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5-HTP Serotonin’s Natural Precursor-A Natural Remedy to Fight Depression, Obesity and Fibromyalgia

Updated on March 21, 2010
k@ri profile image

Kari has been an operating room nurse for 25 years. She has been everything from staff nurse to DON.

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.

Griffonia Simplicifolia
Griffonia Simplicifolia

Side Effects

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.

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.


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    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Rochelle, I agree...I wish they dumped it in mine, LOL! We could all use a little more serotonin. :D

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Hmmm-- there are probably several places in the world where this should be dumped in the drinking water.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      GmaGoldie, I'm glad you liked it! I found the information very interesting myself. :D

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 8 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      I have bookmarked this Hub - very helpful!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      DSE, Check it out... and join HubPages! :D

    • profile image

      DSE901 8 years ago

      I think herbal remedies are just as effective as prescription drugs and much more affordable. I'm going to check this out. Thanks for the info.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Katie, It is very fascinating! The final frontier, and if we could only figure it out. :D

    • KatieE39 profile image

      KatieE39 8 years ago from Colorado

      Thank you! The brain is such a fascinating organ.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      ljrc, Thanks! I found it pretty interesting also. :D

    • ljrc1961 profile image

      Laura Cole 8 years ago from Michigan

      very interesting kari!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Paper Moon, LOL! Chocolate is good. :D

      dsletten, Thanks! Just trying to share what I learned.

    • dsletten profile image

      dsletten 8 years ago from United States

      Great information. Very detailed and informative Hub. Thanks.

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 8 years ago from In the clouds

      Great info, so if you take this stuff, you might get the runs, but feel good about it. Hmmm. I'll stick with the chocolate.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks frogyfish! I was hoping it would be easy to understand I tried to translate it into every day languagel

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 8 years ago from Central United States of America

      Good tips, and information to remember!  Thanks for your explanations!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Nancy, Thanks! The only side effects people in the studies experienced were the GI ones. However, they say the others are possibilities so I included them. Let me know how it works for you. :D

    • Dr Nancy Kenyon profile image

      Nancy Kenyon 8 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Side effects sound too intense, but thanks for the information. I'm going to buy some and check it out. Thumbs up!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Shamel, LOL, I've always loved chocolate, but I know what you mean! :D

      ethel, Glad you liked it! :D

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      That's interesting thanks

    • shamelabboush profile image

      shamelabboush 8 years ago

      Very nice. I used to hate chocolate, but lemme tel ya, not anymore :) Thanks


    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks Whikat! If I was taking cod liver oil, I would not think it would be a problem. But they work on different systems. The best thing would be to ask you a nurse, I may neither diagnose or treat medical issues. If it was me, I may try both. Cod liver oil is more for the circulatory system...keeps it from being clogged. As far as I can tell, 5-HTP is for feeling good.

      I hope this helps somewhat. :D

    • profile image

      Whikat 8 years ago

      Hi K@ri, I really enjoyed this article. I have been taking supplements of cod liver oil, I wonder if it would be safe to combine 5-HTP with my other supplements? Or do you think it would probably be better for me, to try the 5-HTP and see if I feel better with them compared to the cod liver supplements? Anyway great hub, thanks for the new information. :-)

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      erin, Thanks. I had never heard of it prior to this myself. However, it sounds very good and the studies done seem promising.

      Tom, ROTFLOL, Thank you very much! Always remember, I am the little people! I would never give up my own. You are much too kind. :D

      oderog, just be sure to discuss it with your doctor first if you take any meds! :)

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Sandman, I don't know too much except it is in red wine and good for you. Looks like I need to do some research! :D

      Bk, I was laughing with a woman today when, as a nurse, I asked her if she was depressed. She said we're in America, who isn' just differs how you express it. I find people all over the world are depressed. I hope this can help! :D

      G-Ma, I may be getting some myself...Serotonin seems like a very gooood thing. And it supposingly cuts down on appetite! I may really like this. :D

      fortunerep, From my research it seems pretty safe, but make sure you discuss it with your doctor if you are on any meds. Seems it can be dangerous also.

      CabinGirl, You don't have to bow, they are not that good, LOL! Thanks!

    • oderog profile image

      oderog 8 years ago from Nairobi

      Thanks for this article, I am going to use some tips given here.

    • Tom Koecke profile image

      Tom Koecke 8 years ago from Tacoma, Washington

      K@ri, we are lucky to have you here at HubPages! This Hub is so well written that it really belongs in print in a magazine or eMag. You simply continue to impress me with your research and writing skills!

      I hope you don't forget us little people when the big people discover your talents!

    • erin boote profile image

      erin boote 8 years ago from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania

      This was really informative and such a timely hub given the rate of depression lately due to the economy and so many other things in society. I had never heard of this substance before this so you are really doing a great job promoting awareness. Thanks for giving us something to think about.

    • fortunerep profile image

      fortunerep 8 years ago from North Carolina

      I am going to try this, sounds great,


    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 8 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      wow I want some...gonna check at my healthfood store...Good article as always K@ri...:O) Hugs

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks for the info - seems a lot of Americans are feeling somewhat depressed - and this information can help with decision making choices!

    • profile image

      TheSandman 8 years ago

      Very informative. Your still pumping out good stuff ! Question: What do you know about Resveatrol ?