5-HTP Serotonin’s Natural Precursor-A Natural Remedy to Fight Depression, Obesity and Fibromyalgia
I had written a hub on Addictive Personality-Social vs Biochemical Causes and a fellow hubber, Delores Monet questioned if there were any natural remedies to beef up our serotonin. That started me thinking, which led to surfing, which led to this hub. I thought I would find it was St. John's wort or one of the other fairly common herbal remedies. Instead I found 5-HTP...
5-HTP, also known as 5-hydroxy tryptophan, is the chemical that the body turns into serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter. That means that it helps messages get around in your brain. Different neurotransmitters carry different types of messages. Serotonin carries messages related to mood, appetite and sexual behavior. It is the messenger of well-being. Studies have linked serotonin with optimism, spirituality, and your sense of fairness. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, obsessive/compulsive disorders, aggression, obesity and fibromyalgia.
5-HTP is made from tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Tryptophan is a chemical required by our
bodies to make 5-HTP, which we then convert to serotonin. However, our bodies cannot make tryptophan so
we need to get it through our diet. (Any
time you hear “essential” with amino acid, it means one we cannot make
ourselves.) Tryptophan is found in many
foods, such as chocolate, oats, eggs, milk, cheese, poultry, fish, bananas, mushrooms,
soy and others. And yes, this is why chocolate makes us feel better!
Tryptophan only accounts for about 1% of the amino acids found in food. It is used by the body to make niacin, protein and 5-HTP. The body uses up the tryptophan very fast, leaving little to get to the brain.
Eating carbohydrates makes our bodies produce insulin. Insulin doesn’t like tryptophan. Insulin will take the other amino acids by the hand and bring them into the cells, leaving more tryptophan circulating and getting to the brain. Theory states this is why when we are feeling down we eat carbs for comfort. Eating carbs increases our circulation of free tryptophan going to the brain which increases manufacture of 5-HTP and ultimately increases our serotonin levels.
People with low serotonin levels often overeat because their body is telling them they need more tryptophan and also because there is not enough serotonin to tell them their stomach is happy. You could say their body is playing mind games with them. No matter how much you eat it is difficult for your body to keep enough tryptophan free to eventually become serotonin.
5-HTP does not have the competition problems or popularity. It can only be made into serotonin. 5-HTP can also cross the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is a very strict border, that could be compared to passing a checkpoint to get in to see royalty. Almost no-one is allowed through, only a few known favorites. Tryptophan is not one of these favored few, and must hitch a ride on a transport molecule before entry is allowed. Other, more common, amino acids are also trying to use these same transport molecules, so tryptophan doesn’t get through very often.
Why then don’t we just eat foods that contain 5-HTP and cut out the middleman? Good idea, except 5-HTP occurs naturally in the human body and seeds of the Griffonia Simplicifolia. “The Griff, what?!” you ask. The Griffonia Simplicifolia is a woody, evergreen shrub found in west and central Africa. 5-HTP is extracted from the seeds to be used as a nutritional supplement. You can find 5-HTP in 50mg or 100mg capsules easily on-line.
5-HTP is considered an herbal remedy and is not monitored by the FDA in the United States. Herbal remedies may not claim to cure, prevent or treat diseases in the USA. They can claim to help symptoms of common ailments associated with different life stages. These dietary supplements may warn of drug interactions or side effects, but they are not required to under law.
The main side effects of 5-HTP are gastrointestinal distress. Nausea is number one. Others are bloating, diarrhea, indigestion and abdominal pain. These are usually dose related. Ensure that you get an enteric coated pill to reduce these symptoms. Start with the lowest dose and titrate upward. Take the 5-HTP with food. Food does not seem to affect absorption.
5-HTP can also have some significant side effects. It is making changes to your serotonin cycle, so Serotonin Syndrome is a possibility. The symptom of Serotonin Syndrome are changing blood pressure, a fast heart rate, sweating, agitation, confusion and delirium. This syndrome was not observed in any of the people in the various trials, but it could theoretically happen. Every one of us is different.
5-HTP can become serotonin in your blood stream and gut. Increased levels of serotonin in your blood stream can conceivable cause heart valve problems. It should not be used if you have liver or kidney disease.
If you are taking any prescription medicine, you must talk to your physician before taking 5-HTP. There have not been enough clinical studies done on this substance to verify it's safety and/or interactions with other medications. It could be dangerous to take this with any antidepressant medication. Never stop antidepressant medications abruptly, as this can be harmful to your life.
The studies done on 5-HTP have shown promise that it will perform as theorized. However, the scientific community feels that more studies are needed to show conclusive proof. The most promising studies have shown that 5-HTP helps with depression, obesity, fibromyalgia, anxiety and panic disorders.
The United States National Institute of Health is currently conducting studies on 5-HTP. My understanding is that it has been used and marketed in Europe for several years as an antidepressant.
More Information on 5-HTP
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Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. This should not be used to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Always consult your healthcare professional prior to starting or discontinuing any substance. Only your healthcare professional can help you make sound decisions concerning your health needs. Neither I or this website will assume any responsibility for liability for any error or omission of this information.