indicates a link between eating disorders and serotonin function. One study showed promising results for those struggling with stress-eating. 5-HTP may increase the feeling of fullness, causing a loss of appetite. More clinical studies are needed to show if 5-HTP could effectively supplement long-term weight loss.
What can 5-HTP be used for? 5-HTP can be used to treat symptoms of depression, insomnia, chronic headaches, and fibromyalgia. Further research is needed to determine its efficacy as a weight-loss supplement.
The “feel good neurotransmitter,” serotonin, is mostly produced in your gut. 5HTP turns into serotonin in the gastrointestinal tract to help with motility.
In other words, serotonin helps food move throughout the digestive tract effectively. Those who suffer from functional issues such as IBS and SIBO can benefit greatly by this mood enhancer and gut support compound.
Thanks to the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia, 5-HTP can be harvested and taken as a dietary supplement.
Supplements and Herbal Products
5-HTP is available as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement that may be purchased online or in stores. It may also be found in some multivitamin and herbal products.
Note: be careful not to confuse 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) with 5-HT (5-hydroxytryptamine). The latter is the chemical name for serotonin. Taking 5-HT in excess can lead to serotonin syndrome.
5-HTP is not itself available from food sources. However, some foods are high in tryptophan, the amino acid that the brain uses to make 5-HTP. Although the topic lacks substantial research, consuming these foods may lead to higher levels of 5-HTP.
Food sources of tryptophan (or L-tryptophan) include:
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
- Turnip Greens
- Collard Greens
Research suggests that adults can take doses of 150-800mg per day. Higher doses of 5-HTP can become harmful; amounts exceeding 6 grams can reach toxicity.
Can you take 5-HTP every day? 5-HTP should be safe for adults to take daily for up to a year.
What is the best way to take 5-HTP? The best way to take 5-HTP depends on the health condition you’re targeting. The recommended doses of 5-HTP are:
- Depression: 50-100mg, 3 times per day with food
- Insomnia: 100-300mg, 30-45 minutes before bedtime
- Fibromyalgia: 100mg, 3-4 times per day with food
- Headaches: 100–200mg, 2-3 times per day with food
- Weight loss/management: 250-300mg, 30 minutes before eating
These are the recommended ranges. Seek medical advice from a licensed healthcare professional to find out what exact amount will work for you.
Also, note that dietary supplements are not tested by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Some product labels may not be accurate regarding product content.
There are some possible side effects to supplementing with 5-HTP, including:
- Stomach Pain
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Muscular Problems
Can 5-HTP cause anxiety? 5-HTP can cause anxiety, especially if combined with other supplements or medications that affect the brain.
Some research has also linked 5-HTP with EMS (eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome), a serious medical condition that can cause extreme muscle tenderness and blood abnormalities. It is not certain whether this condition is caused by the use of 5-HTP or an accidental contaminant present in a 5-HTP supplement.
Use of 5-HTP should be stopped immediately, and medical consultation should be arranged if any of these conditions occur.
Precautions & Drug Interactions
5-HTP may interfere with certain conditions or medications. It should not be combined with other drugs or supplements that cause similar effects.
Talk to your healthcare provider before starting 5-HTP if you take these medications:
- Serotonergic Compounds: Combining 5-HTP with other SSRIs or MAOIs may cause an overproduction of serotonin. This can lead to serotonin syndrome.
- Sedative Compounds: Because 5-HTP may cause some sedative effects, combining 5-HTP and other sedative medicines (such as zolpidem) could lead to problems. This includes natural sedatives like melatonin or valerian root.
- Compounds that Affect the Brain: Use caution when combining 5-HTP with other medications or supplements that affect amino acid production, like carbidopa, St John’s wort, and SAM-e. Combining these supplements may cause anxiety, rapid speech, or other serious side effects.
- Anesthesias: 5-HTP may interfere with certain medications often used in surgical procedures. Patients who are scheduled for surgery should stop the use of 5-HTP at least two weeks before the procedure.
Children and women who are breastfeeding should not take 5-HTP.
5-HTP has also been associated with seizures in patients with Down syndrome.
Talk to Your Doctor About 5-HTP
5-HTP may offer an effective and affordable alternative to prescription medications for several chronic conditions. It is always best to use precaution and get thorough testing when considering new supplementation or medicine.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you think 5-HTP might be right for you. If you’re in the Denver area, schedule a free consultation with PrimeHealth.
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