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5-HTP is a compound which gets converted into serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the principal neurotransmitters involved in happiness and anti-depression.
5-HTP has been used with success to restore serotonin levels in those that may suffer from decreased serotonin levels, such as the depressed and those with high levels of body inflammation (typically seen in metabolic syndrome).
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid that serves as a precursor for the biosynthesis of serotonin and melatonin in the brain from the amino acid tryptophan.
5-HTP in supplement form is extracted from the plant Griffonia simplicifolia, an African shrub.
5-HTP has been used in alternative medicine as a possibly effective aid in treating depression or fibromyalgia.
Other uses not proven with research have included insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, headaches, premenstrual syndrome, binge-eating related to obesity, attention deficit disorder, and muscle spasms in the mouth.
Some dieters say that 5-HTP helps suppress appetite and promote weight loss.
Known for its ability to promote weight loss, 5-HTP has been shown to reduce appetite. It appears to do this by stimulating serotonin production in the brain. While 5-HTP has not yet been extensively researched, some human and double-blind studies have shown that 5-HTP promotes weight loss.
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. These feelings of constant hunger can make losing weight unsustainable in the long term (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
5-HTP may counteract these hunger-inducing hormones, working to suppress appetite and help you lose weight (6Trusted Source).
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 (7Trusted Source).
What’s more, 5-HTP primarily inhibited the intake of calories from carbohydrates, which was associated with better blood sugar control (7Trusted Source).
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is not yet enough scientific evidence to rate the effectiveness of taking 5-HTP supplements for weight loss or obesity. However, the NIH notes that some preliminary research indicates that 5-HTP may help curb appetite, decrease caloric intake, and reduce weight in obese people.
The available research includes an older study from 1992 published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. For the study, 20 obese participants were randomly assigned to receive either 5-HTP or a placebo for two six-week periods. While no diet was prescribed in the first study period, a reduced-calorie diet was recommended for the second. Study results showed that members of the 5-HTP group experienced significant weight loss during both periods. In addition, members of the 5-HTP group had a reduction in carbohydrate intake and a tendency to experience satiety (a feeling of fullness) earlier on when eating.
There is a lack of more recent research on the effectiveness of 5-HTP in promoting weight loss.
Taking 5-HTP may support behaviors that help a person lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
In a 2017 study that appears in the journal Brain and BehaviorTrusted Source, scientists gave seven healthy human participants a 5-HTP supplement and another seven a vitamin C supplement.
They then performed an MRI scan while showing participants real food and images of food to see how their brains responded.
A brain response for protein-rich foods was more likely to occur in those who took the 5-HTP supplement than in people who did not.
Protein can help a person maintain a healthy body weight, so the researchers concluded that 5-HTP may help a person lose weight by reducing cravings for unhealthful foods.
It is vital to note that this study was very small, so larger-scale research is necessary to validate these results.
Many studies into the health benefits of 5-HTP and sleep are based on animal models.
For example, a 2018 studyTrusted Source looked the effects of 5-HTP and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) on fruit flies, mice, and rats. The scientists used caffeine to induce sleeplessness, then they administered the GABA/5-HTP combination.
They found that the combination could induce sleep and seemed to enhance sleep quality and length of sleeping time.
Another review of treatmentsTrusted Source available for sleep problems found that 5-HTP may be beneficial in treating disorders of arousal, such as sleep terrors and sleepwalking.
The effects of 5-HTP on symptoms of depression have been well studied.
While the exact cause of depression is largely unknown, some researchers believe that a serotonin imbalance may influence your mood in a way that leads to depression (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
5-HTP supplements are thought to treat depression by increasing serotonin levels.
In fact, several small studies have found that 5-HTP reduced symptoms of depression. However, two of them did not use placebos for comparison, limiting the strength of their findings (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).
Similarly, another analysis concluded that 5-HTP may help treat depression (20Trusted Source).
However, much of the research suggests that the potential antidepressive effects of 5-HTP are stronger when combined with other substances or antidepressant medications, compared to when they are used alone (17Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source).
Panic Attacks and Anxiety
In a small study of 15 young adults who suffer stress or anxiety from unreciprocated romanticism, 6-weeks of supplementation with 5-HTP decreased anxiety by 3 weeks. The authors attributed the positive results to increased BDNF and serotonin levels .
24 people who suffered from chronic panic attacks, due to lower availability of serotonin in the brain, found significant relief after taking 200 mg of 5-HTP .
In clinical trials, herbal extracts of 5-HTP were shown to activate GABA receptors or increase GABA levels, promoting a sense of relaxation and decreased anxiety .
While these results have been promising, more human trials are required to determine the role of 5-HTP in people with anxiety disorders.
5-HTP is POSSIBLY SAFE when taking by mouth appropriately. 5-HTP has been used safely in doses up to 400 mg daily for up to one year. However, some people who have taken it have developed a condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), a serious condition involving extreme muscle tenderness (myalgia) and blood abnormalities (eosinophilia). Some people think EMS might be caused by an accidental ingredient or contaminant in some 5-HTP products. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to know if EMS is caused by 5-HTP, a contaminant, or some other factor. Until more is known, 5-HTP should be used cautiously.
Other potential side effects of 5-HTP include heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, sexual problems, and muscle problems.
Special precautions & warnings:
Children: 5-HTP is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth appropriately. Doses of up to 5 mg/kg daily have been used safely for up to 3 years in infants and children up to 12 years-old. As with adults, there is also concern about the potential for eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) in children, a serious condition involving extreme muscle tenderness (myalgia) and blood abnormalities (eosinophilia).
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking 5-HTP if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Surgery: 5-HTP can affect a brain chemical called serotonin. Some drugs administered during surgery can also affect serotonin. Taking 5-HTP before surgery might cause too much serotonin in the brain and can result in serious side effects including heart problems, shivering, and anxiety. Tell patients to stop taking 5-HTP at least 2 weeks before surgery.
Supplement manufacturers sell 5-HTP in a variety of dosages. These include 25-, 50-, and 100-milligram (mg) capsules.
Some supplement manufacturers may also add 5-HTP to multivitamins. There is no specific recommended daily allowance for 5-HTP.
Most people will take 50–100 mg per day after starting at a lower dose of 25 mg and increasing the dose weekly.
5-HTP is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in large doses. Doses from 6-10 grams daily have been linked to severe stomach problems and muscle spasms.