The compound is a natural precursor to a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which helps produce “feel-good” chemicals in the brain and body.
However, there is little significant research to prove that L-5 hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) can offer such benefits.
In this article, learn about the possible benefits of 5-HTP, as well as its possible side effects.
What is 5-HTP?
The body produces serotonin through a series of chemical steps, starting with the amino acid L-tryptophan. One of the chemicals on the way from transforming L-tryptophan to serotonin is 5-HTP.
The chemical was only available via prescription until 1995, when the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it as an over-the-counter (OTC) supplement.
Manufacturers derive the supplement from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia, which is an African plant. The supplement does not naturally occur in foods.
Some people believe that taking 5-HTP can increase the amount of serotonin in the body. Doctors have previously linked a lack of serotonin with a number of medical conditions, including depression.
As a result, some doctors recommend taking 5-HTP along with regular medications for certain conditions.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are a common treatment for depression. These medications work by preventing the body from breaking down serotonin, thereby increasing the amount that is available in the body.
Some researchers believe that 5-HTP could act in a similar way by increasing the amount of 5-HTP in the body. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research to support this.
An older meta-analysis examined the results of studies on 5-HTP and tryptophan in relieving depression symptoms. While the authors reviewed more than 100 studies related to the topic, they found that few studies used high-quality methods.
The researchers concluded that there was not enough evidence to say that 5-HTP had a greater effect than a placebo on depression.
However, they did note that some of the studies found that 5-HTP could be better than placebo in some people. These studies were too old, however, to represent the latest clinical research methods.
Another challenge in using 5-HTP to treat depression is that the supplement does not usually last long in the body, which rapidly absorbs and eliminates it.
These characteristics can keep it from being an effective method to treat depression.
If researchers could find a way to make 5-HTP last longer in the body, it may show more promise as a depression treatment, according to one study.
Some natural medicine proponents believe that taking 5-HTP supplements can help reduce anxiety and panic. However, most of the research about 5-HTP and anxiety is 15–20 years old.
One research study from 2002 found that taking 5-HTP reduced anxiety and panic in people with panic disorder. However, the researchers did not find any difference in anxiety in other participants who did not have a panic disorder.
Doctors know that a lack of serotonin is likely to play a role in anxiety and panic. However, studies have not yet proven that using 5-HTP to increase serotonin is an effective strategy for reducing anxiety.
According to some research, taking 5-HTP may increase serotonin but deplete or reduce the amounts of other neurotransmitters. These include dopamine and norepinephrine.
This side effect could actually make some medical conditions worse. Examples of such conditions include:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- generalized anxiety disorder
- Parkinson’s disease
- seasonal affective disorder
This is more likely to occur when a person has taken 5-HTP supplements long-term. Some people may suggest taking 5-HTP along with a supplement that increases the amount of dopamine in the body, such as l-tyrosine or l-dopa.
Other potential side effects of taking 5-HTP supplements include:
Before taking 5-HTP, it is vital to check with a doctor to ensure the supplement will not interfere with any medical conditions or medications.
5-HTP has been available as a prescription medication and an OTC supplement for several decades. During this time, no large-scale studies have yet concluded that the supplement may successfully treat any medical condition.
It is possible that taking 5-HTP could have some short-term benefits in promoting sleep and weight loss.
Taking 5-HTP long-term could deplete stores of other vital neurotransmitters. A person should talk to their doctor if they are thinking of taking 5-HTP. This will help ensure that it will not cause any adverse reactions.
People can purchase 5-HTP supplements in pharmacies, at health food stores, and online.
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