5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP or 5-Hydroxy-l-tryptophan) is an amino acid that converts in the brain into a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin is an important brain chemical involved in mood, behavior, appetite, and sleep. Serotonin is known as 5-HT, or 5-hydroxytryptamine, and is found in many places in the body particularly the brain, gastrointestinal system, and blood cells. It is believed that, due to the stress-filled era of modern living, people have lower levels of serotonin in the brain. This can cause people to become overweight, crave sugar and other carbohydrates, experience bouts of depression, get frequent headaches, and have vague muscle aches and pain. By raising the levels of serotonin in the brain, these problems can be corrected.
5-HTP was introduced to the over the counter market in 1994. Even though it is relatively new to the United States health food industry, it has been available through pharmacies for several years. Since the 1970?s it has been available in several European countries as a medicine. With it being so new, the safety issues are still unclear. Little is known about the chronic use of 5-HTP and it is recommended to take 5-HTP in the minimum effective dosage and to avoid prolonged use. A tolerance may develop in people with continual use. No reports of life threatening side effects have been reported from use of 5-HTP.
2. What does it do and what scientific studies give evidence to support this?
Research has shown that some people who take 5-HTP noticed an improvement in their mood, reduction in anxiety, decrease in appetite, and felt they were able to sleep better. There have also been reports of people who get a wired feeling when taking 5-HTP.
In 1975, research was done on rats that were bred to overeat and be obese. The rats were given 5-HTP which resulted in a significant reduction in their food intake. These rats were fat because of the low activity levels of an enzyme that converts tryptophan to 5-HTP and subsequently to serotonin. Basically, they were genetically determined to not stop eating and consume more than normal rats.
There is circumstantial evidence that some humans are genetically predisposed to obesity. It is believed that the mechanism observed in the rats is the same in humans. In other words, some people are overweight because they have a lower conversion rate of tryptophan to 5-HTP, which results in decreased levels of serotonin. 5-HTP can help curb appetite and lead to weight loss. Not everyone notices a decrease in appetite from using 5-HTP. If a decrease is noticed, with lifestyle changes and a change in diet, 5-HTP can be used as a temporary appetite suppressant in a life long plan for keeping weight off.
Research has been done on how 5-HTP affects people with depression. It is documented that it can be a very effective antidepressant agent. One study that is very impressive involved 99 patients that suffered from depression. These patients did not respond to normal antidepressant drugs. They were given an average of 200mg of 5-HTP a day. 43 of the 99 reported a complete recovery and 8 others reported a significant improvement.
5-HTP may also be helpful in some individuals with migraine headaches. Headache sufferers have low levels of serotonin in their tissues. Some researchers refer to this as a low serotonin syndrome. Several studies, for both migraine and tension headaches, have been conducted using 5-HTP as a prevention for headaches. The results of these studies were outstanding! It can offer considerable advantages over drug therapy due to the fact that 5-HTP has no side effects.
3. Who needs it and what are symptoms of deficiency?
Anyone who seeks to improve their mood, behavior, appetite, or sleep may benefit from taking 5-HTP. Symptoms of low levels of serotonin include depression, obesity, carbohydrate craving, bulimia, insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, migraine headaches, tension headaches, chronic daily headaches, premenstrual syndrome, and fibromyalgia.
4. How much should be taken? Are there any side effects?
It is recommended that you start with 50 mg three times per day when supplementing for depression, weight loss, headaches, and fibromyalgia. If there is no or little response after two weeks of use, increase the dosage to 100 mg three times a day. It is recommended this way to help reduce the risk of mild symptoms of nausea often experienced during the first few weeks of use. 5-HTP can be taken with food, but if you are using it for weight loss it is recommended that you take it 20 minutes before meals.
5. Where can I get it?
There are different brand names that manufacture supplemental 5-HTP.