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5-HTP & Cortisol

by
author image Sylvie Tremblay, MSc
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Based in Ontario, Canada, Tremblay is an experienced journalist and blogger specializing in nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, health and biotechnology, as well as real estate, agriculture and clean tech.
5-HTP & Cortisol
5HTP pills. Photo Credit Brian McEntire/iStock/Getty Images

5-Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is a chemically modified form of tryptophan, an amino acid found in protein. Your body uses 5-HTP to generate neurotransmitters, chemicals your nerves use for cellular communication. Taking 5-HTP has an effect on a number of chemicals in your body, including the hormone cortisol.

About Cortisol

The release of cortisol plays an important role in survival. Short-term increases in your body's cortisol levels help you respond to stress, with cortisol release contributing to your fight-or-flight response. Normally, your cortisol levels vary throughout the day: high in the morning, due to the stress of fasting all night, and gradually lower throughout the day. Chronically elevated cortisol levels cause a number of health issues, including Cushing's syndrome -- a disorder that causes obesity, depression and possibly infertility.

5-HTP Function

5-HTP helps to control the levels of neurotransmitters within your brain. Your cells can use 5-HTP to produce serotonin, a chemical involved in appetite, mood regulation and your emotional state. Taking 5-HTP supplements helps promote new serotonin production and can therefore boost the levels of the chemical within your brain. Since serotonin interacts with other compounds in your body, 5-HTP can also have an effect on other hormones.

Effect of 5-HTP on Cortisol

Your body maintains a balance of serotonin and cortisol production: the more serotonin present, the more your body produces cortisol, and vice versa. Your adrenal glands -- the hormone glands responsible for cortisol production -- contain receptors that sense the levels of serotonin in your bloodstream. Upon exposure to serotonin, your adrenal glands release cortisol into your bloodstream. As a result, taking 5-HTP -- and increasing your body's serotonin levels -- also affects cortisol and increases your body's cortisol levels.

Side Effects and Considerations

You should never take 5-HTP, except under the supervision of a doctor. If your body overproduces serotonin as a result of 5-HTP supplement abuse, you might develop serotonin syndrome -- a condition characterized by neurological damage due to excess serotonin. 5-HTP might also cause side effects related to its role in temporarily elevating cortisol levels; for example, cortisol can decrease your ability to form memories, according to The Franklin Institute. A medical professional can recommend a dosage of 5-HTP likely to prove beneficial to your health without significantly increasing your risk of negative side effects.

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