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Introduction

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid (i.e. a chemical by-product of L-tryptophan) which is naturally produced by your body. The body uses 5-HTP to produce serotonin – an important chemical and neurotransmitter, which sends signals between nerve cells and contributes to well-being and happiness.

Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression, weight gain, anxiety, sleep disorders,  and many other health issues.

Since increasing your body’s production of serotonin can have many health benefits, 5-HTP plays a crucial role in your health and well-being. The substance has also been used to treat several conditions linked to low levels of serotonin, such as sleep disorders, anxiety, hyperactivity, depression, primary fibromyalgia syndrome, and migraines.

In the recent years, serotonin-producing 5-HTP supplements have become increasingly popular.

Because of the above-mentioned link between low levels of serotonin and weight gain, 5-HTP supplements can also be taken by those aiming to achieve weight loss.

The Bottom Line – 5-HTP is a chemical by-product of L-tryptophan and is naturally produced in the body. It produces serotonin – a neurotransmitter which is essential for your health and wellbeing. It can also be taken as a supplement to support your body’s ability to maintain a healthy level of serotonin.

5-HTP Health Benefits

The importance of 5-HTP amino acid shouldn’t be overlooked. It has many health benefits and can be used to treat several health problems (including depression and weight gain).

Below is a list of the possible benefits we’ve found:

5-HTP Could Help With Weight Loss By Increasing Feelings of Fullness

Research suggests that 5-HTP supplements could help you control your appetite and eat less, potentially leading to weight loss.

When you are on a diet in order to lose weight, your body may increase the production of hormones that make you feel hungry. This feeling of hunger could become a serious challenge for someone looking to lose pounds and achieve a healthy weight. This is where 5-HTP may help: studies have shown that 5-HTP could counteract these hormones, and effectively suppress appetite – this way helping you lose weight.

A study aiming to measure the effectiveness of 5-HTP showed that patients taking 5-HTP consumed c.435 fewer calories per day, compared to the group receiving the placebo product [1]. Additionally, the study showed that 5-HTP mainly inhibited the calorie intake from carbohydrates – resulting in better blood sugar control.

There have also been many studies that confirm 5-HTP can increase the feeling of fullness and suppress appetite, aiding weight loss in obese participants [2, 3].

5-HTP Helps With Depression

The exact cause of depression remains unknown. However, researchers believe there is a link between serotonin imbalance and depression (i.e., low levels of serotonin may influence your mood, and potentially lead to depression). Because 5-HTP produces serotonin, its effects on reducing depression symptoms have been thoroughly studied.

Some studies indicate that 5-HTP is effective as an antidepressant [4].

However, it appears to be more effective when combined with other antidepressant substances rather than used alone [5].

5-HTP Could Make Migraines Less Frequent

5-HTP has also been studied as a potential treatment for migraines.

Those who suffer from migraines are commonly known to suffer from low levels of serotonin [6] which decreases even more during an attack. Scientists therefore were led to believing that increasing the levels of serotonin could reduce the frequency of migraines.

There is some evidence that 5-HTP can effectively prevent migraines. One study into its effectiveness in migraine prevention found that 5-HTP reduced headache frequency by 70%, compared to only 11% in the participants who were given a placebo [7].

Another research study compared the effectiveness of 5-HTP and methysergide – a common drug used to prevent migraines. The study found that a daily supplement of 5-HTP taken for six months significantly decreased or prevented the number of migraine attacks in over two thirds of the participants [8].

5-HTP Could Improve Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by fatigue, as well as muscle and bone pain. While it is still unknown what causes fibromyalgia, low serotonin levels have been linked to the disease.

Since 5-HTP works to increase the levels of serotonin in the body and brain, scientists believed that giving the body a serotonin boost could help those suffering with fibromyalgia.

In fact, several studies have shown that it does help improve the symptoms of the disease, such as muscle pain, fatigue, and sleep problems [9].

Even though the studies show that 5-HTP could help with fibromyalgia, not enough research has been conducted to determine whether it is truly effective.

How To Use 5-HTP

5-HTP should be taken as a supplement in a tablet or capsule form.

It can also be purchased as an extract of Griffonia simplicifolia, the African plant 5-HTP comes from. The powder can be added to foods and beverages for a boost of 5-HTP.

