5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a chemical by-product of the amino acid tryptophan and assists in the formation of neurotransmitters melatonin and serotonin in the body to enhance mood and reduce hunger.
5-HTP is usually recommended for the use of those who suffer from a variety of problems including sleep disorders, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and migraine. Other problems cured by 5-HTP may include headaches, obesity, Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s disease and menstrual disorders.
It is primarily responsible for the production of serotonin in the human brain.
To understand the functioning principles of 5-HTP, we need to understand the functions of serotonin.
Serotonin is one of the principle neurotransmitters in the body which actively plays a role in inducing happiness and reducing depression.
Some psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety among others, can result in reduced serotonin levels in the body. This is where 5-HTP comes in. It works to increase serotonin levels among those suffering from low-serotonin problems.
It functions in the brain and central nervous system to increase serotonin production. This works to improve the person’s sleep pattern, lower appetite for those looking to lose weight, improves sexual behavior, and reduces pain sensation.
The assistance in production of serotonin and melatonin makes 5-HTP extremely useful for the treatment of various problems. Apart from its practical uses, there are numerous theoretical benefits which are under scientific consideration.
Some of the areas where 5-HTP can be effective include:
Depression: The use of 5-HTP as the sole therapeutic substance to cure depression is a controversial concept. Although the serotonin production functions of 5-HTP make it theoretically possible for it to act as a cure for depression, the practical evidence is insufficient to effectively prove the theory.
This was the verdict of a 2002 study by the Cochrane Collaboration. After a thorough review of 108 patient trials, they agreed that 5-HTP was better than placebo drugs in curing depression. However, the evidence gained from the endeavor was deemed insufficient as conclusive proof. (1)
Obesity and weight loss: Many research reports have attempted to study the relationship between the use of 5-HTP and the reduction of hunger and weight loss. One such study was conducted using extracts of griffonia simplicifolia, which are a source of 5-HTP.
In the study, 20 overweight or obese females were required to consume 5-HTP through oral spray in three hits five times a day. After an observation for four weeks, it was noted that the women experienced a significant reduction in the tendency to binge eat and a significant increase in satiation after meals. These factors led to weight loss in the experimental group. (2)
So it can be safely assumed that regular use of 5-HTP products can lead to a reduction in hunger which can help with weight loss.
Sleep disorders: The administration of 5-HTP products can also assist in combating the effects of sleep disorders such as insomnia and irregular sleep pattern. The release of serotonin triggered by the consumption of 5-HTP is one of the leading causes of its effectiveness in improving the quality of sleep.
At least one scientific study attests to this fact. In the study, a combination of downer neurotransmitters and 5-HTP was administered to those suffering from irregular sleep. The administration of these products was noted to substantially reduce the average time required to fall asleep. It also led to an improvement in the quality and duration of sleep as measured by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). (7)
Other uses: 5-HTP is also found to be effective in reducing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It may help reduce anxiety and panic attacks.
It is also found to be effective in improving pain, fatigue, tenderness, and anxiety in people suffering from fibromyalgia.
In case of Parkinson’s disease, lower doses of 5-HTP seem to reduce shaking, but the effects only seem to last for around 5 months. Some 5-HTP products may lead to improvement in symptoms of schizophrenia among young men.
Although there are no guaranteed side effects of 5-HTP consumption, it may adversely affect certain people in some cases.
For instance, some of the users of 5-HTP products have developed a condition known as the Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS). It is a serious condition which may result in extreme muscle tenderness and blood abnormalities.
However, it’s important to note here that there is no scientific evidence to prove that 5-HTP, itself, has been the cause of the diagnosis of EMS. It may even be caused due to a contamination or an accidental ingredient in 5-HTP products.
Other potential side effects may include heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle problems, stomach pain, and drowsiness.
The recommended dosage levels for 5-HTP range from around 300-500 mg. It can be consumed either all at once or in smaller doses on a daily basis. However, the dosage can be lowered even further if it is to be paired with other similar substances.
If you intend to use 5-HTP to reduce appetite for weight loss purposes, you should not take it on an empty stomach. For best results, it should be consumed with the meal so that your body feels satisfied with the intake of food.
For consumption for the treatment of psychological or neurological disorders, you must take extreme care when pairing it with other drugs. Some of these ill-advised pairings can have disastrous consequences. For instance, pairing 5-HTP with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can even result in death. It is therefore advised that you should consult with your doctor before consuming any such combination.
Summary: 5-HTP functions primarily by stimulating the release of serotonin and melatonin in the body. As serotonin induces happiness, 5-HTP products can be used to treat depression. It’s also an effective treatment for obesity by reducing hunger and increasing satiation.