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5-HTP Can Increase Serotonin

Updated on May 14, 2012

5-Hydroxytryptophan, also known more commonly as 5-htp, is a nutritional supplement made from the seeds of the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia. In your body tryptophan is synthesized from foods consumed, converted to 5-HTP, then transformed into serotonin. The pill form of 5-HTP is used to treat many disorders that result from low levels of serotonin.

I've personally used 5-HTP for several years to help fight depression and insomnia. I take it in the evenings since it tends to make me a bit sleepy, but it can be taken during the day as well.

The Many Uses of 5-HTP

Depression

The most common use for 5-HTP seems to be in treating depression.The mood disorder depression is thought to be caused by low levels of serotonin in the brain. Since 5-HTP increases serotonin it may help some.

Symptoms of depression can include feeling hopeless or helpless, changes in sleeping or eating habits, loss of energy and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.

Anxiety

Much like with depression, if your anxiety is caused by low levels of serotonin, 5-HTP may be and effective treatment.

Symptoms of anxiety include feeling tense or on edge for no reason, experiencing irrational fears, feeling irritable and panicked during normal activities.

I don't suffer with anxiety, so can't speak much for this supplements effectiveness against it.

Fibromyalgia

Symptoms of fibromyalgia include morning stiffness, wide-spread pain, fatigue, headaches, and depression. Right now the causes of fibromyalgia are unknown, as are why 5-HTP seems to help some of its sufferers.

Insomnia

When taken later in the day 5-HTP can help fight insomnia. Your body uses serotonin to produce melatonin, a important hormone used for sleep regulation. Melatonin supplements can be taken as well to help you fall asleep. I've been taking 100mg of 5-HTP an hour before bed for some time now. So far it's really worked great, and the best part is I don't feel tired and groggy in the morning.

Weight loss

It's unclear why 5-HTP aides in weight loss, although some studies find that it does. If your weight gain came about by changes in appetite caused by depression, it makes sense that 5-HTP would help. This supplement hasn't affected my appetite much either way.

Migraines

A few studies have been done that suggest 5-HTP is effective in treating and preventing migraines, as well as regular headaches. I do occasionally suffer from migraines, and haven't noticed a change in their frequency or severity since taking this supplement.


Dosage

The dosage of 5-HTP you take is dependent on what you are using it to treat. Most suggest starting at a small dose to see how the supplement agrees with you. The standard beginning dose is 50mg.

If you are taking 5-HTP for weight-loss it seems better to take the supplement during the day, before meals. When treating insomnia it's usually taken 1-2 hours before bedtime. For depression the supplement can be taken morning or night, or divided in between the two.

Side Effects of 5-HTP

Just because 5-HTP is made from a plant, and available over the counter, doesn't mean it is completely safe for everyone. Just like any OTC medicine or supplement you should discuss its use with your doctor. It's especially important to consult a physician if you take other medications or supplements, to make sure you don't experience any drug interactions.

The most common side effects of 5-HTP are:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tiredness

Most 5-HTP supplements come in a gel cap containing powder. Although harder to find the enteric coated caplets seem less likely to cause stomach pain and nausea. Taking it with food seems to help stomach upset as well.

5-HTP should not be taken by anyone pregnant or breast-feeding. There have not been studies done to determine its effect on unborn babies.

5-HTP should never be taken with antidepressants or other medications that increase serotonin as well. Doing so can lead to serotonin syndrome, a serious condition caused by the over abundance of serotonin in the brain.

The only side effect I've ever experience is slight nausea, but only when I've taken it on a completely empty stomach.

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    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear aschwartz,

      Thank you for a very interesting article. I have used 5-HTP for insomnia when melatonin is not available, as you say it increases the levels of serotonin which promotes a feeling of well being. Much better than sleeping tablets.

      kind regards Peter