Top 5-HTP Supplement Benefits, Uses, Safety & Dosage Review

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid naturally produced in the body and a direct precursor to Serotonin often referred to as “the happy molecule” involved in regulating mood, sleep, appetite, sexual desire and linked to depression when levels are low.

Type: Serotonergic Supplement
Used For: Depression, Anxiety, Mood Enhancement, Migraines, Sleep Disorders, Insomnia, PMS, PMDD, ADHD, Obesity, Fibromyalgia
Typical Dosage: 50 mg-300 mg per day
Drug Interactions: Anti-Depression Drugs, Carbidopa, CNS Depressants (Ativan, Donnatal, Ambien and others) Dextromethorphan, Meperidine, MAOI’s, Pentazocine, Tramadol
Supplement Interactions: 
Supplements with serotonergic or sedative properties

What Is 5-HTP ?

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid naturally synthesized in the body from tryptophan, an essential amino acid we get only from food sources or can be supplemented. It is used to produce Serotonin, a chemical that sends signals between nerve cells and thought to play an important role in mood balance, sleep, appetite and sexual behavior.

5-HTP Supplement Uses, Benefits & SafetyTryptophan can be found in turkey, chicken, pumpkin seeds, tofu, a variety of beans, seaweed and other foods. Some people may have naturally low amounts of Tryptophan or their diets do not provide enough of it to produce 5-HTP which is critical to Serotonin production.

Low levels of Serotonin have been linked to depression, emotional imbalances, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, obesity, low sex drive and even alcohol abuse.

While tryptophan and 5-HTP are both precursors to Serotonin, 5-HTP more readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and converts into Serotonin at a faster rate, eliminating the additional step needed by tryptophan for brain serotonin synthesis.

Serotonin itself cannot enter the brain and must be made within it. Tryptophan in the brain is converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan by the tryptophan hydroxylase enzyme which then is converted into Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT).

Although Serotonin is a well-known neurotransmitter, it is estimated that approximately 80%-90% of the body’s Serotonin is mostly found in the digestive system and made outside the brain which is why 5-HTP supplements are used to help boost brain serotonin levels.

Serotonin is often referred to as “the happy molecule” since it is associated with producing a calmer and happier state of mind. It is often the targeted neurotransmitter in prescription anti-depressant medications.

As a Nootropic, 5-HTP is produced commercially from the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia plant, native to Africa and the varied uses of this supplement are linked to the role Serotonin plays in the body and the brain.

What are the different uses and benefits associated with 5-HTP? Let’s take a look into what the reported effects are and the side effects before trying this supplement.

What is 5-HTP Used For?

5-HTP is necessary for Serotonin synthesis in the brain and is also an indirect precursor to the hormone Melatonin, which makes this supplement uses very diversified. It is highly promoted as a natural remedy for depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and most commonly used for these purposes and others.

According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 5-HTP is also used for a variety of other conditions such as migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, insomnia, obesity and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease but it is not an approved drug by the FDA to treat or prevent any of these conditions.

Serotonin is one of the four major neurotransmitters involved in mood along with Dopamine, Norepinephrine and GABA. These are chemical messengers in the brain that allow communication between nerve cells and Serotonin is thought to play an important role in the regulation of several processes in the brain including depression, emotions, sleep, anxiety, appetite control, pain perceptions, sexual desire and function.

When the role of Tryptophan, the essential amino acid that converts into 5-HTP and then into Serotonin is not working efficiently, it can result in low levels of this neurotransmitter, aging is also a factor. Individuals may typically suffer from depressed mood, anxiousness, panic attacks, insomnia, obsessive and negative thinking, aggressive behavior, low sex drive, cravings for carbohydrates and low energy.

As a Nootropic, 5-HTP is primarily used to promote an increase in the production of this neurotransmitter and many user reviews suggest this supplement works very well for promoting enhanced mood, higher tolerance to stress, reduced social anxiety, need for less sleep and better sleep and less tendency to overeat.

In addition, 5-HTP use as a “cure for hangovers” has also gained a lot of popularity. It is believed that heavy drinking, nicotine and marijuana intake all cause a temporary surge in serotonin release by your neurons but once the highly elated mood fades, it is thought to cause a significant drop in levels of serotonin, lower than your initial level which may account for its reputation for this purpose.

However, the effects of 5-HTP are thought to be temporary and building a tolerance to it is a possibility. Consistent use of 5-HTP can also lead to a depletion in levels other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine that can make many conditions associated with low levels of these catecholamines worse.

