Back in 2011 I was feeling flat! Like my mojo had gone MIA. I instinctively knew that my body was lacking certain nutrients, and after speaking with a Naturopath friend of mine about the possibilities, she suggested that I look into a range of supplements. One of which was 5-HTP!
After doing a ton of research (fortunately it’s one of my favourite pass-times) I came up with a list of things my body was highly likely missing – so after another quick chat with my friend, off I went to a reputable Health Foods store to have a chat and do some shopping. I didn’t go overboard, but I did invest into a few select supplements which (as it turned out) were GAME CHANGERS! So in this article I wanted to share some of my experience with 5-HTP and give you the low-down on this product. First, let me fill you in on what it is and what it does!
is an amino acid that your body naturally produces, and your body uses it to produce serotonin, a chemical messenger that sends signals between your nerve cells.
Low serotonin levels are associated with depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, weight gain and other health problems, therefore, increasing your body’s production of serotonin may have various benefits.
For this reason, serotonin-producing 5-HTP supplements have become increasingly popular.
Here are 5 potential health benefits of 5-HTP, based on science.
5-HTP may increase feelings of fullness, causing you to eat less and lose weight.
Weight loss can increase the production of hormones that make you feel hungry. 5-HTP may counteract these hunger-inducing hormones, working to suppress appetite and help you lose weight.
In one study, 20 people with diabetes were randomly assigned to receive either 5-HTP or a placebo for two weeks. The results showed that those who received 5-HTP consumed approximately 435 fewer calories per day, compared to the placebo group. Additionally, 5-HTP primarily inhibited the intake of calories from carbohydrates, which was associated with better blood sugar control.
Animal studies have also shown that 5-HTP may reduce excessive food intake due to stress or depression.
5-HTP produces serotonin, which can be converted into the hormone melatonin which plays an important role in regulating sleep. Its levels begin to rise in the evening to promote sleep and fall in the morning to help wake you up. Therefore, supplementing with 5-HTP may promote sleep by increasing melatonin production in your body.
Supplementing with 5-HTP may improve symptoms of fibromyalgia, a condition characterised by muscle and bone pain, as well as general weakness.
There is currently no known cause of fibromyalgia, but low serotonin levels have been associated with the condition. This has led researchers to believe that increasing serotonin levels through 5-HTP supplements may benefit people with fibromyalgia.
Indeed, early evidence suggests that 5-HTP may improve symptoms of fibromyalgia, including muscle pain, sleep problems, anxiety and fatigue. However, not enough research has been conducted to draw any clear conclusions about the effectiveness of 5-HTP at improving fibromyalgia symptoms.
5-HTP is said to help with migraines, which are throbbing headaches that are often accompanied by nausea or disturbed vision. While their exact cause is debated, some researchers believe they are triggered by low serotonin levels.
One study in 124 people compared the ability of 5-HTP and Methysergide, a common migraine medication, to prevent migraines. It found that supplementing with 5-HTP daily for six months prevented or significantly decreased the number of migraine attacks in 71% of participants.
In another study in 48 students, 5-HTP produced a 70% decrease in headache frequency, compared to an 11% decrease in the placebo group. Similarly, many other studies have found that 5-HTP may be an effective treatment option for people with headaches and migraines.
Possible Side Effects of 5-HTP
Some people may experience nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain when taking 5-HTP supplements. These side effects are dose-dependent, meaning they get worse when increasing your dose.
To minimise these side effects, start with a dose of 50–100 mg twice per day and increase to the appropriate dose over a two-week period.
Some medications increase serotonin production. Combining these medications with 5-HTP may cause dangerous serotonin levels in your body. This is called serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition. Medications that may increase your body’s serotonin levels include certain antidepressants, cough medicines or prescription pain relievers.
Since 5-HTP may also promote sleep, taking it with prescription sedative medications, such as Klonopin, Ativan or Ambien, may cause too much sleepiness.
Due to the potential for negative interactions with other medications, consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking 5-HTP supplements.
5-HTP Dosage and Supplement Instructions
As a supplement, 5-HTP comes from the seeds of an African shrub known as Griffonia simplicifolia.
These supplements are not the same as L-tryptophan supplements, which may also increase serotonin levels. L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in protein-rich foods, such as dairy products, poultry, meat, chickpeas and soybeans.
On the other hand, 5-HTP is not present in foods and can only be added to your diet through a supplement. The recommended dose for 5-HTP depends on your reason for taking it. Get advise from a qualified Naturopath or Medical Professional, and of course, follow the directions on the label!
My Personal Experience
After only 1 week, I noticed a marked improvement in my mood and stress levels, was sleeping like a baby (and it was a deep, restful, dreamless sleep), and was waking up feeling refreshed, and ready to take on the day.
The Bottom Line
Your body converts 5-HTP into serotonin, a substance that regulates appetite, pain sensations and sleep. Supplementing with it is an effective way to boost your serotonin levels.
Higher serotonin levels may provide many benefits, such as promoting weight loss, improving the symptoms of depression and fibromyalgia, decreasing the frequency of migraine attacks and helping you sleep better.
Minor side effects have been linked to 5-HTP, but they can be minimised by starting with smaller doses and increasing the dosage gradually.
Given that 5-HTP may negatively interact with several medications, talk to your doctor to ensure it’s safe for you to use before starting any new supplement.