The most common methods of taking 5-HTP are:

  • Capsules
  • Powder

The daily dose will depend on why you are taking the supplement (e.g. sleep problems, weight loss). Here are the general guidelines:

  • Mood boost: 50-100 mg to be taken three times a day with meals.
  • Help with migraines: 100-200 mg to be taken two to three times a day with meals.
  • Improved sleep: 100-300 mg to be taken 30 minutes before bed.
  • Help with fibromyalgia symptoms: 100 mg to be taken three to four times per day with meals.
  • Weight management: take 250-300 mg 30 minutes before a meal.

5-HTP has been safely used in doses up to 400 mg. It is recommended that you don’t exceed 400 mg.

Which Foods Contain 5-HTP?

No foods contain a significant amount of 5-HTP.

5-HTP Side Effects List

While 5-HTP has many health benefits, there are some side effects that you need to be aware of before taking it. They tend to occur when larger doses of 5-HTP are taken.

The most common side effects of 5-HTP are:

  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Sexual problems
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain/discomfort
  • Sleepiness/fatigue

A less common side effect some people developed after taking 5-HTP is a condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). It is a serious condition which involves myalgia (muscle tenderness) and eosinophilia (blood abnormalities). It is difficult to determine whether the side effect was caused by an accidental ingredient in the supplement, a contaminant in 5-HTP, or another factor. Until the cause of the condition is known, 5-HTP should be taken with caution.

Note: these side effects are possible but may not be the typical user experience.

Is 5-HTP Safe?

Generally, 5-HTP is considered to be possibly safe when an appropriate amount is taken by mouth as a supplement. However, large doses of 5-HTP are possible unsafe, and could cause severe stomach problems and other health issues.

It is important to bear in mind that 5-HTP has not been approved by FDA for medicinal use. This means that it can’t be used as a prescribed medicine or treatment for any health issue. It can only be taken in a supplement form.

Remember, before using 5-HTA, you should consult with your doctor if you have any kind of medical condition.

When should I not take 5-HTP?

  • If you are pregnant and/or breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the effects of 5-HTP when it comes to pregnancy and breast-feeding. Because no reliable information is available, it is best to stay on the safe side and avoid use.
  • If you are having surgery/ have recently had surgery: Because 5-HTP increases the production of serotonin, it should be avoided for a few weeks before surgery. That’s because some of the drugs administered during surgery also increase serotonin. Too much of it could cause serious problems, such as heart issues, anxiety, and shivering. It would be best if you stopped taking 5-HTA at least two weeks before having surgery.

Has 5-HTP Been Linked To Any Deaths?

5-HTP has been linked to some deaths. In 1989, there was a national outbreak which sickened 1500 people, and caused 20 deaths. The cause was tryptophan supplements made by a specific manufacturer. When tryptophan was banned by the FDA, a new alternative was introduced – 5-HTP, a chemical by-product of tryptophan. Because of the biochemical relationship with tryptophan, 5-HTP has been under vigilance by scientists, consumers, and the industry. However, no cases of toxicity have emerged in the last 20 years.

The Bottom Line – 5-HTP has a ton of health benefits, and taking it as a supplement could boost your mood, well-being, as well as provide a helping hand on your way to weight loss. However, since 5-HTP has been linked to contamination, it is particularly important to make sure you buy yours from a reliable source.

Where Can I Buy 5-HTP & Do I Need A Prescription?

5-HTP is readily available to buy without a prescription from pharmacies, supermarkets and online retailers.

Make sure that you only buy 5-HTP from a reliable provider, and always consult your doctor beforehand.

Conclusion

5-HTP is an essential amino acid for the production of serotonin in your body – and it has a ton of health benefits. According to various research studies, it can effectively treat migraines, depression, primary fibromyalgia syndrome, and other health problems.

Research shows that 5-HTP supplements can also support weight loss by increasing the levels of serotonin in your body and helping you feel fuller. However, it has also been linked to some contaminated supplements, therefore needs to be taken with caution.

Abbey Carlson, RD
Abbey Carlson, RD
Staff Writer & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Abbey is a registered dietitian who specializes in human nutrition and obesity prevention.
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This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.