5-Hydroxytryptophan, more commonly known as 5-HTP, is an organic compound which is used to regulate mood and emotion.
Griffonia simplicifolia, a leafy, African shrub, has seeds which are naturally rich in 5-Hydroxytryptophan. Extracts from these seeds can supplement the body’s natural source for 5-HTP, foods containing the amino acid Tryptophan.
5-HTP is produced in the body as part of the conversion of Tryptophan into Serotonin – also known as 5-Hydroxytryptamine. However, one can also use supplements with 5-Hydroxytryptophan to increase Serotonin levels and promote better mood and stress relief.
Contemporary research suggests that 5-HTP may assist in regulating the biochemistry of the brain, especially regarding mood-influencing neurochemicals and neurotransmitters. This article discusses how 5-Hydroxytryptophan works, side effects to watch out for, and some other natural supplements which may improve mood.
5-Hydroxytryptophan Mechanism of Action
The main goal of 5-Hydroxytryptophan supplementation is to produce Serotonin. Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter connected to calm mood regulation. 5-HTP is the natural precursor to this chemical.
Normally, 5-HTP is produced from Tryptophan found in protein-rich dietary sources such as turkey, fish, spinach, garlic, and beans. Tryptophan from food is broken down into 5-HTP and other metabolites (including Vitamin B3) in the liver.
The 5-Hydroxytryptophan travels through the bloodstream to the brain, where it crosses over the barrier separating the bloodstream from the brain (blood-brain barrier). Once inside the brain, the 5-HTP is converted into Serotonin.
This process is generally adequate to provide a baseline amount of Serotonin in the brain. However, when imbalances occur, food sources may not supply adequate materials to generate enough Serotonin.
It is often not effective to supplement directly with Serotonin to raise levels in the brain. It is not bioavailable and cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. Therefore, taking a 5-HTP supplement may be a way to boost Serotonin production in the brain.
5-HTP is also a precursor to Melatonin. Melatonin is the primary hormone associated with the regulation of circadian rhythm (daily sleep/wake cycle). Serotonin in the brain is converted into Melatonin. During the day, the body produces mostly Serotonin.
However as light levels decrease in the evening and into the night, the body shifts Serotonin production to Melatonin production. Higher levels of Melatonin signal to the body that it is time for sleep. Proper levels of Melatonin allow for deep levels of restorative sleep, which are necessary for the body to function properly.
5-Hydroxytryptophan is also an important regulator of Dopamine. Dopamine is another well-known neurotransmitter which is vital to cognitive function. However, too much Dopamine in the brain can cause a state of hyper-vigilance contrary to the stress-relieving properties of 5-HTP and Serotonin. 5-HTP pills may help the brain balance these chemicals.
Why People Take the Serotonin-Boosting Supplement 5-HTP
Many people take some form of 5-Hydroxytryptophan every day for mood regulation. It may make the stressful demands of a workday more manageable, by helping the user find states of calm and relaxation no matter what external conditions arise.
5-HTP is also used by people who suffer from more serious mood disorders like depression. The Natural Medicines database has rated 5-Hydroxytryptophan as Possibly Effective for improving the symptoms of depression.
Multiple studies have shown that 5-Hydroxytryptophan is significantly better at improving the symptoms of depression than placebo. Other studies have shown that 5-HTP is equally as effective at decreasing symptoms of depression as certain traditional antidepressants (i.e. fluvoxamine, fluoxetine, and imipramine).
The stress-reducing properties of 5-HTP have caused some people to use the supplement for anxiety. Calming the mind allows for easier processing of thoughts and memories, and makes simple tasks more productive and enjoyable.
Research is conflicting on the use of 5-HTP for improving symptoms of anxiety. Preliminary clinical data shows that taking 75-150 mg of 5-HTP in conjunction with carbidopa reduced symptoms of anxiety in patients with a history of anxiety disorders. However, doses above 225 mg of 5-HTP seemed to worsen anxiety symptoms.
Because 5-HTP is an indirect precursor to Melatonin, some people take this supplement for sleep problems. In one research study, patients who took 5-Hydroxytryptophan fell asleep more quickly and slept deeper than patients who were given a placebo.
5-HTP has also been used as a weight loss supplement. Preliminary clinical evidence has shown that taking 300 mg 5-HTP three times per day before meals improved satiety, decreased caloric intake, and decreased weight in obese female patients compared to placebo patients.
Research is limited on the full effects of 5-HTP on conditions such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and obesity, and more clinical studies are still needed. At this time the FDA has not approved 5-Hydroxytryptophan as a drug to prevent or treat any conditions.
5-Hydroxytryptophan Dosage Info
As with all mental health supplements, proper dosage of 5-Hydroxytryptophan will depend on age, weight, personal sensitivities, tolerances, and the reason for taking the supplement. Talk with your doctor to determine the appropriate dosage for your personal needs.
For most users, positive 5-HTP effects can often be had at low or moderate doses. A standard starting dose is 40 mg – 50 mg per day. Taken daily, this amount may produce mild yet noticeable effects. After sampling the supplement at this amount with no adverse effects, the dosage may be increased to 100 mg per day.
For acute stress attacks, some people who already have experience with the supplement may take up to 150 mg or 200 mg in a single day, spread over a few administrations.
Side effects are often minimal at 100 mg or below. Above that amount, the risk of side effects increases. At very high amounts, the risk of side effects significantly increases, with no reported increase in benefits.
Safety and Side Effects of Taking 5-Hydroxytryptophan
5-HTP has been rated by the Natural Medicines database as Possibly Safe for oral use in adults. Use in pregnant and nursing women is considered Possibly Unsafe, and use in these cases is to be avoided.
Most people who take 5-HTP at an appropriate dosage can expect to experience no or mild side effects. The most common mild side effects that have been reported include nausea, stomachache, heartburn, vomiting, and diarrhea.
One of the main drawbacks of 5-Hydroxytryptophan supplementation is that it might be too mild for some people. This is especially true in cases of more severe mood imbalances. However, for most people, the supplement does not become more effective at very high amounts. In fact, at very high doses, 5-HTP can present some toxicity issues in the form of Serotonin Syndrome.
Serotonin Syndrome occurs when there is an excess of Serotonin in the brain. This condition is uncommon, yet serious. Symptoms like restlessness, agitation, irregular heartbeat, and intense difficulty concentrating can progress to life-threatening levels if left untreated. The risk is especially high when combining 5-HTP with prescription anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds (e.g. SSRIs and MAOIs).
Complimentary Supplements to take with 5-Hydroxytryptophan
The best way to enhance 5-Hydroxytryptophan effects is not by increasing the dose. A better option would be to stack 5-HTP with additional complementary anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and antidepressant supplements.
While 5-HTP affects mood lift and stress relief via Serotonin pathways, many other supplements are known to produce enhancements to mood through different effects. Some popular choices to stack with 5-Hydroxytryptophan include Valerian Root, L-Theanine, Kava Kava, Ashwagandha, and Bacopa Monnieri.
Always check with your doctor before beginning any new supplements. Your doctor will be able to help you determine the best dosage of 5-Hydroxytryptophan for your needs and if there may be negative interactions with any medications or other supplements you are taking.