If you're looking for a dietary supplement that might help treat depression, you may have come across 5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan. In his book "The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth," Clinical Nutrition specialist Dr. Jonny Bowden, PhD describes 5-HTP as a very promising potential alternative to prescription SSRI depression medications, which may have side effects such as agitation, nausea and decreased sex drive. Consult your health care provider or psychiatrist before you take 5-HTP.
5-HTP is a compound that your body uses to make serotonin, an important neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in your brain that transmit signals and have a significant role in how you feel and your overall psychological health. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and aggressive behavior, according to Dr. Bowden. Because your body converts 5-HTP into serotonin, 5-HTP supplements might help treat a serotonin deficiency, in theory. Many prescription depression medications address potential serotonin deficiencies by preventing the reuptake of the neurotransmitter, essentially recycling the existing serotonin in your brain. 5-HTP functions differently; rather than recycling serotonin to promote higher levels of the neurotransmitter, it provides new serotonin for your brain.
If you are just beginning to supplement with 5-HTP, Dr. Bowden recommends taking 50 mg, three times a day for the first two weeks. Ideally, you should take it 8 hours apart. You do not have to take this supplement with food, however. After two weeks, you and your doctor can evaluate its effectiveness and perhaps increase the dose if it is not effective. Dr. Bowden states that a common dose for depression is 300 mg, or 100 mg doses taken three times a day. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, 5-HTP may also be useful as an insomnia treatment, taken at a dosage of 200 to 400 mg before going to sleep.
While traditionally used as a depression treatment, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that 5-HTP may help treat a variety of conditions. Although the mechanisms are not well understood, 5-HTP may help treat fibromyalgia by relieving symptoms of pain, anxiety, morning stiffness and fatigue. 5-HTP may be beneficial in treating migraine headaches. Heightened serotonin levels from 5-HTP can help reduce your appetite and help you lose weight, particularly if you have overweight or obesity. Lastly, similar to SSRI medications, increased serotonin levels from 5-HTP may help reduce hot flashes often experienced by postmenopausal women.
Possible Interactions with SSRIs
Although 5-HTP is generally considered safe and well tolerated, it may have adverse interactions with other medications. You should not take 5-HTP supplements while on prescription SSRI depression medications such as citalopram, escitalopram, fluvoxamine, paroxetine, fluoxetine or sertraline. This can create a condition called "serotonin syndrome" or "serotonin storm," caused by too much serotonin in your brain. This can lead to dangerously high blood pressure, hot flashes, pronounced psychological changes and even coma. You should also not take 5-HTP and the pain killer Tramadol concurrently. Tramadol exhibits some SSRI activity by itself and combining the two can result in serotonin syndrome.