If you're looking for a dietary supplement that might help treat depression, you may have come across 5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan. This chemical has also shown promise in the treatment of insomnia, fibromyalgia, migraine headaches and obesity, according to Mount Sinai.
Your body uses 5-HTP to make serotonin, a chemical in your brain that plays an important role in your mood, sleep, digestion and sexual desire, among other bodily functions, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Low or disrupted levels of serotonin are associated with depression and sleep problems, among other issues.
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As with any supplement, you should always talk to your doctor or health care provider before taking 5-HTP. Assuming you get the go-ahead, here's what you should know about dosage and timing.
When to Take 5-HTP and How Much
The recommended dose for 5-HTP and when to take it depends on why you're using the supplement. Below are some general guidelines based on research:
When to Take It
100 to 300 mg, in conjunction with GABA
30 to 45 minutes before bed
Weight loss (for people with diabetes)
250 to 300 mg
30 minutes before a meal
Fibromyalgia symptom relief
3 to 4 times a day with meals
100 to 200 mg
2 to 3 times per day with meals
Benefits of 5-HTP
The use of supplements with 5-HTP has been studied for a number of health conditions. Here's what we know from research about its potential benefits:
1. May Help With Depression
The supplement may work as well as some antidepressant drugs for treating people with mild to moderate depression, according to Mount Sinai. Several small, preliminary studies have compared the effects of taking 5-HTP to the effects of Zoloft, Prozac and Luvox and found it to be similar, and sometimes with fewer side effects.
However, the research is still very limited, so we can't say for sure that 5-HTP is an effective treatment for depression. More high-quality studies are needed in this area, according to a November 2016 review in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences.
2. Could Help With Insomnia
5-HTP is converted into serotonin in the body, which can then be converted into melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.
The study mentioned in the table above in the American Journal of Therapeutics found that taking a combination of 5-HTP and the supplement GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) reduced the time it took participants to fall asleep, helped them sleep longer and improved their sleep quality.
This was a randomized controlled trial, which is the highest standard when it comes to studies, but it was also very small (18 participants) and published in 2010, so more robust and recent research is needed to back up these findings.
3. Might Aid Weight Loss
Several small studies have found that 5-HTP can help people lose weight, especially those with obesity, per Mount Sinai. Researchers mainly suggest that 5-HTP helps suppress appetite, which can help people eat fewer calories.
However, most of the available research was done several decades ago and used small sample sizes. One of the more recent studies, published March 2012 in Eating and Weight Disorders, found that 5-HTP helped increase feelings of fullness, which helped participants decrease their BMIs. But the study only included 20 females with overweight and lasted just a month, so more research is needed.
4. May Ease Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Some research has found that taking 5-HTP can help improve symptoms of fibromyalgia including pain, fatigue, morning stiffness and anxiety, according to Mount Sinai.
However, this benefit doesn't seem to apply to all people with fibromyalgia, so more studies are needed to better understand the connection.
5. Could Provide Migraine Relief
High doses of 5-HTP have been shown in some studies to ease the pain of headaches and migraines, according to Mount Sinai. But results haven't been consistent across other research.
Like all the other potential benefits of 5-HTP, we need more research in this area to say for sure whether it can help with migraine headaches.
Side Effects and Safety Concerns
According to Mount Sinai, you should not take 5-HTP without first talking to your doctor if you're currently taking any of the following medications:
- Depression medications
- Carbidopa (used to treat Parkinson's)
- Tramadol (for pain relief and fibromyalgia)
- Dextromethorphan (an ingredient found in many cough syrups)
- Meperidine (brand name Demerol)
- Triptans (such as Amerge and Imitrex, used to treat migraines)
When taken alone, side effects of 5-HTP are generally mild and may include the following, per Mount Sinai:
- Feeling nauseated
- A feeling of fullness
Taking high doses may put you at risk for serotonin syndrome, a dangerous condition that can cause:
- Hot flashes
- Rapid changes in blood pressure
- Heart rate changes
- Mental changes
Talk to a doctor about any mild symptoms you may have, which may be eased by taking a lower dose, and seek medical help immediately if you have symptoms of serotonin syndrome.
- Mount Sinai: "5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Serotonin"
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan for depression"
- American Journal of Therapeutics: "A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of an amino acid preparation on timing and quality of sleep"
- International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders: "Effects of oral 5-hydroxy-tryptophan on energy intake and macronutrient selection in non-insulin dependent diabetic patients"
- The Journal of International Medical Research: "Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome"
- European Neurology: "5-Hydroxytryptophan versus methysergide in the prophylaxis of migraine. Randomized clinical trial"
- Trends in Pharmacological Sciences: "Adjunctive 5-Hydroxytryptophan Slow-Release for Treatment-Resistant Depression: Clinical and Preclinical Rationale"
- Eating and Weight Disorders: "Relationship between the absorption of 5-hydroxytryptophan from an integrated diet, by means of Griffonia simplicifolia extract, and the effect on satiety in overweight females after oral spray administration"
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