What is 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan)?

Put simply, 5-Hydroxytryptophan is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the body. 5HTP is a chemical precursor to serotonin through tryptophan. Serotonin is an important hormone which affects the mood. 

When used as a dietary supplement, 5-HTP has been shown to help the battle against depression, mood swings, anxiety, insomnia and emotional eating. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE

TRP is an essential amino acid and the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Although the liver metabolizes over ninety percent of plasma TRP, a certain amount leaves the liver and enters the brain. Tryptophan hydroxylase first converts TRP to (5-HTP) or  5-hydroxytryptophan. Then the 5-hydroxytryptophan decarboxylase turns to 5-HT (5-hydroxytryptamine) or serotonin. (Source:  Benefiting Brain Chemistry with L-Tryptophan by Narda G. Robinson, DO, DVM, MS.)

According to a paper by Aaron D. Blackwell & Erick H. Turner, “5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) effectively increases central nervous system synthesis of serotonin.” Their research is available in a paper titled “5-Hydroxytryptophan plus SSRIs for interferon-induced depression: Synergistic mechanisms for normalizing synaptic serotonin.”

Is 5-HTP Available in Food?

Yes, 5-HTP is able to be consumed directly by eating certain foods, but the amount is very negligible – not enough to help get serotonin to normal levels. However, modern science has come up with ways to extract 5-HTP from Griffonia Simplicifolia, an uncommon plant that has higher levels of 5-Hydroxytryptophan.

The amino acid L-tryptophan can be found in chicken, potatoes, turnips, and other foods. Supplements based on this have been banned, but because 5-HTP is a precursor, it can help the body produce more L-tryptophan – and serotonin.

“Clinical data indicates that most if not all of the benefits realized by supplementing with Ltryptophan are translatable to 5-HTP. That is to say that 5-HTP can verifiably effect depression, anxiety, sleep, and…yes, even growth hormone release. Animal studies indicate that 5-HTP is actually capable of causing a release of GH. Hallelujah! Because of 5-HTP we can now enjoy the serotonin benefits that L-Tryptophan used to give us.” (Source: Gene Bruno, MS, MHS – Dean of Academics, Huntington College of Health Sciences.)

So, by eating healthy foods on a daily basis and also taking pure 5-HTP dietary supplements, a person can have a better chance of keeping serotonin at appropriate levels in the body.

What is Recommended Dose of 5-HTP? 

Most 5-HTP supplements for sale come with directions on the label of the bottle. In most instances, taking a 50 mg to 100 mg two to four times a day is the recommended dose for many trying to deal with depression naturally.  The exact dose will vary. Starting with the lowest possible dose and slowly working up to the maximum allowed in a day is the best way to find the optimal dosage for 5HTP.

When  taking 5-HTP supplements to help with anxiety or insomnia, starting with the lowest dose possible three times a day is recommended. This usually means a 50 mg dose half an hour before each meal. If a supplement is larger – 100 mg per pill – splitting the dose is a good idea. If problems persist, a person should raise the daily dose up to the total amount recommended on a daily basis until results are seen.

“Strikingly, some studies have shown better results using 200 to 300 mg of 5-HTP per day as an antidepressant than other studies using 2000 to 3,000 mg or more of tryptophan per day.” (Source: Ward Dean, MD, James South, MA, and Jim English 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) vs. Prozac or SSRIs).

Will 5-HTP Help With Depression? 

Turner EH, Loftis JM, Blackwell AD (2006). “Serotonin a la carte: supplementation with the serotonin precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan”. Pharmacol. Ther. 109 (3): 325–38 — This paper reviews the preclinical and clinical evidence regarding the use of the dietary supplement 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) for the treatment of depression.

Some studies have compared 5-HTP to standard drugs used for depression. One was a 6-week study of a total of 63 people who took either 5-HTP supplements or Prozac. The study found equal supplements and fluvoxamine, but the people who took 5-HTP (100 mg three times per day) saw a fewer and less severe side effects. (Source: NYU Langone Medical Center.)

“Fewer placebo-controlled studies have been reported for 5-HTP than for SAMe, but there is some evidence from small studies that it is better than placebo. It is considered a natural treatment, not only because it is present in the body, but also because it is extracted from an African plant (Griffonia simplicifolia)”. (Source: Are SAMe and 5-HTP safe and effective treatments for depression? by Simon N. Young).

Young goes on to write, “Neither can be recommended,” but many others think that 5-HTP is a safe, natural and effective way to increase serotonin levels to help with depression.

Will 5-HTP Help With Anxiety? 

A known connection between serotonin levels and problems with anxiety exists. Because of this, anything you can do to help your body produce normal levels of the hormone will most likely help with various anxiety related problems, including panic attacks. The results will not be instant, however, and may take a week or more of using a 5-HTP supplement daily for the body to respond in a positive way.

What are the 5 htp drug interactions? 

Taking 5-HTP in any dose is not recommended for those who are taking antidepressants or other drugs to help with weight problems. Talking to a doctor or a healthcare professional is recommended for anyone taking other drugs or supplements and who want to know about possible interactions that may become dangerous.

Should I Take 5-HTP Before or After MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly)? 

While we do not recommend or encourage taking illegal drugs for recreational uses, some people have reported that taking 5-HTP before and/or after taking a Molly (Ecstasy/MDMA) helped relieve some of the problems associated with “coming down” after taking the drugs. For most, taking 50 mg three times a day seems to work best after “rolling” for a while.

Not everyone has reported the same, however, and no official studies have been done to find out how 5-HTP supplements might affect the body trying to heal after taking MDMA in any amount. Most of the information is only available from anonymous posters on message boards and forums around the world.

What are the 5 htp dangers? 

While safe and available, certain dangers of 5-HTP are known about. If you take a higher than recommended dose, you have a higher chance of suffering from various side effects of 5-HTP. As discussed below, some of these are more serious and dangerous than others, but knowing what they are is important before making a decision about whether to use 5-HTP to help with anxiety, depression or insomnia.

What are the Side Effects of 5-HTP? 

Taking too much 5-HTP can lead to too much serotonin production. This is known as serotonin syndrome. Symptoms of this include agitation, diarrhea, rapid heart-beat, hallucinations, increased body temperature, loss of coordination, nausea, rapid changes in blood pressure and possible vomiting. As with other dietary supplements, talking to a doctor if you have any questions can provide answers.

Other Sources for 5-HTP Research and Studies 

  • Gastpar and Wakelin (1988) Selective 5-HT Reuptake Inhibitors: Novel or Commonplace Agents? Advances in Biological PsychiatryVol. 19 pg. 18-30 and 52-57
  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) University of Maryland Medical Center. 2011. Accessed: 9 January 2012.
  •  H. van Praag. Studies of the Mechanism of Action of Serotonin Precursors in Depression. Psychopharmacol Bull. 1984; 20: 599-602.
  •  R. Kahn and H. Westenberg. L-5-Hydroxytryptophan in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders. J Affect Disord, 1985; 8: 197-200.
  •  J. Robertson and T. Monte. Natural Prozac-Learning to Release Your Body’s Own Anti-Depressants. San Francisco: Harper; 1997.
  • Y. Hoshino, et al. Serum Serotonin Levels of Normal Subjects in Physiological State and Stress Conditions. Jpn J Psychosom Med. 1979; 19: 283-93.