In addition, it also important to note that there is no compelling scientific evidence that supports the effectiveness and use of 5-HTP for most of these conditions and this supplement has serious interactions with many medications (see safety below).

Finally, Serotonin is also a precursor to Melatonin, a hormone that is produced in the pineal gland in the brain in dark environments and most known to control sleep/wake cycles (circadian rhythm) that prepares your body for sleep. Low amounts are associated with difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep and there is anecdotal evidence that 5-HTP can help with insomnia.

Surprisingly, Melatonin is also considered essential for controlling mood and research has shown promising results for its use as a natural anti-depressant.

5-HTP Side Effects

Although 5-HTP is a natural supplement, it is associated with potential side effects including nausea, diarrhea, heartburn, stomach cramps, fatigue, vomiting, heart palpitations, sexual problems, changes in mood, impaired decision making, euphoria, insomnia and muscle problems.

This compound can worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder and other mental disorders. Additionally, there is not enough information about the safety of using 5-HTP if you are pregnant or nursing and supplementation should be avoided entirely.

DO NOT TAKE 5-HTP in combination with any type of anti-depressant medications (SSRIs, MAOI’s or Tricyclics) where the combination can cause Serotonin Syndrome an extremely dangerous condition that can be fatal (read below).

If you have a scheduled surgery, you should stop taking 5-HTP 2 weeks prior.

It is suggested to only take this supplement on an occasional, short-term basis and consult your doctor first if you plan on taking it for any extended period of time.

5-HTP Dosage Guidelines & Safety

5-HTP supplementation is considered Possibly Safe when used orally and appropriately. It has been indicated that healthy adults who are NOT diagnosed with any disorder and not currently taking any medications or those who are NOT currently being treated for depression or anxiety can typically achieve positive results with 50 mg-100 mg of 5-HTP taken once or up to three times daily.

Taking 5-HTP in high doses is unsafe and it is not recommended for long-term use. While a boost in Serotonin levels in the brain occurs, it is at the expense of depletion of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine which can lead to worsening conditions or diseases related to these catecholamines such depression, attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and others.

It is important to note that Vitamin B6 is an essential cofactor that is needed for 5-HTP conversion into Serotonin. If you are not currently taking this vitamin and want to try 5-HTP, either add this vitamin to your supplementation regimen or look for 5-HTP supplements that contain it.

5-HTP Interactions

DO NOT take 5-HTP in combination with any type of prescription anti-depressant. This includes SSRI’s, MAOI’s and Tricyclics such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Anafranil, Tofranil, Nardil, Elavil and others. This combination can cause Serotonin Syndrome, a serious condition that occurs when there is an excessive amount of serotonin in the brain and one which can lead to coma and can be fatal.

Symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome include excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, restlessness, agitation, high body temperature, tremors, dilated pupils, fever, unconsciousness and loss of muscle coordination.

5-HTP may also have negative interactions with but not limited to cough medicines like Robitussin DM and others, Ultram, Ambien, Demerol, Lodosyn, Talwin, Donnatal, Ativan and Klonopin.

It is also not recommended to take 5-HTP with other herbal supplements that promote sleepiness and sedation including St.Johns Wort, Valerian root, hops, catnip, skullcap and others.

Dosage recommendations listed here are general guidelines and only your doctor can decide whether a supplement or its dosage is safe for you. It advised to consult with your doctor first before using 5-HTP to ensure it does not interact with any other medications you are currently taking

5-HTP Supplement Alternatives

5-HTP is noted by users as an effective supplement to help relieve depression, anxiety, insomnia and more but scientific studies on its effectiveness are limited and this supplement is associated with depleting the levels of other important neurotransmitters in exchange for its Serotonin and Melatonin boosting effects.

If you are looking into some other supplements instead, the first and most logical alternative is L-Tryptophan. 5-HTP converts directly to Serotonin in the brain but is synthesized from Tryptophan, an amino acid found in certain foods we may consume daily.

Although you still cannot combine either of these supplements with anti-depressant medications, both these supplements are believed to produce identical effects. It is believed that you may build a tolerance to 5-HTP with prolonged use and although the effects of Tryptophan are considered to be more subtle, it may be a safer alternative for long-term use.

Another natural supplement you may want to consider is Rhodiola Rosea. This is an adaptogenic herb that helps boosts resilience to stress and used traditionally for centuries to help relieve anxiety and depression. It is considered a generally safe supplement with few if any reported side effects at appropriate dosages.

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