5-HTP (short for 5-hydroxytryptophan) is a type of amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. These are important chemicals in the brain which are linked to sleep, mood, and pain. By increasing our intake of 5-HTP we can also boost our levels of these chemical hormones.
Amino acids are the building blocks of numerous structures within the body, from enzymes to hormones and everything in between. In the body, 5-HTP is made from tryptophan which we get from our food. It can also be extracted from the ‘Griffonia Simplicifolia’ shrub which is native to Africa.
In this article, we review the health benefits of 5-HTP, including its influence on sleep, depression, anxiety, weight loss, and numerous other areas of our lives. We also break down some of the science behind how it works and whether it’s necessary to supplement as part of a healthy diet.
What’s the Difference Between 5-HTP and Tryptophan?
The difference between 5-HTP and tryptophan often causes confusion. Tryptophan is one of the nine ‘essential’ amino acids that the body can’t make for itself. However, 5-HTP is a different form of tryptophan as it has a slightly changed chemical structure. When your body absorbs tryptophan, enzymes set up about converting it into 5-HTP. From there, more enzymes turn 5-HTP into serotonin, and then from serotonin to melatonin.
So, why wouldn’t you just take tryptophan instead of 5-HTP? After all, there are lots of dietary sources of tryptophan that make it easy to consume, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and seeds. But like most things related to nutrition, it’s not as simple as just eating it. Eating more tryptophan-rich foods does not lead to an increase of 5-HTP in the body. Some people don’t have the necessary enzymes that convert tryptophan into 5-HTP. This means that they can’t metabolize it, no matter how much they consume. Even if you have these enzymes, they act as a bottleneck and limit the speed at which your body can convert tryptophan into 5-HTP, serotonin, and melatonin.
Another key difference is that 5-HTP can only be converted into serotonin. This means that if you supplement with it, you’re much more likely to increase serotonin levels since it can’t be turned into anything else. Tryptophan, however, can be converted into a number of different products such as vitamin B6 (also known as niacin). So, by supplementing with this form, you’re not necessarily helping your serotonin production. If that’s your goal, then 5-HTP is the better option.
When it comes to crossing the blood-brain barrier, 5-HTP has less competition than tryptophan. Only specific receptors can help to transport the latter across, which are also used by other amino acids like leucine, isoleucine, valine, and tyrosine. In contrast, 5-HTP doesn’t even need transport receptors to cross the blood-brain barrier, let alone share them with anything else. This means it’s always front of the queue and ensures it’s quickly absorbed.
Health Benefits of 5-HTP
Scientific research studies have found several health benefits to 5-hydroxytryptophan. The reported positive effects of 5-HTP include reducing sleep disorders, weight loss, depression, anxiety, and Parkinson’s disease. In this section, we dive a little deeper into each of these topics.
Some sleep disorders can be caused by a genetic mutation causing low serotonin levels. People with this gene mutation tend to have trouble maintaining their circadian rhythm. Studies have found that supplementing with 5-HTP can help to restore the natural circadian rhythm which promotes good quality sleep. This is one of the reasons that 5-HTP is included in our Sleep Starter Topical Patch.
Long-term supplementation can increase the number of GABA receptors which further aids the natural sleep cycle and encourages a good night’s rest. Although the clinical trials have been fairly small-scale up until now, they show consistent and promising results for further exploration.
Anyone who has tried to lose weight will know the role that carbohydrates play. Although they’re often demonized in the media, they are an important component of a healthy and balanced diet. They supply our muscles and brain with energy which we need for daily life. Unfortunately, they’re also a key component of most ‘comfort foods’.
Consuming carbohydrates like bread and pasta can increase the serotonin levels in the brain. However, these levels can drop if we cut carbohydrates in an attempt to reduce calories and lose weight. Supplementing with 5-HTP can protect you against this serotonin decrease so that you crave carbohydrates less. This can reduce your overall appetite and help support your weight loss efforts.
Some research studies have evaluated the effect of 5-HTP supplementation on obese women. They found that their food intake decreased, and participants lost weight, yet didn’t experience any decrease in mood (which is often associated with dieting).
Another study with diabetic patients found similar results. Half of the participants were given 5-HTP and half weren’t, but both groups could eat whatever they wanted. After two weeks, the 5-HTP group showed a lower intake of carbohydrates, fat, and overall calories. This group had also lost weight, in addition to reducing blood sugar and insulin levels.
