You surely have heard about amino acids every time you scroll the website pages regarding supplements. You’ve heard the term before, but have you considered exactly what amino acids are? Amino acids contribute to the development of protein within the body and are vital in promoting wound repair and encouraging healthy tissue in muscles, bones, skin and hair and are also crucial in eliminating waste deposits related to metabolism (1). We get amino acids from the food we eat. You may have known about this before. Yes. But does 5-HTP ring a bell?

In this article, we will talk about what 5-HTP is and what benefits we get from it.

What is 5-HTP?

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a chemical that the body makes from tryptophan – an essential amino acid that you get from food. Tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP and is changed into another chemical called serotonin – a neurotransmitter that relays signals between brain cells (2). 5-HTP dietary supplements help increase serotonin levels in the brain. Because serotonin plays a vital role in regulating mood and behavior, it is understood that 5-HTP can also have a positive effect on sleep, mood, anxiety, appetite, and pain sensation (3). When serotonin is low, problem occurs. That is why supplementing our body with 5-HTP is significant since it helps combats different body diseases relating to low serotonin levels.

5-HTP may also be synthesized in the laboratory by extracting it from the seeds of the plant​Griffonia simplicifolia (4). Griffonia Simplicifolia is a plant native to the western and central regions of Africa where its seeds are harvested and processed to create the herbal compound 5-HTP.

Five Benefits of 5-HTP

  1. Depression – Depression is a mood disorder that creates feelings of sadness and hopelessness that can last for a long period of time (5). Research shows that using 5-HTP for depression may help alleviate depressive symptoms (6). 5-HTP is an amino acid that our bodies produce from a dietary amino acid called l-tryptophan. It can be converted into the mood-regulating neurotransmitter called serotonin, as well as the sleep-inducing hormone known as melatonin (7). However, the amount of tryptophan hydroxylase in our bodies can be inhibited by many different factors, such as stress, insulin resistance, vitamin B6 deficiency, and magnesium deficiency. Supplementing with 5-HTP overcomes this problem by eliminating the need to convert l-tryptophan to 5-HTP, thus allowing more 5-HTP to be available for conversion to serotonin (8). Preliminary studies indicate that 5-HTP may work as well as certain antidepressant drugs to treat people with mild-to-moderate depression just like the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which includes fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), 5-HTP increases the levels of serotonin in the brain. One study comparative study on the effects of 5-HTP and fluvoxamine (Luvox) to 63 people, shows that those who were given 5-HTP did just as well as those who received Luvox (9).
  2. Obesity – A few small studies suggest that 5-HTP can help people lose weight. One study suggests that some individuals taking 5-HTP eat fewer calories, although they were not trying to diet, compared to those who are using placebo (10). This leads the researchers into believing that 5-HTP can lead people to feel more full or satiated after eating, so they eat less. Indeed, 5-HTP counteracts hunger-inducing hormones, working to suppress appetite. It inhibits the intake of calories from carbohydrates, which was associated with better blood sugar control. Other studies shows that 5-HTP increases feelings of fullness and aids weight loss in overweight or obese people (11). In 1989, a study with obese women found that 8 mg/kg 5-HTP daily resulted in a threefold weight loss as compared to a placebo control group (12).
  3. Fibromyalgia – As suggested in some researches, 5-HTP can improve symptoms of fibromyalgia, including pain, anxiety, morning stiffness, and fatigue (13). There is currently no known cause of fibromyalgia, but low serotonin levels have been associated with the condition for it is found out that many people with fibromyalgia have low levels of serotonin, and doctors often prescribe antidepressants (14). Like antidepressants, 5-HTP raises levels of serotonin in the brain. When serotonin in fibromyalgia patients is low, boosting this can only be an option. One study using 50 patients found that a 90 day administration of 5-HTP significantly improved symptoms such as tender points, anxiety, pain intensity and sleep quality (15). In another study published in the Alternative Medicine Review, researchers report that supplementation with 5-HTP may improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and fibromyalgia pain (16).
  4. Migraines – Migraine is a common condition that effects the neurological systems of the brain and its riggers are wide and varied, as are the symptoms in many of the sufferers (17). 5-HTP is an antioxidant and a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, prevents both migraines and tension-type headaches according to study (18). Taking 5-HTP as a supplement is believed to help reduce headache frequency and severity by modulating serotonin and increasing endorphin levels. 5-HTP is extremely effective in preventing symptoms of a migraine as shown in one study 71% of patients recorded a “Significant improvement” in symptoms. It seems to decrease the intensity and duration of attacks (19). The said supplement works by increasing the natural pool of chemicals that Serotonin derives from. Thus, biological Serotonin will rise reducing neurological vessel size and pain (20).
  5. Insomnia – In one study, people who took 5-HTP went to sleep quicker and slept more deeply than those who took a placebo (21). Healthy levels of serotonin contribute to a positive mood and outlook and also promote restful sleep. One important way serotonin affects sleep and bio time is through its relationship with the “sleep hormone” melatonin, which is made from serotonin in the presence of darkness (22). Both serotonin and melatonin are critical to sleep and a well-functioning bio clock (23). With its ability to increase serotonin, 5-HTP supports a neurochemical process that can enable high-quality sleep and keep the body’s bio clock in sync (24).

Final Thoughts on 5-HTP

5-HTP helps us combat many forms of diseases. Should you consider taking it, it is important to consult your doctor to ensure that it won’t interfere with any other medications, including prescribed antidepressants.