5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, the neurotransmitter that signals our brains to feel happy and content. (The wildly popular Prozac also works by increasing serotonin levels.) 5-HTP is thus used to induce quality sleep and fight depression. Additionally, it may help curb cravings for sweets, which could be very helpful for those trying to lose weight.
Supplemental 5-HTP is naturally derived from the seed pods of a West African plant known as Griffonia simplicifolia.
In the body, the amino acid tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP, which is converted to serotonin. Small amounts of 5-HTP can be found in avacados, bananas, tomatoes, plums, and walnuts.
5-HTP’s ability to promote deep, restful sleep may prove to be the most important benefit for athletes as we all know that sleep is essential to the recovery of our bodies and for a sharp, focused mind. Athletes may also find that 5-HTP allows them to relax and release stress — as a result of increased serotonin levels.
There is no question that low serotonin levels can illicit cravings for high-sugar foods, but whether 5-HTP can or should be considered as a key part of a weight-loss strategy is still up for debate.
No deficiency conditions are known to exist.
Research indicates that 5-HTP may be useful in the treatment of:
5-HTP is the nutrient our bodies use to create the chemical messenger serotonin, which is found in the brain and affects mood, behavior, and sleep patterns. With modern-day living, low serotonin levels appear to be common because of poor nutritional choices mixed with high-stress living. Because of these conditions, many people are overweight, crave sugar and other carbohydrates, or suffer from depression, headaches, and vague muscle aches and pains.
In fact, low levels of serotonin are associated with a variety of ailments, including insomnia, depression (including winter depression), tension, migraines, low pain tolerance, and overeating.
It is theorized that many people are overweight because their bodies have a decreased conversion of the essential amino acid tryptophan to 5-HTP and, as a result, have lower levels of serotonin. By providing 5-HTP, this chemical reaction may be bypassed, so more serotonin is manufactured to help “turn off” hunger.
5-HTP is also believed to cause a feeling of early satiation. In other words, you may get full faster, causing you to eat less, and is believed to be especially helpful for people who have a difficult time controlling how much they eat, specifically high-sugar and/or carbohydrate foods.
One study demonstrated that 5-HTP was able to lower calorie intake and encourage weight loss, even in women who made no conscious effort to lose weight. The average amount of weight loss during this five-week study was over three pounds.
Another study showed that 5-HTP helped people stick with their nutrition plans over a 12-week period. Those on the placebo lost only 2.28 lbs, while those supplementing with 5-HTP lost 10.34 lbs.
Because 5-HTP helps increase amounts of serotonin, it has also been shown to improve sleep habits. Not only does it appear to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep but it also increases REM, so you sleep deeper and wake up less during the night.
5-HTP may be most popular for its potential antidepressant abilities. In fact, it is sometimes called a “natural Prozac.” Again, depression is believed to be caused at least in part by low serotonin levels. And what does 5-HTP do? Yes again. Raise serotonin levels in the brain!
A number of studies have been done showing 5-HTP is effective for lifting mood even in people who suffer from severe depression. One study compared 5-HTP to Prozac and found that the two were equally effective. Other studies have shown that 5-HTP may help people who have not responded to the traditional medications used to treat depression.
If you’re one of the many who overindulges in Krispy Kreme donuts, suffers from the winter blues, or feels vaguely achy, it may be that your body is simply not producing enough serotonin. If that is the case, a seemingly simple solution may be to just turn to 5-HTP.
Reported beneficial dosages range from 50 to 300 mg per day, 1 to 3 times daily. Fifty milligrams is the common single dose and the recommended place to start seeking the lowest amount effective for you.
For appetite suppression, 5-HTP should be supplemented 20 minutes before meals. For improving sleep, it is best to take 5-HTP 30 minutes before bed. For relieving depression, it may be best to take 5-HTP in three divided doses throughout the day, prior to meals.
Taking 5-HPT with St. John’s wort may increase its antidepressant effects.
For appetite suppression, 5-HTP may be more effective when taken with a caffeine-containing beverage like coffee or green tea.
No known toxicity.