5-HTP is an acronym for 5-Hydroxytryptophan. This tongue twister of a name is actually a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. It’s also an intermediate in tryptophan metabolism. If this has got you all confused, know that 5-HTP is a dietary supplement that is used as an antidepressant, a sleep aid and an appetite suppressant. (1)
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Sources of 5-HTP
To you it might appear that food is the primary source of 5-HTP, since it’s found in infinitesimal amounts in certain foods, like turkey and cheese. However, its real source lies in an African plant called Griffonia simplicifolia. The supplement is extracted from the ingredients in the seeds of this plant. (2)
5-HTP counters depression by raising the levels of serotonin. The enzyme aromatic-L-amino-acid decarboxylase acts on 5-HTP and decarboxylates it to serotonin. This intermediary role of 5-HTP, in the biosynthesis of serotonin, is a pointer to its effectiveness in treating serotonin-related disorders. It’s believed that a high supply of 5-HTP causes the brain’s serotonin-producing neurons to increase production.
Medical benefits of 5-HTP
5-HTP has been found indispensable in the treatment of the following ailments (1):
a. It helps in alleviating the symptoms of depression and possibly of anxiety and panic disorder. In fact, studies have shown that the effects of 5-HTP is the same in treating mild to moderate depression, as that of the prescription antidepressants.
b. It cures sleep disorders by providing a mild psychoactive effect on REM sleep and has proved a blessing for those suffering from insomnia.
c. It has proved a benefit in curing obesity. Taking 5-HTP supplement provides an enhanced sense of satisfaction to those trying to lose weight, even after eating small portions (2).
d. A study indicates that better results are obtained from 5-HTP than from an SSRI, for those suffering from anxious depressive syndrome.
e. It cures migraine headaches by administering a dosage of 400 to 600 mg daily. Anything less has proven ineffective (2).
f. The discomfort caused by fibromyalgia, a disease characterized by aching, tender muscles, fatigue and disturbed sleep, is effectively countered by 5-HTP (2).
5-HTP is generally available in 50mg or 100mg gelatin capsules, which need to be taken on empty stomach before sleep, because of the resulting drowsiness. It can also be taken in daytime but in smaller doses, 1 to 3 times a day (1). Once 5-HTP becomes effective, the dosage may be reduced significantly (2). However, children should only be given this supplement on the recommendations of the physician.
5-HTP, if taken with other natural or traditional drugs, is known to have an adverse effect on the body. For instance, if taken with carbidopa, a medication used for Parkinson’s disease, it can create skin changes akin to scleroderma. Similarly, taking 5-HTP with prescription antidepressants, like SSRIs, MAO inhibitors, tricyclics, the pain medication tramadol or the migraine drugs of triptan family can again affect adversely.
5-HTP has fewer side effects than traditional antidepressants and may include:
c. Constipation and gas.
d. Decreased sex drive.
e. Allergic reactions.
Despite the adverse effects, 5-HTP has immense curative properties that can treat many ailments. However, always consult your physician, before you decide to use this supplement.