5 Top Uses for 5-HTP

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Your body converts 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) into the neurotransmitter serotonin, known for its mood support. But 5-HTP, which is produced from tryptophan, may benefit not only your mood but also your sleep, appetite and more

Your body converts the essential amino acid tryptophan into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which is then used to make the neurotransmitter serotonin. Because of this, supplementing with 5-HTP may increase serotonin levels in your brain, with beneficial effects on sleep, mood, headaches and more.

While tryptophan can be found in foods like whole milk, tuna, turkey and even oatmeal, eating tryptophan-rich foods won't significantly increase your 5-HTP levels.[i] However, 5-HTP supplements, which are made from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia, a plant native to West Africa, can be useful for boosting your levels to help achieve a number of desired effects.

5 Reasons to Try 5-HTP

1. Improve Your Sleep

Altered serotonergic neurotransmission may contribute to sleep disorders and other non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD). When adults with PD took 50 milligrams (mg) of 5-HTP daily for four weeks, it led to an increase in REM sleep without an increase in REM sleep behavior disorder -- a condition in which you physically act out your dreams, which is common in people with PD.[ii] According to the study:[iii]

"This result is in line with previous studies in which 5-HTP has been shown to improve sleep quality by increasing REM sleep … Serotonin might be regarded as a positive modulator for melatonin synthesis … According to these scientific premises, we suggest that 5-HTP might have contributed to an increase in the total percentage of REM sleep in our patients through the increase of nocturnal melatonin levels."

In a study of older adults, 5-HTP also reduced sleep latency, or the time it takes to fall asleep, for up to eight weeks.[iv]

2. Boost Mood and Relieve Depression

5-HTP boosts levels of serotonin in the brain, similar to antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft. In a study that compared 5-HTP to fluvoxamine in 63 people with depression, 5-HTP worked as well as the antidepressant drug, and even worked slightly better than it to reduce depressed mood, anxiety, insomnia and physical symptoms.[v] 5-HTP had fewer side effects as well.

Among people with Parkinson's disease, who often struggle with apathy and depression, 5-HTP also led a significant improvement in depressive symptoms compared to a placebo.[vi]

3. Improve Fibromyalgia

People with fibromyalgia often have low serotonin levels.[vii] In a 90-day study of 50 people with fibromyalgia, 5-HTP led to "good" or "fair" improvement in nearly 50% of patients.[viii] Another study similarly revealed significant improvements in fibromyalgia patients who took 5-HTP, with "only mild and transient" side effects reported.[ix]

4. Lose Fat and Suppress Appetite

5-HTP may play a role in weight loss by altering body composition and appetite. In an eight-week study, 48 participants took 100 mg of 5-HTP daily and made no changes to their exercise regimen or eating habits. Fat mass significantly decreased.[x]

It's believed that 5-HTP may influence the complex physiological brain states involved in food preferences, leading to reduced food intake, increased satiety and weight loss. In a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging to observe the brain, 5-HTP supplementation triggered brain responses linked to healthy body weight and a preference for protein-rich food stimuli (observed during the scanning session). The team explained:[xi]

"In this study, an increased activity was observed at the limbic system and frontal lobes after 5HTP consumption. In light of the results presented here as well as the findings of previous studies, it seems that 5HTP aids the activation of regions that relate to the evaluation of reward, macronutrient selection, and enteroceptive awareness of internal physiological needs.

This is probably one of the primary reasons that studies which prescribe 5HTP to obese individuals show significant weight decrease as it aids the activation of structures responsible for external caloric evaluation and internal physiological demands."

5. Fewer Headaches

Serotonin plays a role in pain and is involved in the development of migraine headaches. Daily 5-HTP supplementation (400 mg) for two months reduced headache frequency and severity among people with chronic headaches. After two months, 48% of participants experienced a more than 50% average reduction in headache symptoms, with the researchers describing 5-HTP as "a medication of moderate efficacy and remarkable safety."[xii]

When 5-HTP was compared to the migraine drug methysergide, it led to improvements in a similar percentage of patients (71% of the 5-HTP group and 75% of the methysergide group improved). The 5-HTP group had less intense and shorter migraines, and experienced fewer side effects than those taking methysergide. The researchers concluded, "5-HTP could be a treatment of choice in the prophylaxis of migraine."[xiii]

In another study involving 78 people with chronic tension-type headaches, 5-HTP led to a significant decrease in the number of days with headache during the two weeks after treatment. The use of pain relievers also decreased during the study period.[xiv]

Want to Learn More About 5-HTP?

Although studies have described its side effects as minor, because it increases serotonin levels you should consult your doctor before taking it with other medications that also increase serotonin, such as antidepressants. If serotonin levels become too high, it can lead to a dangerous condition known as serotonin syndrome.

If you'd like to find out more about 5-HTP's antidepressant, anti-inflammatory and serotonergic effects, check out our 5-HTP research database. It includes a full list of diseases that 5-HTP may be useful for.


References

[i] Mount Sinai, 5-HTP https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/5-hydroxytryptophan-5-htp

[ii] Sleep Breath. 2022; 26(3): 1023-1031. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9418091/

[iii] Sleep Breath. 2022; 26(3): 1023-1031. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9418091/

[iv] Curr Dev Nutr. 2021 Jun; 5(Suppl 2): 372. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8181734/

[v] Relias Media November 2000; Volume 3; 121-124 https://www.reliasmedia.com/articles/47549-5-hydroxytryptophan-5-htp-for-treatment-of-depression

[vi] Eur J Neurol. 2020 May;27(5):779-786. doi: 10.1111/ene.14179. Epub 2020 Mar 13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32067288/

[vii] J Res Med Sci. 2018; 23: 71. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6116663/

[viii] J Int Med Res. 1992 Apr;20(2):182-9. doi: 10.1177/030006059202000210. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1521674/

[ix] J Int Med Res. 1990 May-Jun;18(3):201-9. doi: 10.1177/030006059001800304. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2193835/

[x] J Diet Suppl. 2022 May 18;1-10. doi: 10.1080/19390211.2022.2076760. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35583055/

[xi] Brain Behav. 2017 Jan; 7(1): e00594. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5256178/

[xii] J Neurosurg Sci. 1985 Jul-Sep;29(3):239-48. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3913752/

[xiii] Eur Neurol. 1986;25(5):327-9. doi: 10.1159/000116030. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3536521/

[xiv] Headache. 2000 Jun;40(6):451-6. doi: 10.1046/j.1526-4610.2000.00067.x. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10849040/

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