Sertraline is a prescription medication that belongs to a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that help combat depression by increasing brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. A supplement called 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, made from the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia plant, may also help treat depression by increasing serotonin. However, it's important to consult your doctor before taking 5-HTP supplements, and it is not safe to take sertraline and 5-HTP together.
Effectiveness of Sertraline
Sertraline is commonly prescribed to treat depression, as well as certain other mental health disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, social anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends SSRI medications like sertraline as the first line of treatment for depression, and sertraline may be an especially effective SSRI antidepressant, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews" in 2010.
The review analyzed studies regarding sertraline's effectiveness compared to that of other antidepressants, including other SSRI medications and other classes of antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants, concluding that the existing evidence indicates sertraline is slightly superior to other antidepressants in terms of its effectiveness.
Effectiveness of 5-HTP
Like sertraline, 5-HTP is also used for depression. However, the evidence supporting the effectiveness of 5-HTP as an antidepressant isn't as strong as that for sertraline. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some small studies suggest that 5-HTP may be as effective as SSRI drugs in treating mild to moderate depression.
UMMC notes, however, that these studies were too small to determine whether 5-HTP works as antidepressant, and thus further large-scale studies are needed. MedlinePlus Supplements rates 5-HTP as "possibly effective" for the treatment of depression. While there is also some evidence suggesting 5-HTP may be useful in treating anxiety disorders, there is not enough evidence to rate its effectiveness for this purpose, according to MedlinePlus.
Safety Precautions and Side Effects for Sertraline
PubMed Health warns that in clinical studies, a small number of children, teenagers, and young adults aged 24 and younger became suicidal while taking antidepressants such as sertraline. Even for adults over 24, sertraline may increase depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts during the beginning of treatment or whenever your dosage is changed, and your status should be closely monitored by a mental health professional during these times, according to PubMed Health.
Sertraline is also associated with other side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, changes in sex drive, drowsiness and dry mouth. Additionally, sertraline has drug interactions with certain prescription medications and dietary supplements, including monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors and 5-HTP. Taking SSRIs with 5-HTP can result in a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome.
Safety Precautions and Side Effects for 5-HTP
No studies have evaluated whether 5-HTP might increase risk of suicide in young people the same way antidepressants like sertraline might. Other serious safety hazards are associated with taking 5-HTP: Some users have developed eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), a potentially fatal disorder affecting the muscles, organs and skin. Cases of EMS associated with 5-HTP use may be related to contaminants in 5-HTP products. Because of its link to EMS, MedlinePlus warns against using 5-HTP until more is known about its safety. Common side effects of 5-HTP include mild gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, flatulence and heartburn. Besides antidepressant medications, 5-HTP may also interact with certain drugs for Parkinson's disease, triptans and other medicines.