5-HTP Side Effects and Benefits

5-Hydroxytryptophan Uses and Tips

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.

5-HTP is a substance that is sometimes used as a supplement. It can be converted in the body to serotonin, which has led to an interest in its use to treat depression, anxiety, insomnia, and some other conditions.

This article discusses what 5-HTP is, how it is uses, and research on its potential effects. It also covers some of the potential side effects and drug interactions that may occur.

What Is 5-HTP?

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.

Serotonin is a type of neurotransmitter that carries signals between nerve cells in the brain. It helps to regulate a variety of functions in the body, including attention, behavior, and mood. By increasing serotonin levels in the brain, mood can often improve.

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:

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.

A 2017 study found that a combination of creatine and 5-HTP was effective when used to augment SSRI or SNRI antidepressants in women who were experiencing treatment-resistant 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

While side effects can occur, they are often mild. Potential side effects of 5-HTP include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Stomach upset

Rarely, an allergic reaction to the supplement may occur.

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) due to the way the product was manufactured. 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.

Contraindications

Children with Down's syndrome should not take 5-HTP. Individuals who have high blood pressure or diabetes should consult a healthcare professional before taking 5-HTP. It should also not be taken by people who are currently taking an antidepressant or who have liver disease.

Potential Drug Interactions

Some of the drugs that may potentially interact with 5-HTP supplements include:

  • Antidepressants including SSRIs such as Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram), Luvox (fluvoxamine), Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Dextromethorphan, a medication often found in cough syrups
  • Tricyclics including Elavil (amitriptyline) and Tofranil (imipramine)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), including Nardil (phenelzine) and Parnate (tranylcypromine)
  • Ultram (tramadol), which is prescribed for pain relief
  • Triptans, which are used to treat migraines

These medications elevate serotonin levels. When combined with 5-HTP, they can increase the risk of experiencing serotonin syndrome.

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 of L-tryptophan include:

  • Bananas
  • Chicken
  • Collard greens
  • Milk
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Turkey
  • Turnip greens

5-HTP supplements are found in health food stores, online, and at some drug stores. 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.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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