5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan, is an amino acid and by-product of the protein building block L-tryptophan that’s produced naturally by your body.
Used primarily to make serotonin — the chemical messenger that sends signals between the cells in your nervous system — 5-HTP has become an increasingly popular dietary supplement for many reasons. Let’s take a look at how it works and what the potential 5-HTP benefits are.
How Does 5-HTP Work?
5-HTP is an amino acid that’s primarily linked to serotonin, a chemical within your body that serves a wide variety of functions. It’s because of this connection with serotonin that 5-HTP has become so popular in recent years.
5-HTP works by increasing your serotonin levels to affect sleep, appetite, sexual behavior, pain sensations, and temperature. Because 5-HTP increases your body’s production of serotonin, it can also play an important role in combating diseases where serotonin comes into play. These include depression, insomnia, obesity, and more.
Research has found a wide assortment of potential 5-HTP benefits. We’ve outlined six of them in greater detail below.
5-HTP and Depression
Though depression is a widespread and common condition, its exact cause remains largely unknown. Some researchers believe that a serotonin deficiency may influence our mood and therefore lead to depression. Recent scientific research suggests consuming a 5-HTP supplement can actually increase serotonin levels — this may then improve the symptoms of depression.
Still, it’s important to note that research also suggests combining 5-HTP with other antidepressant substances — such as prescription drugs for depression — is more beneficial than consuming 5-HTP alone. More research is needed to determine the exact role 5-HTP plays in the treatment of depression.
5-HTP and Sleep Quality
5-HTP benefits your sleep cycle because it produces serotonin, which our body may then convert into the sleep hormone melatonin. Our body produces melatonin to help us sleep. Melatonin levels rise in the evening to promote sleep while falling in the morning to help us wake back up. Because of the relationship between serotonin and melatonin, 5-HTP may promote sleep or increase your sleep efficiency simply by increasing melatonin production.
A 2010 study conducted by Targeted Medical Pharma, Inc., found that combining 5-HTP with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) reduced the time it took for patients to fall asleep, and increased sleep duration and sleep quality. Though this study looks promising, further clinical trials with humans are needed to determine if 5-HTP can truly improve sleep quality, especially when used on its own.
5-HTP and Weight Management
Among other 5-HTP benefits, the supplement can increase the feeling of fullness and satiety when eating. 5-HTP can play an important role in managing obesity because it suppresses the hunger-inducing hormones that increase appetite. By conquering these feelings of hunger, we stand a better chance of losing weight over time.
A 1998 double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan randomly assigned either a 5-HTP supplement or a placebo to 20 individuals suffering from diabetes. After two weeks, those who received the 5-HTP supplement consumed nearly 435 fewer calories per day than those who received the placebo.
What’s more, 5-HTP also inhibited the intake of calories from carbohydrates, thereby providing better blood sugar control. For this reason, we can say that 5-HTP is likely effective at helping reduce appetite while increasing feelings of fullness, which may lead to weight loss.
5-HTP and Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal disorder characterized by widespread pain throughout the body. It can also influence sleep, memory, mood, and levels of fatigue.
Though we don’t know exactly why fibromyalgia occurs, low levels of serotonin are associated with the condition. For this reason, researchers believe supplementing with 5-HTP can aid in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome by increasing serotonin levels, but more research is needed to confirm whether this is true.
5-HTP and Migraines
Migraines are severe headaches sometimes accompanied by nausea and blurred or double vision. Though the root cause of migraines is still heavily debated, some believe they occur because of low serotonin levels. A study published in 1986 compared 5-HTP and methysergide, a common migraine prescription, to determine which was more effective at reducing migraines over time.
After 6 months of treatment, those who took 5-HTP saw a significant decrease in the number of their migraines. A decrease was found in 71% of study participants. Similar studies have reached the same conclusions, leading to the use of 5-HTP as a treatment option for people with migraines.
5-HTP and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder
Individuals who suffer from attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, may have lower levels of serotonin, which contributes to the brain’s inattentive and impulsive behavior.
A 2011 study that followed 85 patients suffering from ADHD found that “67% of participants achieved significant improvement with only amino acid precursors of serotonin and dopamine.” So, 5-HTP may help individuals suffering from ADHD by providing a serotonin boost that causes the brain to relax.
The Possible Side Effects of 5-HTP
As with most health supplements, there are potential side effects to watch for when determining if 5-HTP is right for you.
The most common side effects that come from supplementing with 5-HTP include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Many individuals state that these adverse effects are dose-dependent, meaning they’ll get worse if you increase your dosage.
For this reason, healthcare professionals recommend that you start with a dose of 50-100 milligrams of 5-HTP twice per day. You can then increase this serving over time until you’ve found the dosage that works for you.
Other prescription medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work to increase serotonin production in your body. Consuming these medications in combination with 5-HTP can prove dangerous over time. Elevated levels of serotonin in your body can cause serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition that may cause fever, seizures, or death if left untreated.
Medications that work to increase serotonin levels in your body include prescription pain relievers, cough medicine, and antidepressants.
Recall that 5-HTP also promotes melatonin production which causes sleepiness, so it may be best to avoid 5-HTP if you currently take sleep aids or medications that cause sleepiness. Due to the hazardous interactions between natural medicines like 5-HTP and prescription medications, seek medical advice before deciding if 5-HTP is right for you.
When shopping for a 5-HTP supplement, look for products that have a National Science Foundation (NSF) or United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal. Supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and 5-HTP products with these identifiers will offer the highest quality.
Is 5-HTP Right for You?
Your body converts 5-HTP into serotonin for various reasons. From regulating appetite to supporting quality sleep, serotonin is a powerful neurotransmitter that our body uses for many daily functions, and our body wouldn’t perform as well without 5-HTP.
Supplementing with 5-HTP benefits your body by helping it combat sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, weight problems, and more. While minor side effects have been linked to 5-HTP, you can mitigate these by following healthy dosage instructions and talking with a doctor to determine whether 5-HTP is the supplement your body needs.