In the world of dietary supplements and integrative medicine, 5-HTP has a growing reputation as a broad-spectrum cure-all for a wide range of issues. Whether you’re having trouble sleeping or can’t get rid of those last few stubborn pounds, someone is likely to suggest that you try 5-HTP. While 5-HTP isn’t a miracle cure by any means, a growing body of research suggests it may help you deal with depression, weight loss, sleep disorders and the pain of fibromyalgia, among other things.
What Is 5-HTP?
5-Hydroxytryptophan is an amino acid that your body produces naturally and converts to serotonin. Your body uses serotonin to regulate many important body processes, including digestion, emotional moods, sleep, pain control, and inflammation. It’s commonly available as a dietary supplement derived from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia.
How 5-HTP Impacts Serotonin Levels
Typically, your body produces serotonin through a complex series of chemical conversions that start with tryptophan. 5-HTP is one of the byproducts of breaking down tryptophan. Your body converts it directly into serotonin. You can think of it as a shortcut to increase the serotonin levels in your brain. The flip side of that benefit is that taking 5-HTP bypasses the natural process your body uses to limit the amount of serotonin circulating at any one time. That’s important because too much serotonin can have adverse effects on your health.
5 Benefits of 5-HTP
Since serotonin levels impact so many different bodily systems — and so many disorders are associated with a deficit of serotonin — the list of 5-HTP benefits may make it seem like the dietary supplement is a wonder drug, practically a silver bullet for whatever ails you. Nothing is ever that simple, but these are some of the top beneficial things that 5-HTP can do for you.
- Reduce migraine frequency and severity: A number of studies have shown that 5-HTP can reduce the intensity or frequency of migraines in those who suffer from them. However, conflicting studies show that 5-HTP had little effect or no better effect than conventional medicines.
- Help you lose weight: According to Healthline, 5-HTP may help you lose weight by increasing your feeling of fullness after eating. It may also help suppress the hunger-inducing hormones and your appetite. In a number of studies, people who took 5-HTP ate significantly fewer calories over the course of the day. Even more importantly, 5-HTP seems to suppress the appetite for carbohydrates and may lead to better blood sugar control for people with diabetes.
- Improve your sleep: Your body uses serotonin to produce melatonin, which helps regulate sleep and may promote better, more regular sleep.
- Reduce and control fibromyalgia pain: Low serotonin levels have been associated with fibromyalgia, so using 5-HTP to increase serotonin levels may aid in managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. A few preliminary studies show promising results, but researchers say that further research is necessary before they can make a definitive statement.
- Improve symptoms of depression: Low serotonin levels have been implicated in depression and other mood disorders. A significant amount of research suggests that stimulating serotonin production using 5-HTP supplements may help improve the symptoms of depression. Most studies, however, suggest that 5-HTP is most effective against depression when it’s used in combination with other antidepressant medications. Even then, researchers agree that they need more high-quality studies to determine whether 5-HTP supplements are an effective treatment for depression.
What Are the Side Effects of 5-HTP?
According to the Poison Control Center, there are two main concerns when taking 5-HTP.
- It can interact with other medications that boost serotonin levels, causing excessive levels of serotonin. That can lead to serotonin syndrome with symptoms that include dangerously high temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.
- Because dietary supplements like 5-HTP aren’t regulated by the FDA, they don’t go through the same rigorous safety testing that medicines do. Reduce the risk by taking only supplements verified by USP.
Other than that, few side effects and risks are associated with taking low doses of 5-HTP. Some people may experience digestive symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. Those symptoms are dose-dependent, so you can minimize the risk by starting at a low dose and gradually increasing it until you reach the best levels for your needs.
Overall, 5-HTP is a proven, effective way to increase your serotonin levels with a minimum of side effects. Increased serotonin levels can be helpful with a wide variety of problems, including weight loss, migraines, fibromyalgia, and sleep disturbances. However, given the seriousness of possible drug interactions, you should talk with a medical professional before starting to take 5-HTP.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer who has written on a wide range of wellness and health topics, including dietary supplements and emotional wellness.