What is 5-HTP and what is it used for?

5-HTP supplements are recommended to raise serotonin levels. However, despite the fact that they can be purchased without a prescription, their consumption carries risks.

Last update: 06 November, 2021

5-HTP, also known as 5-hydroxytryptophan, is an amino acid. Said compound has the property of converting into serotonin once it is assimilated.

Although it is produced naturally by the body, it can also be consumed in drugs and supplements. These are obtained from the seeds of the plant Griffonia simplicifolia.

5-HTP acts directly on the brain and nervous system, causing serotonin production to increase. This neurotransmitter affects the regulation of body temperature, sleep, appetite, sexual desire and even the perception of pain.

For this reason, 5-HTP is used to treat depression, insomnia and anxiety, among other disorders. However, it can carry some risks, as we will see below.

What is 5-HTP and what is it for?

5-Hydroxytryptophan or 5-HTP can be known by a wide variety of names: amino propanoic acid, oxytryptan or any variety of combinations with hydroxytryptophan.

Basically, it is an amino acid byproduct of the L-tryptophan protein block. It is generated naturally by the body, which uses it to process serotonin.

It is necessary to clarify that this compound is not found in food, although there is L-tryptophan in those rich in proteins (dairy, meat and grains). 5-HTP is obtained from the seeds of a plant known as Griffonia simplicifolia, native to Africa. Once synthesized, it is consumed through drugs or supplements.

It is believed that it can help restore serotonin, raising it to optimal levels. Thus, 5-HTP supplements are recommended and used to treat various conditions in which the aforementioned neurotransmitter is believed to play an important role.

This includes anxiety, depression, sleeping and eating disorders, chronic pain, migraines, even fibromyalgia. It is also thought to improve cognitive appearance and even sexual functioning.



Dosage and recommendations for use

5-Hydroxytryptophan is taken orally in capsules. The manufacturers of some multivitamins may also add a certain amount of 5-HTP.

In particular, supplements of this compound can come in capsules of 25, 50 or 100 milligrams. The general recommendation is to start with the lowest dose and gradually increase.

Everything will depend on the reason why it is consumed. In this sense, the following guidelines can be taken into account:

  • Weight control: 250–300 mg, half an hour before eating.
  • Mood: 50-100 mg, 3 times a day.
  • For sleeping: 100–200 mg, half an hour before bedtime.
  • Fibromyalgia: 100 mg, 3 to 4 times a day.
  • Migraines: 100 to 200 mg, 2 to 3 times a day.

It is relatively safe to take an average of 400 mg of 5-HTP daily for up to a year. Larger doses can cause side effects.

And although it is sold without a prescription, it is advisable to speak with your doctor before starting its consumption. Likewise, it should be noted that neither the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the European Medicines Agency (EMA) regulate this type of supplements.

Many supplements are not regulated by government institutions. This is the case with 5-HTP.


Potential benefits of 5-HTP

According to the studies, low serotonin levels are associated with anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping. Therefore, it is thought that increasing the production of this substance could help to treat such problems.

Lose weight

Serotononin affects melanocortin and other hormones that induce hunger or satiety. In this way, by producing a feeling of fullness, the person’s appetite is regulated, so that they will feel less desire to eat.

Therefore, 5-HTP supplements are used to aid weight loss. In a clinical study conducted with 19 patients who showed signs of obesity, it was confirmed that this compound helped them feel full and less desire to eat.

Other studies confirm the role of serotonin in reducing intake. In particular, they suggest that, by helping to reduce carbohydrate intake, 5-HTP can help meet dietary prescriptions in diabetic patients not insulin dependent.

Depression

The most widely accepted thesis is that depression, both exogenous and endogenous, has to do with serotonin imbalance. Therefore, it is assumed that raising its levels will improve the person’s mood.

In this sense, it is considered that 5-HTP supplements would help treat depression. Although some studies also suggest that this compound works better if it is used in combination with other substances, such as creatine.

The results have been replicated in subsequent investigations. However, these are small samples, so work still needs to be done with larger populations and in a longer period of time.

In fact, a meta-analysis reviewed the results of more than 100 investigations on the use of 5-HTP to alleviate symptoms of depression. And it was found that few studies used high-quality methods, so there is insufficient evidence.

Anxiety

Low serotonin is probably associated with anxiety and panic. Therefore, hydroxytryptophan is touted as an option to help reduce these sensations.

Some research with small groups of volunteers seems to have shown this supplement to be effective in this regard.

Sleep disorders

It is considered that 5-HTP supplementation could increase melatonin production, thus helping to promote sleep. However, some of the research that supports this has been done on the basis of animal models.

Another review found that among the various treatments used for sleep problems, benzodiazepines, antidepressant drugs, and L-5-hydroxytryptophan may be beneficial.

Migraines

In a multi-month clinical trial with a group of 124 people, 600 mg of 5-HTP per day was as effective as more conventional migraine treatments. What’s more, hydroxytryptophan seemed to work better in reducing the intensity and duration of migraines.

However, other studies do not confirm these findings, observing different results, since 5-HTP was less effective than propanolol. Therefore, more research is needed in the future.

Fibromyalgia

The causes of fibromyalgia are not clearly identified. It is often associated with low serotonin levels. Consequently, serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants are used.

Studies suggest that 5-HTP may be beneficial in improving symptoms in fibromyalgia patients, such as pain, stiffness, fatigue, anxiety, and trouble falling asleep.

Contraindications and interactions of 5-HTP

Hydroxytryptophan it is not recommended for all types of people. In particular, its use is not recommended in the following situations:

  • Pregnant women.
  • In the lactation process.
  • Children under 12 years old.
  • Newly operated people.

5-HTP can interact with various medications. Therefore, precautions should be taken when consuming any of the following:

  • Antidepressants
  • Serotonergic drugs.
  • Decarboxylase inhibitors.
  • Medicines with dextromethorphan.
  • Sedatives
Despite being a supplement, drug interactions must be considered when ingesting it.

Risks and side effects of 5-HTP

Research shows that taking hydroxytryptophan increases serotonin, but can deplete or reduce the levels of other neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine.

The chances of effects increase when the intake of such supplements is done in a long term or if it is taken together with other supplements or drugs. Among these effects are the following:

  • Heart problems.
  • Seizures
  • Acidity.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety and aggressiveness.

They are supplements, not hobbies

The fact that supplements do not require a prescription to be purchased can cause many people to consider the decision of their consumption lightly. But no medicine is harmless nor should it be taken to match.

So, when considering the possibility of using 5-HTP or other supplements, medical advice should always be sought. Especially if you suffer from any illness.

On the other hand, you have to follow the instructions to the letter, avoiding using more than recommended. In case of forgetting to take the supplement at the usual time, it would be necessary to wait until it is time for the next dose.

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