Clinical trials have found that 5-HTP can help to alleviate depression, however, the research is still in its early stages. Multiple studies have shown that taking doses of 150-3000mg per day for 2-4 weeks can reduce the symptoms of depression. One study found that 5-HTP may be comparable to some antidepressants in terms of its effect which may offer promise on the future.
5-HTP has been found to work well when combined with a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These SSRIs are commonly used in the treatment of depression (along with anxiety). A small research study found that when participants were given 5-HTP or an antidepressant, their serotonin levels increased by 35% and 100% respectively. However, when they were given a combination of 5-HTP and antidepressants together, their serotonin increased by an incredible 500%! However, larger scale and higher quality studies are needed to provide more evidence regarding its safety and effectiveness for this use.
5-HTP also shows promising benefits for people who suffer from anxiety or experience panic attacks. A study on young adults with anxiety found that taking 5-HTP decreased their anxious feelings within just three weeks. Their levels of serotonin and neurotrophic factor had been increased which is thought to be the mechanism behind it.
As well as anxiety, some panic attacks or panic disorders are brought on by low serotonin availability to the brain. Research has found that people suffering from panic attacks on a chronic basis were helped by supplementing with 200mg of 5-HTP.
GABA is also related to anxiety. Scientific studies have shown that 5_HTP herbal extracts can increase GABA levels which aid feelings of relaxation and reduces anxious feelings.
Migraines & Tension Headaches
There is some evidence to show that 5-HTP may help to prevent or treat migraines and tension-related headaches. Some studies have shown that it is as effective as prescription drugs, whereas others have not shown it to have much effect at all.
Research is currently underway to assess whether 5-HTP is beneficial for people with fibromyalgia. Results from early studies have suggested that taking 100mg doses for 1-3 months can improve some of the symptoms. These include fatigue, anxiety, tenderness, pain, and stiffness in the morning.
Premenstrual symptoms (PMS)
It’s thought that around 30% of women suffer from premenstrual symptoms. Several studies have found that the serotonin-increasing effects of 5-HTP may help to alleviate PMS. The boost in serotonin appeared to help combat feelings of low or negative mood, as well as regulating sleep.
Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
It’s estimated that 75% of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) cases are related to genetics. The ADHD gene affects neurotransmitter serotonin pathways and receptors as well as dopamine. This means that the system works differently in people with this disorder which can cause symptoms such as impulsivity, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity.
5-HTP supplements can increase serotonin levels in the brain which then bind to the various receptors in the brain. These receptors also regulate the activity of dopamine, so by increasing serotonin you may also positively impact dopamine and reduce ADHD symptoms. However, although there is lots of anecdotal evidence to support this theory, much more research is needed to explore whether it’s truly effective.
Treating Parkinson’s disease with 5-HTP has produced mixed results. Initial research found that taking a dose of 100-150 mg in addition to conventional drugs had a decreasing effect on shaking. However, it appears that these benefits only last for 5 months, after which the symptoms return. In addition, taking 5-HTP at high doses (275-1500 mg per day) has been linked to worsened symptoms.
Does 5-HTP Supplementation Have Any Side Effects?
Everyone is different, so we each react to nutrients in different ways. What gives some people headaches will be perfectly fine for others, so the most important thing is to listen to your own body. Try new supplements and see how you feel after a few days – only you can judge your own reactions.
Some people have reported the following side effects of 5-HTP in rare instances;
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heart palpitations
Increasing your serotonin levels can affect the control of gut movement, which is why 5-HTP and SSRI antidepressants may cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. This is the case for anything that increases your serotonin levels and is not unique to supplementation. However, this may be another area where patches are more beneficial than oral dietary supplements. A surge of serotonin isn’t always well-tolerated by the body, which is why nausea can occur. But patches allow for the slow release of 5-HTP which is much less likely to cause such side effects.
What About Serotonin Syndrome?
Exceptionally high levels of serotonin can lead to a very serious and life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. Serious symptoms can include fever, hallucination, and high blood pressure, whereas milder symptoms include sweating, shivering, and restless limbs. SSRI and other anti-depressants have been linked to serotonin syndrome, but there is no evidence to suggest a link with 5-HTP. In relation to serotonin syndrome specifically, the natural 5-HTP may be a better option than chemically manufactured drugs.
