This neurotransmitter is involved in a complicated chain of interactions in the brain that stimulate and regulate our moods and sleeping patterns. 5-HTP is the immediate precursor for serotonin and melatonin, which when present in the right amounts, keep our moods and sleep schedules in proper balance. 5-HTP is now known as the easiest and most effective nutritional supplement to enhance serotonin and melatonin synthesis. Commercially, 5-HTP is extracted from the seed of a plant known as Griffonia simplicifolia.
While 5-HTP can be obtained with the use of supplements, an amino acid that leads to its natural production, tryptophan, can be found in a number of food sources. These include red meats (beef, pork, lamb, and wild game), poultry (chicken and turkey), and seafood (tuna, salmon, halibut and shrimp), as well as cottage cheese, Swiss cheese, peanuts, cashews, and avocados.
Most Common Dosage
Capsules and tablets.
Interactions and Depletions
Studies have suggested that 5-HTP can have an effect on symptoms of anxiety. One study noted a significant reduction in anxiety for patients who were treated with the supplement. (1) The results for patients experiencing depression linked to reduced serotonin levels were equally promising. (2) Studies showed a reduction in depressive episodes for test subjects and fewer side effects compared with those associated with some pharmaceutical antidepressants. (3)
5-HTP may also help sleep disorder sufferers in getting some rest. In one study, patients suffering from mild insomnia experienced significant improvement taking 5-HTP before bedtime. (4) Another study found that participants treated with 5-HTP had long-term improvement of sleep disturbances. (5)
Benefits have also been reported for patients with headaches, migraines, and fibromyalgia. In a study with children who experienced recurrent headaches, those treated with 5-HTP had a 70% reduction in the number of headaches compared to a 11% reduction in the placebo group. (6) In another study lasting for 8 weeks, there was no difference in the number or severity of headaches between the 5-HTP group and the placebo group. However, in the 2 weeks following treatment, the patients who had been treated with 5-HTP decreased the amount of pain medication used and had a fewer number of days with headaches. (7) Other studies have demonstrated positive results in using 5-HTP to treat headaches. (8) A study on 5-HTP for migraines reported a significant reduction in pain and duration of attacks for 71 percent of test subjects. (9) Other long term studies for migraine sufferers have demonstrated positive results as well. (10) In one fibromyalgia study, half of the patients experienced “fair” to “good” improvements in the number of tender points, pain intensity, quality of sleep, and fatigue. (11)
Finally, 5-HTP has shown promise for treating obesity. One study reported reduced appetite and significant weight loss in test subjects. (12)
Toxicities & Precautions
[span class=alert]Be sure to tell your pharmacist, doctor, or other health care providers about any dietary supplements you are taking. There may be a potential for interactions or side effects.[/span]
People who are already taking antidepressant medications or dietary supplements for depression, should not begin taking this dietary supplement without adequate medical supervision. 5-HTP may have additive effects with some antidepressants. (13) If you are unsure whether you are taking any of these drugs or have any questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
If you have a cancerous tumor talk to your doctor before taking this dietary supplement. (14)
Occasional side effects reported with the use of this dietary supplement include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. (15) If any of these problems occur, they can usually be minimized by backing off to a lower dose, and then gradually increasing the dosage. Taking the supplement with meals may also help. Tell your doctor if these side effects become severe or do not go away.
Pregnancy / Breast Feeding
To date, the medical literature has not reported any adverse effects related to fetal development during pregnancy or to infants who are breast-fed. Yet little is known about the use of this dietary supplement while pregnant or breast-feeding. Therefore, it is recommended that you inform your healthcare practitioner of any dietary supplements you are using while pregnant or breast-feeding.
This supplement should not be used in children unless recommended by your physician.
- View Abstract: Kahn RS, et al. L-5-hydroxytryptophan in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders. J Affect Disord. Mar1985;8(2):197-200.
- View Abstract: Poldinger W, et al. A Functional-dimensional Approach to Depression: Serotonin Deficiency as a Target Syndrome in a Comparison of 5-hydroxytryptophan and Fluvoxamine. Psychopathology. 1991;24(2):53-81.
- View Abstract: van Praag H, et al. Depression Vulnerability and 5-hydroxytryptophan prophylaxis. Psychiatry Res. Sep1980;3(1):75-83.
- Soulairac A, et al. Effect of 5-hydroxytryptophan, a Serotonin Precursor, on Sleep Disorders. Ann Med Psychol. Paris. 1977;1(5):792-98.
- View Abstract: Bruni O, Ferri R, Miano S, Verrillo E. l -5-Hydroxytryptophan treatment of sleep terrors in children. Eur J Pediatr. Jul2004;163(7):402-7.
- View Abstract: De Giorgis G, Miletto R, Iannuccelli M, et al. Headache in association with sleep disorders in children: a psychodiagnostic evaluation and controlled clinical study-L-5-HTP versus placebo. Drugs Exp Clin Res. 1987;13:425-433.
- View Abstract: Ribeiro CA. L-5-Hydroxytryptophan in the prophylaxis of chronic tension-type headache: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. For the Portuguese Head Society. Headache. Jun2000;40(6):451-6.
- View Abstract: De Benedittis G, et al. Serotonin Precursors in Chronic Primary Headache. A Double-blind Cross-over Study with L-5-hydroxytryptophan vs. Placebo. J Neurosurg Sci. Jul1985;29(3):239-48.
- View Abstract: Titus F, et al. 5-Hydroxytryptophan versus Methysergide in the Prophylaxis of Migraine. Randomized Clinical Trial. Eur Neurol. 1986;25(5):327-29.
- View Abstract: Nicolodi M, Sicuteri F. L-5-hydroxytryptophan can prevent nociceptive disorders in man. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1999;467:177-82.
- View Abstract: Puttini PS, et al. Primary Fibromyalgia Syndrome and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan: A 90-day Open Study. J Int Med Res. Apr1992;20(2):182-89.
- View Abstract: Cangiano C, et al. Eating Behavior and Adherence to Dietary Prescriptions in Obese Adult Subjects Treated with 5-hydroxytryptophan. Am J Clin Nutr. Nov1992;56(5):863-67.
- View Abstract: Dreshfield-Ahmad LJ. Enhancement in extracellular serotonin levels by 5-hydroxytryptophan loading after administration of WAY 100635 and fluoxetine. Life Sci. 2000;66(21):2035-41.
- View Abstract: Eriksson B, et al. Use of PET in neuroendocrine tumors. In vivo applications and in vitro studies. Q J Nucl Med. Mar 2000;44(1):68-76.
- View Abstract: van Vliet IM, et al. Behavioral, neuroendocrine and biochemical effects of different doses of 5-HTP in panic disorder. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. May1996;6(2):103-10.