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What Is the Difference Between St. John's Wort & 5-HTP for Treating Anxiety?

by
author image Joanne Marie
Joanne Marie began writing professionally in 1981. Her work has appeared in health, medical and scientific publications such as Endocrinology and Journal of Cell Biology. She has also published in hobbyist offerings such as The Hobstarand The Bagpiper. Marie is a certified master gardener and has a Ph.D. in anatomy from Temple University School of Medicine.
What Is the Difference Between St. John's Wort & 5-HTP for Treating Anxiety?
Anxious woman with her hands on her mouth Photo Credit KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

If you feel anxious all the time, worry about many of your day to day activities, and are under constant stress, you may be experiencing generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 7 million Americans, or 3 percent of adults, experience GAD in a given year. Anxiety may appear at any age, although the average age of onset is 31. Women are slightly more likely to experience anxiety than men. Both St. John's wort and 5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HTP, may help relieve the symptoms of anxiety. Discuss with your doctor whether either of these supplements might be advisable for you.

5-HTP

5-HTP is a precursor to an important neurotransmitter called serotonin, which regulates your general mood, your sleep patterns and possibly your level of anxiety. Consuming 5-HTP supplements may help elevate your level of serotonin. Although 5-HTP has not been studied thoroughly as a treatment for depression, it may be very effective as an anti-depressant, and it also has potential as a treatment for anxiety.

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Sources and Precautions

5-HTP is available as a supplement produced from the seeds of an African plant. It is also made by your body from tryptophan, an amino acid found in certain foods, including turkey, chicken, milk, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. You may take up to 50mg of 5-HTP up to three times each day. However, there are some safety concerns, since 5-HTP may cause brain or liver toxicity in certain people. It may also cause a rare but serious condition called eosinophilia myalgia syndrome. Consult your doctor to discuss whether taking 5-HTP is safe for you.

St. John's Wort

St. John's wort, a member of the genus Hypericum, is a perennial herb that has been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine. It was brought to the U.S. by early settlers and now grows in most regions of America. The flowers are generally dried, powdered and used to treat a number of mood disorders, including anxiety. In some parts of Europe, St. John's wort is recommended by doctors more often than prescription drugs to treat depression.

Active Components

Unlike 5-HTP, which is a precursor to a neurotransmitter, St. John's wort exerts its action through natural compounds called flavonoids. Flavonoids have several recognized effects, which include strengthening the walls of blood vessels and reducing inflammation. Although the mechanism through which it acts to relieve anxiety is not well understood, it may involve inhibiting the breakdown of several neurotransmitters in the nervous system.

Recommendations

St. John's wort is available in capsules, tablets, or as a tincture from health food stores. It is generally considered safe. Choose a standardized extract to minimize differences between batches. St. John's wort may interact with some prescriptions drugs, especially antidepressants, blood thinners, heart medicines or anti-viral drugs. Consult your doctor to discuss whether taking St. John's wort is appropriate for your situation.

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