5-HTP – Summary Overview
5-HTP shows promising results in scientific studies that relate to multiple areas of our health. It’s linked to better sleep as it helps to boost serotonin which regulates our circadian rhythm. Good quality sleep is vital for our all-around health as it allows the body to relax and rejuvenate overnight.
It’s also been linked to positive weight loss results, as it curbs cravings for carbohydrate and reduces overall calorie intake. If you’re looking for a little support on your weight loss journey then 5-HTP may help to reduce your appetite and the likelihood of temptation.
The serotonin-boosting effects of 5-HTP seem to be especially beneficial for depression and anxiety. In combination with antidepressants and under the guidance of a medical professional, it may offer an even more effective alternative to drugs alone.
There is less evidence to support its use in the treatment of migraines, tension headaches, fibromyalgia, and PMS. Although initial results are promising, much more research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn. The same is true of its links with ADHD and Parkinson’s disease, although research is currently underway to shed more light on the possible benefits and treatment methods.
If you’re interested in increasing your 5-HTP intake, then consuming more tryptophan is unlikely to help. Because of the way this amino acid is metabolized, enzymes limit the amount you can convert into 5-HTP (even if you’re digesting lots). In this case, you’re better off looking at supplement options to boost your 5-HTP levels and experience the associated health benefits.
5-HTP & Our Sleep Starter Topical Patch
Our Sleep Starter Topical Patch contains 50mg of 5-HTP to help promote a restful night’s sleep. Whether you need help to sleep due to shift work, jet lag, or insomnia, our sleep patches can help. They contain a high dose of melatonin and 5-HTP along with other relaxing nutrients which aid your natural sleep cycle.
- May help you fall asleep faster and more easily
- Combats insomnia with a natural solution
- Non-habit forming and drug-free
- Improves sleep quality so you wake up revitalized
- May diminish the symptoms of jet lag
- Effective absorption over pills and liquids
- Safe, easy, and convenient to use
The Sleep Starter Topical Patch helps to promote a restful night’s sleep thanks to its 50mg dose of 5-HTP (Griffonia Simplicifolia), along with melatonin, magnesium, valerian root, and hops extract. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, a hormone that’s responsible for maintaining our circadian rhythm.
Melatonin helps to initiate sleep and maintain it throughout the night. When our sleep cycle is healthy, our bodies produce melatonin once it’s dark outside. As our levels of melatonin increase, our core body temperature decreases, and we start to feel less alert. We then feel more and more drowsy until the idea of sleep becomes appealing and we eventually nod off.
However, if our melatonin production is suppressed, then there’s nothing to trigger our usual sleep patterns. So, the end result is that we struggle to fall asleep or don’t sleep for very long. This can be a consequence of the natural aging process since melatonin production decreases as we get older. But it can also be caused by things like traveling to a different time zone, working night shifts, or using smartphones before bed. Melatonin is made from serotonin, which comes from 5-HTP. So by boosting your levels of 5-HTP, you can ensure that the production line for melatonin is well-fuelled.
Using a melatonin sleep patch can be an effective way to give your body the rest it needs. It’s popular with people who travel frequently on business trips as it helps them avoid jet lag and perform at their best. It’s also ideal for people with age-related insomnia* who struggle to get to sleep and then stay asleep for the recommended 8 hours. For people who work unusual shift patterns and need to sleep during the day, it can be the difference between a decent rest and no shut-eye at all. So, if you’re struggling to get the nightly rest you need and are fed up of feeling tired all the time, then melatonin sleep patches may be a practical solution.
Our patches are also suitable for people with many different forms of allergies. They’re free from gluten, wheat, casein, milk, egg, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy, and corn. They don’t contain any GMOs, MSG, fillers, artificial dyes, colors, flavorings, or preservatives. So, you can be confident that you’re only consuming the nutrients you need and nothing else.
Each pack contains a 30-day supply of patches to help you get a good night’s rest whenever you need it. Order a pack today and experience the high-quality sleep benefits for yourself.
These comments have not been vetted or approved by the food and drug administration.
* Speak to a licensed healthcare professional if your insomnia symptoms persist or are not age-related.