Used by millions of people, 5-HTP supplements are a common natural therapy for depression, sleep problems, weight loss and many other health concerns.
5-HTP works in the brain and central nervous system by increasing the synthesis of serotonin, a compound which acts as a neurotransmitter.
So it’s also used for conditions where serotonin is thought to play a role, like fibromyalgia. (Fibromyalgia is a condition characterised by symptoms of widespread pain and tenderness, fatigue, cognitive disturbance and emotional distress.)
Increasing your body’s serotonin levels is thought to result in a host of health benefits. These include improved mood, enhanced feelings of wellbeing and even suppressed hunger.
Clinical studies indicate supplementing with 5-HTP can produce positive results for conditions associated with low serotonin levels (e.g. obesity, PMS, addiction, migraines and insomnia).
5-HTP health benefits
5-HTP supplements are widely associated with the following health benefits:
- Relieves symptoms of depression
- Supports feelings of calm
- Assists with common symptoms of fibromyalgia
- Aids in weight loss
- Enables a better night’s sleep
- Reduces feelings of anxiety and panic
- Increases the synthesis of serotonin
How does 5-HTP relieve depression symptoms?
5-HTP supplements are thought to assist with depression and depression-related symptoms. They do this by increasing the levels of serotonin in the body, resulting in a variety of mood-related health benefits.
The majority of scientific research into the health benefits of 5-HTP supplementation concerns depression. In 15 separate studies, over half of patients with different kinds of depression who took 5-HTP for 2-4 weeks had significant improvement in their depression-related symptoms.Symptoms related to depression can include:
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep
- Losing interest in regular activities
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss or gain
- Changes in mood (ie anger, irritability)
- Behavioural changes
Additional research suggested that 5-HTP supplements could be just as effective as conventional antidepressant therapies. Therapies included in the research included the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) fluvoxamine and the tricyclic antidepressants, chloripramine and imipramine.5-HTP can help to:
- Improve symptoms of depression
- Support mood and sleep
- Potentially as beneficial as conventional antidepressants
5-HTP and sleep and anxiety
Insomnia often goes hand in hand with feelings of anxiety and even panic disorder. When your sleep is disrupted, your mood suffers as a result.
5-HTP is beneficial for insomnia sufferers because it increases the length of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This significantly improves sleep quality.
Improving the quality of your sleep has immense lifestyle benefits. Enhanced mood, feelings of wellbeing, regulated appetite, improved memory, motivation, longevity and immunity are all associated with good quality sleep.
The symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders may be significantly reduced by taking a 5-HTP supplement. Clinical research has suggested that 5-HTP supplementation instilled a sense of relief in patients with panic disorders.5-HTP can help to:
- Improve the quality of sleep
- Increase the length of REM sleep
- Reduce feelings of anxiety related to insomnia
- Promote feelings of relief and calm
5-HTP and fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterised by symptoms of widespread pain and tenderness, fatigue, cognitive disturbance and emotional distress. Its causes are still not known. While there is no ‘cure’, treatment is aimed at alleviating symptoms.
There is good scientific evidence suggesting that taking 5-HTP by mouth can improve symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Pain severity, morning stiffness and sleeplessness were improved in fibromyalgia patients who supplemented with 5-HTP in a double-blind study of 50.5-HTP can help to:
- Improve pain severity associated with fibromyalgia
- Improve morning stiffness associated with fibromyalgia
- Increase deep sleep in patients suffering from fibromyalgia
Who can benefit from taking a 5-HTP supplement?5-HTP may be beneficial for you if you’re someone who is
- Suffering from depression-related symptoms
- Prone to bouts of depression
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Are experiencing low mood
- Want a natural way to manage feelings of anxiety and panic
- Are experiencing any of the symptoms of fibromyalgia
- Would like a natural supplement to assist with regulating your weight
Does 5-HTP have any side effects?
5-HTP side effects are rare when the supplement is taken in accordance with the recommended daily doses of 50 - 400 mg.
