5-HTP is an abbreviation for 5-hydroxytryptophan, a tryptophan amino acid derivative found in foods rich in protein such as beef, chicken, fish and dairy products. In the body, 5-HTP is produced from tryptophan. This amino acid is also found in the seeds of the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia, from which dietary supplements containing 5-HTP are available, which you can buy in healthy food stores.
5-HTP is acting on the brain and, among other things, improves mood, stimulates sleep, helps in weight loss and relieves migraine. Unlike many other nutritional supplements and medicines whose molecules are too large to enter the brain from the bloodstream, 5-HTP is small enough for that. It is then transformed into the brain’s vital substance – neurotransmiter serotonin. This substance also works elsewhere in the body, but the most important effects are in the brain; serotonin affects all processes in the brain – from mood, over appetite, to sleep.
There are certain contradictions that result from the fact that 5-HTP is related to tryptophan. In 1989, the United Kingdom and some other countries prohibited the sale of L-tryptophan due to the occurrence of lethal illnesses in those who took it. It has been shown, however, that the disease caused contamination during production, not tryptophan alone. Five years later, 1994., people in the United States could buy 5-HTP without prescription as a substitute for tryptophan, and today it be purchased in the United Kingdom. In order to avoid problems with contamination, 5-HTP is produced differently than tryptophan. Despite some concern, most scientists believe that this dietary supplement is safe and effective.
How does it work?
Because of the effect on increasing serotonin levels in the brain, 5-HTP is being explored today in the treatment of mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks, as well as in disorders related to low serotonin levels, such as migraine, fibromyalgia, obesity, eating disorders, PMS, and even violent behavior. Initial results are promising, but further research is needed to determine its effectiveness in these conditions.
MAIN USEFUL EFFECTS: for decades, doctors have prescribed 5-HTP in treating depression and insomnia. In some cases it may be more effective and act faster, with fewer side effects than standard antidepressants. According to one study, antidepressants were ineffective in more than half of the patients, and after 5-HTP was used they felt better. It has also been shown that this substance stimulates sleep and improves its quality by prolonging the time spent in the two phases of sleep: deep sleep and REM stage (a stage in which a person dreams). After a long sleep with dreams, the person who took 5-HTP feels well rested and fresh.
ADDITIONAL USEFUL EFFECTS: 5-HTP can also help to people who suffer from migraine or trying to lose weight. In one study, obese women who used 5-HTP took fewer calories, lost weight faster and, despite reducing diet, had a greater sense of satiety compared to the group of obese women who took placebo. Preparations containing 5-HTP may be useful in severe headaches because they reduce their frequency, strength and duration.
In the case of fibromyalgia (chronic condition with symptoms of pain and fatigue), dietary supplements containing 5-HTP can help to increase the tolerance to pain, which is at least partly a consequence of alleviating depression in these patients. In one Italian study conducted on 200 patients with fibromyalgia, the group who took 5-HTP and antidepressants suffered less from pain than those who took only 5-HTP or just antidepressants. If you are already taking antidepressants, do not start taking 5-HTP on your own. Contact your doctor first for possible adverse effects.
How to take it?
DOSAGE: the recommended dose for treating depression and other problems is 50 to 100 mg, three times a day.
For migraine: take 100 mg as needed, three times a day.
For insomnia: before going to bed, take 100 mg. It is advised to start with lower doses (about 50 mg), but you can increase them later, if necessary.
USE GUIDELINES: take 5-HTP on an empty stomach to make the absorption faster. If you use this supplement for weight loss, do it about 30 minutes before meals. Unless the doctor advises otherwise, these preparations should not be taken for more than three months. Sometimes this substance is taken with cantarion preparations, which also improve mood, but you don’t have to combine 5-HTP with them, nor with antidepressants, unless your physician tells you otherwise.
Possible side effects
Side effects are mostly mild; nausea, constipation, flatulence, drowsiness and reduced sexual stimulation. Nausea usually disappears after a few days.
IMPORTANT: if you are taking antidepressants, consult your doctor before using dietary supplements with 5-HTP. This combination can cause anxiety, confusion, faster heartbeat, sweating, diarrhea, or other adverse reactions.
Until you are absolutely sure that 5-HTP has no negative effect on your health, do not handle the vehicles and do not deal with potentially dangerous jobs. This substance may cause drowsiness in some people.
In high doses 5-HTP is toxic and thus acts on the liver or exacerbates asthma. Avoid it if you are pregnant or if you are planning pregnancy.