Written by Helen Foster on March 18, 2019 Reviewed by Dr Sarah Schenker on March 20, 2019
Overview5-HTP is the shortened name for L-5 hydroxytryptophan.1 This is a compound our body creates from the amino acid tryptophan, found in foods such as turkey, salmon, seeds and eggs.2
What is 5-HTP and what does it do?Our bodies use 5-HTP to make the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is involved with the regulation of mood, appetite and gut function.3 5-HTP does not occur naturally in any foods, which means we can’t get it from our diet. So, the idea of supplementing with 5-HTP is to remove the need to create it from tryptophan, which, in turn, is believed to raise serotonin levels in the body.4 Supplements of 5-HTP are often made with the seeds of an African shrub called Griffonia simplicifolia.5
What does 5-HTP do in the body?
5-HTP is involved in the production of serotonin. Regulating or raising levels of serotonin may have an impact on many conditions, including:
- Depression – the evidence for 5-HTP’s ability to tackle depression is still unclear, but some studies have found a positive effect. For example, a 2013 trial of 70 patients experiencing their first episode of depression reported that 5-HTP had an ‘antidepressant effect’ on the subjects.6
- Migraine – it’s still not known exactly what causes migraine, but one theory is that attacks are triggered by changes in serotonin levels in the brain.7 This has led some researchers to study the effects of 5-HTP on migraine – according to a classic study published in European Neurology in 1986, migraineurs who took 5-HTP experienced reduced severity and duration of attacks.8
- Weight maintenance – one 1998 study conducted on 20 people discovered that those taking 5-HTP consumed fewer calories from carbohydrates and fat than those taking a placebo.9 In a more recent 2016 trial, researchers from Brunel University, London, backed up those findings using brain imaging scans, and suggested that 5-HTP alters our brain activity when we look at food – shifting our focus away from high-calorie and high-carbohydrate foods, towards healthier, higher protein foods.10
How much 5-HTP is safe to take?There is no recommended daily amount for 5-HTP, but studies into its effects have used amounts ranging from 50mg a day to 300mg. Do not take 5-HTP without seeing your GP first, especially before taking higher doses.13 You should not take 5-HTP supplements if you are also taking antidepressants or sleeping tablets, as this can be extremely dangerous.14
What are the side-effects of taking 5-HTP?Because serotonin is also involved in gut activity, taking 5-HTP can lead to digestive issues such as heartburn, nausea or diarrhoea.15 This could be avoided if you start on a low dose, and then increase it gradually over a few weeks. Many experts advise against using 5-HTP to tackle depression. While low serotonin levels may be one cause, it’s not the only neurotransmitter involved – 5-HTP can actually reduce levels of other brain chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, low levels of which have also been linked to depression.16
If you feel like you may have depression, talk to your doctor before trying 5-HTP or any other remedies.Shop Supplements Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
Sources1. Rachel Nall. Medical News Today. What are the health benefits of 5-HTP? 2. Claire Sissons. Medical News Today. How to boost serotonin and improve mood
3. As Source 1
4. As Source 1