While 5-HTP is not naturally found in any foods in large enough levels to be useful, modern science has come up with a way to extract pure 5-HTP from the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia plant. Some research and studies have shown that 5-HTP supplements taken on a daily basis may provide several health benefits.
What is 5-Hydroxytryptophan
One of the simplest definitions of 5-Hydroxytryptophan is as follows…
5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a chemical by-product of the protein building block L-tryptophan. It is also produced commercially from the seeds of an African plant (Griffonia simplicifolia).(Source: MedlinePlus)
After L-tryptophan was banned for sale as a dietary supplement after one incident, health conscious individuals – including scientists – began looking at other ways to get the same benefits of L-tryptophan, including increased serotonin levels. This may help with a variety of problems, including anxiety and some forms of depression.
Can 5-HTP Be Found in Foods?
Trace amounts of 5-HTP can be found in turkey meat as well as bananas, but the amount is not enough to have any impact on the body. Today, most 5-HTP supplements are based on the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia – specifically, the seeds. Once 5-HTP has been extracted from Griffonia simplicifolia, it is preserved in powder form so that it can be easily added to nutritional supplements.
Why Take 5-HTP Supplements?
A naturopathic physician – who is considered to be an expert on 5-HTP – has reported one study of 5-HTP that involved 99 patients. They were described as suffering from “therapy resistant depression.” The patients in the study had not responded to any previous therapy, including antidepressant drugs and electro convulsive therapy.
Specifically reported was, “These therapy resistant patients received 5-HTP at dosages averaging 200 mg daily but ranging from 50 to 600 mg per day. Complete recovery was seen in 43 of the 99.” (Source: What advantages does 5-HTP have over L-tryptophan?)
The benefits of 5-HTP go beyond helping with depression.
What are the Health Benefits of 5-HTP?
These are the benefits some have reported after taking 5-HTP supplements on a daily basis.
- Fibromyalgia – Taking 5-HTP orally may improve symptoms of fibromyalgia, including severity of pain, stiffness of joints and muscles, and sleeplessness. (Source: Medline Plus)
- Insomnia - Consuming enough 5-HTP on a daily basis may help those who suffer from insomnia and certain other sleep related disorders. (Source: University of Maryland Medical Center)
- Menopause - Some have reported that 5-HTP taken on a daily basis in the correct dosage may help with symptoms of menopause. (Source:NYU Langone Medical Center.)
Supplements containing the right amount of 5-HTP have also been found to help with anxiety and depression.
5-HTP and Depression
Some studies and research have shown evidence that 5-HTP supplements – when the correct dosage is taken on a daily basis – may be as effective as Prozac and various other similar prescription drugs used for depression. More research is being conducted all the time, but initial findings have been very positive when it comes to using 5-Hydroxytryptophan to battle depression.
Not all forms of depression will be helped by taking 5-HTP, but the ability of this by-product of the protein building block L-tryptophan can help increase production of serotonin, an important hormone that helps regulate a person’s mood throughout the day. When serotonin levels are not sufficient, this may lead to clinical depression over time.
108 trials were located using the specified search strategy. Of these, only two trials, involving a total of 64 patients, were of sufficient quality to meet inclusion criteria. The available evidence suggests these substances were better than placebo at alleviating depression (Peto Odds Ratio 4.10; 95% confidence interval 1.28-13.15; RD 0.36; NNT 2.78). However, the evidence was of insufficient quality to be conclusive. (Source: Tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan for depression.by Shaw K, Turner J, and Del Mar C.)
While more research and studies should be conducted, initial findings have shown that 5-HTP taken in the right doses throughout the day may work as well as some prescription antidepressant drugs – without as many harsh side effects as seen with many SSRI medications.
5-HTP and Anxiety
While anxiety can be caused by numerous factors, one of these is low serotonin levels, which can be treated rather easily.
An 8-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study compared 5-HTP and the drug clomipramine in 45 individuals suffering from anxiety disorders The results showed that 5-HTP was effective, but clomipramine was more effective. (Source: Kahn RS, Westenberg HG, Verhoeven WM, et al. Effect of a serotonin precursor and uptake inhibitor in anxiety disorders; a double-blind comparison of 5-hydroxytryptophan, clomipramine and placebo. Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 1987;2:33-45.)
This follows evidence that has shown antidepressant drugs have worked for people with anxiety problems.
What is the Recommended Dosage of 5-HTP?
The exact recommended dosage of 5-HTP on a daily basis will vary from person to person depending on why they are taking it as well as other factors. No more than 300 mg of pure 5-HTP should be taken in any 24 hour period. Starting with the lowest dose possible is recommended. In most cases, this will be 50 mg three times a day before meals. If no results are seen within two weeks, gradually increasing the daily dose may have an effect.
Are There Dangers when Taking 5-HTP?
Taking 5-HTP supplements on a daily basis is not dangerous. Those who have any questions about possible drug interactions with 5-HTP should consult a physician or healthcare professional. While taking the recommended dose is not dangerous, some people may experience mild side effects (when compared to similar prescription medication like Prozac).
Common 5-HTP Side Effects
One of the most common side effects people taking 5-HTP have reported is nausea. This can be alleviated by taking 5-HTP supplements with food – like a slice or two of apple – to help the body better absorb what is needed while not causing an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal problems.
Doctor Oz and 5-HTP for Weight Loss
While Doctor Oz goes out of his way not to mention specific brands of supplements, he has talked quite a bit about the benefits of using 5-HTP to help with anxiety, depression, and even weight loss. Visiting the Doctor Oz website is recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about his thoughts on this powerful way to help the body and mind.
Sources and More Information
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2 Shaw K, Turner J, Del Mar C. Tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2002;:CD003198.
3 Caruso I, Sarzi Puttini P, Cazzola M, Azzolini V. Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome. J Int Med Res 1990;18:201-9.
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5 Nicolodi M, Sicuteri F. Fibromyalgia and migraine, two faces of the same mechanism. Serotonin as the common clue for pathogenesis and therapy. Adv Exp Med Biol 1996;398:373-9.
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11 Klarskov K, Johnson KL, Benson LM, Gleich GJ, Naylor S. Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome case-associated contaminants in commercially available 5-hydroxytryptophan. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1999;467:461-468.