5-Hydroxytryptophan: A Smart Drug to Improve Mood, Sleep and Reduce Stress
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5-Hydroxytroptophan (5-HTP) is an amino compounds that is found in a variety of natural sources, most notably, an African climbing plant species known as Griffonia simplicifolia. 5-HTP is involved in a number of important biological processes, acting as a precursor molecule, as well as a metabolic intermediate in the synthesis of neurotransmitters from tryptophan. It is used for many purposes including suppressing appetite, regulating sleep patterns, enhancing mood, and reducing stress and anxiety.
To understand how 5-HTP works, it is a good idea to first look at one of the molecules it is closely related to, Tryptophan. Tryptophan is another amino compounds that is considered to be essential, as it cannot be synthesized in the body. Found in many high-protein foods such as eggs, fish, red and white meat, tryptophan is an essential building block for the synthesis of numerous biological products. Among the most important of these are the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin.
Serotonin is responsible for mood, learning, sleep, appetite, memory and a whole host of other biological functions. It is converted from tryptophan into serotonin in a two-step enzyme catalysed process. Serotonin can then be broken down into melatonin, a hormone that plays a crucial role in regulating circadian rhythms. This is your internal clock that dictates sleep-wake cycles, as well as other behaviours dependant on the time of day.
How Does 5-HTP Work?
As mentioned earlier, 5-HTP is an intermediate metabolite for the synthesis of serotonin. This means it is the molecule that tryptophan is first converted into, before undergoing another enzyme catalysed reaction to form serotonin. By supplying the body with an additional source of this serotonin precursor, we are effectively skipping the first stage of the conversion process. This means serotonin can be synthesised more directly than when using tryptophan as a starting point. An additional advantage of 5-HTP is that it will be converted exclusively into serotonin, whereas tryptophan supplements may be converted into any number of proteins. Considering these points, you may question why we don’t simply take supplements that contain serotonin. However this would not work as psychotropic supplements (that work on the brain) first have to cross the blood brain barrier in order to reach their target cells, and while serotonin is not capable of doing this, 5-HTP can.
What is 5-HTP Used For?
Enhancing serotonin production can have a wide range of benefits and using 5-HTP can help to promote positive feelings, a property that makes this supplement potentially useful for depression. Clinical trials have already proven 5-HTP to be more effective in improving the symptoms of depression when compared to a placebo. While its clinical use is deemed to be somewhat limited compared to more powerful SSRIs, users who prefer more natural herbal supplements generally favour 5-HTP.
As serotonin is believed to be important for regulating emotions such as anxiety, it is only logical to assume that supplements that modulate serotonin levels can help to treat anxiety disorders. Dosages of around 50 to 100mg have been observed to aid those with anxiety, and while not all people find it useful, a majority of users note that 5-HTP can at least contribute to more restful sleep, and lower their sensitivity to the type of stimuli that evokes anxiety.
5-HTP is also believed to be an effective weight loss aid. When first adhering to a new weight loss diet, many individuals find that they experience negative moods caused in part by a drop in serotonin levels. This can also lead to eating excessive amounts, and craving carbohydrate rich foods. By supplementing serotonin levels, 5-HTP can improve mood, and suppress appetite, allowing the user to more easily achieve the calorie deficit that is required for weight loss. Studies have shown that obese individuals using 5-HTP felt more satiated (full) after eating and were less likely to eat more as a result. Additionally, they lost an average of 2% body weight when not on a diet, and 3% when dieting, compared to a control group who lost no weight in either scenario.
As mentioned earlier, 5-HTP can indirectly contribute to higher levels of melatonin, as well as serotonin. This is useful for those that have irregular sleeping patterns, or sufferers of insomnia. Studies have shown that using 5-HTP allows the user to fall asleep quicker, and achieve higher sleep quality. For such purposes, a dosage of 200 to 300mg is recommended before bed in order to promote better quality sleep.
Possible Side Effects
Provided that it is used in the correct manner and dosage, 5-HTP is considered to be quite safe for use by most healthy adults, although it is not recommended for those under 18 years old. Although cases are rare, users may experience some gastrointestinal distress as a result of serotonin-induced muscle contractions of the small intestine. This can lead to vomiting or diarrhoea.
Users should avoid taking 5-HTP with certain types of anti-depressants, particularly MAIOs and SSRIs to avoid the possibility of developing serotonin syndrome. This supplement may also cause interactions with other types of medication such as carbidopa, often used to treat Parkinson’s disease. It is important that you consult a qualified healthcare professional for guidance before using 5-HTP to avoid the possibility of such negative side effects.