5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a promising natural treatment for a variety of mood disorders and sleep disorders, and even for just general anxiety. It is extracted from the plant species Griffonia simplicifolia and thus is sometimes referred to Griffonia simlplicifolia seed extract.
5-HTP Mechanisms of Action
5-HTP is a natural derivative of L-tryptophan and has nootropic properties in the body/brain. and induces most of its effects through increasing serotonin in the brain. Nootropics, for those who don’t know, are chemicals that alter brain chemistry to produce a desirable psychological and/or physiological effect (such as improved mood and sense of wellbeing).
Chemically speaking, 5-HTP crosses the blood-brain barrier and is converted into serotonin — a neurotransmitter that promotes calmness and relaxation. Therefore, 5-HTP should not be used in conjunction with any prescription medications that alter serotonin levels.
5-HTP differs from L-tryptophan in that doesn’t necessarily make you drowsy but instead works to calm your brain and help you relax. There are several possible metabolic fates of L-tryptophan and 5-HTP. See the diagram below for the complete pathway of L-tryptophan and 5-HTP metabolism:
Benefits of 5-HTP Supplementation
By enhancing the levels of serotonin in the brain, 5-HTP can help treat a variety of conditions. Below are some of the most pertinent research-backed benefits derived from 5-HTP use :
- Promotes relaxation and calmness
- Natural anxiolytic properties
- Reduces stress
- Promotes deeper sleep
- Enhances mood
- Prevents neurodegeneration
- May treat migraine headaches
- May alleviate pains associated with fibromyalgia
- May promote weight loss (in higher doses)
Literature contends that 5-HTP may be as effective as many pharmaceutical antidepressants, such as Xanax and Zoloft, albeit without the harsh side effects and possible development of drug dependency. However, 5-HTP, like many nootropics, should be cycled and not used indefinitely as it can cause neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain/body.
It also advised not to use 5-HTP before operating a motor vehicle or performing any other activity that requires you to be alert and wakeful. That being said, Given the importance of proper rest and recovery on your health/well-being, many individuals stand to benefit from supplementing with 5-HTP.
5-HTP Dosage Recommendations
The amount of 5-HTP you should use will depend on the purpose for which you want to use it. For example, research suggests that more 5-HTP is needed to treat things like obesity and migraine headaches as opposed to the dose necessary to treat fibromyalgia. [2, 3] The dosage suggestions are as follows:
Obesity – 600 to 900mg daily for no more than 12 weeks
Migraine Headache – 200 to 600mg daily
Fibromyalgia – 100mg three times per day
For General Relaxation and Anxiety – 200-300mg daily
For Better Sleep – 400-500mg at night
It is recommended to cycle off of 5-HTP every five to six weeks for at least one week (unless you’re using it for weight loss purposes).
When To Take 5-HTP
5-HTP is best taken either split throughout the day in several even doses (especially if you’re using 500+ mg per day). If you’re using it to improve your sleep duration, take a dose about 2 hours before bedtime and then another dose right before bedtime.
Possible Side Effects and Cautions
5-HTP may cause various side effects in certain individuals, including:
- Abdominal pain/gastrointestinal distress/diarrhea
- Absence of menstrual bleeding
- Eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS)
- Increased blood cortisol or kynurenine
- Lowered blood pressure and/or lowered cholesterol
- Psychic hyperkinetic syndrome
- Vivid dreams
5-HTP should be used cautiously or avoided by those who:
- Have schizophrenia or history of mental disorders, due to the potential for worsening symptoms
- Have HIV/AIDS, particularly HIV-1 infection
- Deal with seizure disorders or those using agents that may lower the seizure threshold, due to increased risk of seizures
- Use CNS depressants
- Drink excessive amounts of alcohol
- Take decarboxylase inhibitors
- Taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that lower blood pressure
- Have eosinophilia syndromes, due to cases of eosinophilia and eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS)
- Have suicidal thoughts/tendencies
- Use “party pills” and other recreational amphetamines
- Those taking antidepressant medications (tricyclics [TCAs], monoamine oxidase inhibitors [MAOIs], selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs], etc.) or any other medications that may affect serotonin, due to potential increases in serotonin levels and increased risk of serotonin toxicity syndrome.
- Are women who are pregnant or lactating
- Are allergic to 5-HTP
Best 5-HTP Products
5-HTP is becoming a more prominent nootropic ingredient in mood-enhancing supplements, and can also be found in bulk powder form from a variety of supplement manufacturers. It is relatively affordable, especially if you buy in large quantities.
Bulksupplements.com offers pure 5-HTP powder in batches from 25g to a whopping 25kg, starting at $19.96 plus shipping. If you plan on using 500mg of 5-HTP per day, 25g will last you 50 days (making it less than $0.50 per day). Also note that the more you buy, the more you save.
NOW Foods is always a reliable option when you want a pure ingredient at an affordable price. A 120 capsule bottle (at 200mg of 5-HTP per capsule) will cost you just under $26 on Amazon.com.
Primaforce, a subsidiary of Scivation, generally produces high-quality products at an affordable cost. They make a variety of single-ingredient products, including 5-HTP, that comes in a bottle of 120 capsules containing 100mg each for just under $15 on Amazon.com
- Birdsall, T. C. (1998). 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic, 3(4), 271-280.
- Ceci, F., Cangiano, C., Cairella, M., Cascino, A., Del Ben, M., Muscaritoli, M., … & Fanelli, F. R. (1989). The effects of oral 5-hydroxytryptophan administration on feeding behavior in obese adult female subjects. Journal of neural transmission, 76(2), 109-117.
- Caruso, I., Puttini, P. S., Cazzola, M., & Azzolini, V. (1990). Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome. Journal of International Medical Research, 18(3), 201-209.