There have been reports that 5-HTP taken in high dosages can cause heart palpitations. This may occur when the dosage of 5-HTP is introduced too quickly or at too high of a rate. In these cases, temporary feelings of unrest and increased activity may result. By introducing 5-HTP slowly and taking the supplement at the correct dose, side effects can be avoided.
Other reported side effects have included nausea, gastrointestinal symptoms (such as soft bowel movements and gas) and tiredness.
There isn’t any scientific evidence to suggest that people who take 5-HTP for a prolonged period will develop resistance or a dependency.
What’s more, 5-HTP has no associated symptoms of withdrawal, so it can be stopped or interrupted without experiencing withdrawal (unlike many common sleep medications).
5-HTP supplements often contain a combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs that are designed to enhance the effects of 5-HTP. If you’re considering a 5-HTP supplement, nutrients commonly combined with 5-HTP to enhance its effects can include:
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Vitamin B6
5-HTP medicine interactions
5-HTP supplements may interact with other medications you may be taking. Because 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, it can interact with agents that modulate levels of serotonin.
People who take 5-HTP with an antidepressant drug may be at increased risk of developing serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome was seen in patients taking daily doses higher than 1,200 mg of L-tryptophan and MAO inhibitors.
If you’re taking any sort of antidepressant medication, discuss 5-HTP supplementation with your healthcare professional.
5-HTP contraindications and cautions
It’s important to be aware that supplements containing 5-HTP should be avoided in the following situations:
- During pregnancy and while breast-feeding - if you are pregnant or trying to be, or if you are breast-feeding, 5-HTP should be avoided
- Individuals with Down syndrome - 5-HTP may cause seizures in certain people with Down syndrome
- Prior to surgery - consult your physician if you are considering taking 5-HTP before a surgical procedure as it may interact with some medications administered during surgery
If you are unsure of whether a 5-HTP supplement is right for you, always consult your healthcare professional.
How much 5-HTP do you need?
Because different brands vary in their dosing guidelines, always read the 5-HTP supplement label to determine the optimal dosage for you.
Also, many supplements containing 5-HTP also contain variable combinations of vitamins, herbs and minerals. So you need to follow the instructions on the supplement label at all times.
If you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to begin slowly with a small dosage to see how the supplement affects you. Also, you should always take 5-HTP half an hour before eating.
If you have any questions or concerns, speak to your healthcare professional before you start taking 5-HTP.
Foods highest in 5-HTP
The food we eat does not contain 5-HTP directly. The body makes 5-HTP from the amino acid L-tryptophan, which can be found in protein rich food. However, eating protein-rich foods does not increase 5-HTP levels significantly.
5-HTP is found in the seeds of the African healing herb griffonia simplicifolia and is extracted from this seed to make 5-HTP supplements.
When you’re choosing a 5-HTP supplement, be sure to confirm that the product label contains griffonia simplicifolia extract. Definitely avoid products that contain binders, fillers or additives. Some 5-HTP supplements have been associated with impurities in the manufacturing of the product, so always choose trusted brands.
Why take a 5-HTP supplement?
People take 5-HTP as a dietary supplement for many reasons, due to is ability to increase the synthesis of serotonin. Research has indicated that 5-HTP can be beneficial for people who are looking to:
- Improve depression-related symptoms
- Promote healthy sleep
- Enhance the quality of sleep
- Improve low mood
- Reduce feelings of anxiety and panic
- Aid symptoms of fibromyalgia
- Assist weight loss
Other names of 5-HTP
5HTP, 5 HTP, 5 Hydroxy-Tryptophan, 5 Hydroxy-Tryptophane, 5-hydroxytryptophan, 5-Hydroxytryptophane, 5-Hydroxy L-Tryptophan, 5-Hydroxy L-Tryptophane, 5-Hydroxy Tryptophan, 5-Hydroxy Tryptophane, 5-L-Hydroxytryptophan, Oxitriptan.