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5-Hydroxitryptophan (5-HTP)

What is 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)?

5-hydroxytryptophan is a nonessential amino acid derivative, which can be produced in your body from the amino acid tryptophan, so you do not need to get it from foods in order to be healthy [1].

Functions of 5-HTP in the Human Body

5-hydroxytryptophan is [1]:

  • A precursor of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain, which can favorably affect mood, relieves pain, reduces appetite, helps in sleep
  • Not converted into vitamin B3 (niacin) [9]

5-HTP in Foods

5-HTP does not appear in foods in significant amounts [11]. 5-HTP can be produced in your body from the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in protein foods, but high intake of tryptophan-rich foods does not seem to significantly increase 5-HTP blood levels [11].

5-HTP Supplements

5-HTP is available as an oral herbal supplement without prescription (over-the-counter).

5-HTP is extracted from the seeds of the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia [2]. 5-HTP can enter the brain (it can cross the blood-brain barrier) and can stimulate the synthesis of serotonin [1].

5-HTP Health Benefits

5-HTP is LIKELY INNEFFECTIVE in the prevention or treatment of seizures, or hot flashes in postmenopausal women [2,10].

There is INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE [2] about the effectiveness of 5-HTP supplements in the prevention or treatment of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebellar ataxia, depression [3,6,9,10], Down syndrome, fibromyalgia [2,7,8,9,10], insomnia, mania [10], migraine or tension headache [10], muscle spasms in the mouth (palatal myoclonus), panic attacks [10], Parkinson’s disease [10], premenstrual syndrome (PMS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and sleep disorders, or in improving mood or promoting weight loss.

5-HTP Safety: Side Effects, Toxicity

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) supplements MIGHT BE UNSAFE; their effectiveness and safety were not sufficiently studied by quality human clinical trials [2,3,4]. 

Side effects may include heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, loss of libido and muscle problems.

5-HTP may cause a potentially fatal eosinophylia-myalgia syndrome, but it is not clear which exact substance causes it: 5-HTP itself or some contaminant [2]. Some individuals with Down syndrome taking 5-HTP experienced seizures [2].

The safety of 5-HTP during pregnancy and breastfeeding, in inborn babies and children has not been tested, so avoid using it in these periods [2,5].

5-HTP Interactions With Drugs

Taking 5-HTP supplements together with other antidepressants, such as fluoxetine or phenelzine, amitriptyline, citalopram, or with carbidopa, dextromethorpan (cough medicine), meperidine, pentazocine, tramadol, or herbal extracts, such as Hawaiian baby woodrose, S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) or St. John’s wort, may cause irregular heart rhythm, anxiety, shivering [2].

  1. 5-hydroxytryptophan  PubChem
  2. 5-HTP  MedlinePlus
  3. Shaw K et al, 2002, Tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan for depression  PubMed
  4. Young SN et al, Are SAMe and 5-HTP safe and effective treatments for depression?  PubMed Central
  5. 5-hydroxytryptophan  Drugs.com
  6. Shaw K et al, 2002, Are tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan effective treatments for depression? A meta-analysis  PubMed
  7. Caruso I et al, 1990, Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome  PubMed
  8. Puttini S et al, 1992, Primary fibromyalgia syndrome and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan: a 90-day open study  PubMed
  9. Birdsall TC, 1998, 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor Alternative Medicine Review
  10. The many uses of 5-HTP, bottom line monograph  Natural Medicine Journal
  11. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)  WebMD

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