The Health Benefits of 5-HTP

5-Hydroxytryptophan Uses and Tips

In This Article

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a compound produced in the body from the amino acid tryptophan. It is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin.

5-HTP is manufactured from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia. The supplements have become popular because it is thought that providing the body with 5-HTP in pill form can boost the body's serotonin levels, similar to the antidepressants that are thought to increase the amount of serotonin available to the brain.

Side effects of 5-HTP
​Verywell / Cindy Chung

Health Benefits

In alternative medicine, 5-HTP supplements are purported to help in the treatment of conditions including:

So far, scientific support for the claim that 5-HTP can treat any condition safely and effectively is lacking. Here's a look at some of the research studies so far.

Depression

Several small clinical trials have found that 5-HTP is as effective as antidepressants. For example, in a six-week clinical trial, 63 people were given either 5-HTP (100 mg three times a day) or an antidepressant (fluvoxamine, 50 mg three times a day). The 5-HTP was found to be as effective as the antidepressant, with fewer side effects.

However, a 2002 systematic review of studies published between 1966 to 2000 found that only one out of 108 studies met the quality standards.

The small study that did meet the quality criteria found that 5-HTP worked better than placebo at alleviating depression.

Migraine

Some research indicates that 5-HTP may prevent migraines and reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, however large randomized controlled trials are needed.

In one study, 124 people were given 5-HTP (600 mg/day) or the drug methysergide. After 6 months, 5-HTP was found to be as effective as methysergide in reducing the severity and duration of migraines.

Another study looked at 5-HTP or the drug propranolol for 4 months. Both treatments resulted in a statistically significant reduction in the frequency of migraines. However, the propranolol group fared better, with a reduction in the duration of episodes and the number of analgesics used for the treatment of episodes.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by fatigue, widespread pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and multiple tender points.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at 5-HTP or placebo in 50 people with fibromyalgia. After four weeks, there was improvement in pain, stiffness, anxiety, fatigue, and sleep. Side effects were mild and transient.

Insomnia

Serotonin is converted into melatonin, a hormone needed to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Because 5-HTP is thought to increase serotonin levels, it may increase melatonin and help normalize sleep patterns.

Possible Side Effects

Potential side effects of 5-HTP include nausea, dizziness, and diarrhea. Rarely, allergic reaction to the supplement may occur.

Children with Down's syndrome should not take 5-HTP.

In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported having detected a chemical compound known as "peak x" in some 5-HTP products. Peak x had been previously associated with the supplement tryptophan, which is made into 5-HTP in the body.

Tryptophan was taken off the market when thousands of people developed a severe blood disorder called Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS). The cause was later traced to a contaminant found only in batches of tryptophan manufactured by one Japanese company, Showa Denko.

Showa Denko, the source of up to 60 percent of all the tryptophan sold in the United States, had used an untested manufacturing process that reduced the amount of activated charcoal used to filter fermented raw tryptophan. Some reports suggest that purity may be a potential problem for 5-HTP as well. No cases of EMS resulting from 5-HTP use have been reported, however.

This is a list of some of the drugs that may potentially interact with 5-HTP supplements.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough scientific data to provide a recommended dose of 5-HTP. However, in scientific studies a dose of 150-800 mg daily is commonly taken for 2-6 weeks in the treatment of depression. Less commonly, higher doses are used.

The appropriate dose for you may depend on factors including your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized advice.

What to Look For

You can boost your dietary intake of L-tryptophan, which the body converts to 5-HTP. Food sources include turkey, chicken, pumpkin seeds, spinach, milk, and bananas.

5-HTP supplements are found in health food stores, online, and at some drug stores. Medical experts advise that you should be careful not to confuse 5-HTP with 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), the chemical name for the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Always exercise caution when buying this or any supplement. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

You can get tips on using supplements, but if you're considering the use of 5-HTP supplements, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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Article Sources

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  • Caruso I, Sarzi Puttini P, Cazzola M, Azzolini V. Double-Blind Study of 5-Hydroxytryptophan Versus Placebo in the Treatment of Primary Fibromyalgia Syndrome. J Int Med Res. (1990) 18 (3): 201-209.
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  • Shaw K, Turner J, Del Mar C. Tryptophan and 5-Hydroxytryptophan for Depression (Cochrane Review). The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD003198. DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD003198
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