What is 5-HTP?

What is 5-HTP?

In a world filled with supplements and medicines, it is hard to keep track of which pills are worth taking. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a chemical supplement that has been around for a few decades now, and is ever popular. Manufactures maintain that the supplement helps deal with depression, aids in weight loss, and combats headaches and migraines.

Is what little research on the effects of the chemical adequate reason for adding the 5-HTP to your daily supplement regimen? In this examination of 5-HTP, we take a closer look at the alleged benefits and possible risks of taking the supplement.


Where 5-HTP Comes From 

The human body naturally creates 5-HTP from dietary intake of an amino acid called tryptophan. It is unlikely, however, that eating foods with tryptophan will result in a noticeable increase in the amount of 5-HTP your body produces. For this reason, dietary supplements are manufactured from Griffonia siplicifolia, a plant native to Africa.


How It Works

Once 5-HTP is in your system, either through natural synthesis or from taking supplements, the body converts it into another chemical, serotonin. This is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that helps different parts of the brain communicate to each other more effectively. Low serotonin levels are linked to certain conditions such as depression, obesity, and migraines, thus the addition of 5-HTP is a logical solution. In most cases, evidence to support the effectiveness of 5-HTP to combat these conditions is lacking.



It is known that 5-HTP increases levels of serotonin in the brain. For cases of mild-to-moderate depression, there is a class of antidepressants with the same function, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including Prozac, Luvox, and Zoloft, or fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, and sertraline, respectively. In only a handful of small studies, a test group of 63 people found 5-HTP to be as successful as these medicines as antidepressants. These studies were far too small to be conclusive, however.



For people who suffer from chronic migraines headaches, doctors sometimes prescribe antidepressants for treatment. In high doses, some studies suggest that 5-HTP may also be an effective measure to treat certain types of headaches like migraines. Not all studies point in the same direction, however, with some studies showing no effect. 



The thought behind 5-HTP as a weight loss supplement is that it works as a diet suppressant. In what few studies that have been executed, test subjects who took 5-HTP but weren’t trying to diet in any other way loss more weight than those subjects on placebo. High doses of 5-HTP cause a feeling of fullness, but can lead to nausea as well.


Side Effects 

It is important to talk to your health care provider before taking any dietary supplements. While they are available over-the-counter, many supplements have potential side effects and interactions with medications that you may be at risk for.

Specifically, 5-HTP usually has only mild side effects from nausea to heartburn, gas, and fullness. If taken in high doses, it is possible to amass too much serotonin in your system. This can lead to a condition called serotonin syndrome.




CATEGORIES: Diet, 5-HTP, Nutrient, Weight Loss