5-HTP & Xanax

Pharmacist With Customer
A female pharmacist discusses medication with a female customer. (Image: Gewitterkind/iStock/Getty Images)

The over-the-counter supplement 5-hydroxytryptophan and the prescription drug alprazolam, available under the brand Xanax, are substances people take for some similar uses, including relieving anxiety. The two have different effects on brain function, however. Consult your doctor before taking 5-HTP supplements, particularly if you already take Xanax or any other medication.

Xanax

Xanax primarily treats anxiety and panic disorder, although doctors also prescribe it for treating depression, stress and tension, sleep problems, premenstrual syndrome and fear of open spaces. The drug is classified as a benzodiazepine; it reduces abnormal excitement in the brain, producing a sedating effect. Xanax appears to increase the action of gamma-aminobutyric acid, known as GABA. Although this amino acid is a neurotransmitter, it actually inhibits the transmission of nerve signals in the brain, Denver Naturopathic Clinic explains.

5-HTP

When you eat protein-rich foods containing the amino acid L-tryptophan, your body converts L-tryptophan to 5-HTP, which increases the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Supplements are available to further increase 5-HTP levels. Serotonin can improve mood and sleep and helps regulate appetite and pain sensation, so 5-HTP supplements are promoted as helpful for related conditions. MedlinePlus, a website of the National Library of Medicine, rates 5-HTP supplements as "possibly effective" for treating depression and fibromyalgia, but says evidence is insufficient to evaluate the effectiveness of 5-HTP for relieving anxiety, sleep disorders or premenstrual syndrome.

Caution

Both Xanax and 5-HTP are potentially hazardous. Xanax can have numerous side effects and it also tends to be habit-forming. If you stop taking Xanax abruptly, withdrawal symptoms can occur, including uncontrollable shaking, blurred vision, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, pain and seizures. MedlinePlus states that 5-HTP supplements might be unsafe because a small number of users have developed a serious disorder called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome. It is possible that a contaminant was responsible.

Considerations

PubMed Health, another National Library of Medicine website, does not list 5-HTP as a supplement that interacts with Xanax, but does indicate that combining Xanax with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, can cause problems. SSRIs prevent the reuptake of serotonin into nerve cells, which increases levels of serotonin in the brain. It is generally inadvisable to combine psychiatric drugs such as Xanax with supplements that affect neurotransmitter levels, according to Ray Sahelian, a medical doctor who specializes in natural supplements.

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