Using 5-HTP for Depression

Frequently Asked Questions About 5-HTP

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Using 5-HTP for depression may help alleviate depressive symptoms.


5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan, is an amino acid that our body produces from a dietary amino acid called l-tryptophan. It has the ability to be converted into the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin as well as the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

5-HTP may also be synthesized in the laboratory by extracting it from the seeds of the plant ​Griffonia simplicifolia.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn't worth living.

More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn't a weakness and you can't simply "snap out" of it. Depression may require long-term treatment. But don't get discouraged. Most people with depression feel better with medication, psychological counseling or both.

Symptoms of Depression

Although depression may occur only one time during your life, usually people have multiple episodes of depression. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Changes in appetite — often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren't your responsibility
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

How 5-HTP Works

Although l-tryptophan can be obtained by eating foods that contain it, such as red meat and turkey, its ability to be converted into 5-HTP - and ultimately into serotonin - is limited by the availability of an enzyme called tryptophan hydroxylase. Tryptophan hydroxylase can be inhibited by many different factors, such as stress, insulin resistance, vitamin B6 deficiency and magnesium deficiency. Supplementing with 5-HTP overcomes this problem by eliminating the need to convert l-tryptophan to 5-HTP, thus allowing more 5-HTP to be available for conversion to serotonin.


Overall, the clinical trials published to date indicate that 5-HTP may be effective in treating depression, both on its own and when used in conjunction with prescription antidepressants. Better quality studies are needed, however, to firmly establish its effectiveness.

Safety and Side Effects 

Doses of around 200 to 300 mg per day seem to be fairly well-tolerated.

The most common side effects reported with 5-HTP include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Less common side effects include a headache, insomnia and heart palpitations.

Gastrointestinal side effects appear to dose-dependent and tend to lessen over time.

There is one very serious safety concern with 5-HTP, however. When taken in conjunction with other medications which also increase serotonin, such as SSRIs or MAOIs, there exists the possibility that serotonin levels may become dangerously high. This condition, called serotonin syndrome, leads to symptoms such as high blood pressure, hyperthermia, flushing, hyperreflexia, dizziness, disorientation, and myoclonus. Patients experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention, as this condition can be fatal.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding?

There is not currently enough data to tell whether 5-HTP is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to use. For this reason, it cannot be recommended.

View Article Sources
  • References:
  • Iovieno, Nadia, Elizabeth D. Dalton, Maurizio Fava and David Michoulon. "Second-tier natural antidepressants: Review and critique." Journal of Affective Disorders. 130 (2011): 343-357.
  • Mayo Clinic. Depression (Major Depressive Disorder).