According to research, some of the potential benefits of taking 5-HTP supplements have to do with influencing serotonin levels in the body to address mental health. Some experts call serotonin the “happy hormone,” since it’s responsible for regulating mood. 5-HTP is an amino acid that may be able to perform similar actions and produce similar health benefits.
However, make sure to see a doctor for approval and accurate diagnoses and medical information before you take any supplements. Keep reading to find out more about the potential benefits of taking 5-HTP supplements on your mental and physical health.
What is 5-HTP?
5-HTP is short for 5-hydroxytryptophan and it is related to the essential amino acid L-tryptophan. Carrie Lam, MD, DABFM, ABAARM, FAAMFM is co-founder and medical director of Lam Clinic. According to Lam, 5-HTP “is the main building block of the neurotransmitter serotonin.” Dr. Lam calls it “the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter because it helps us stabilize stress and helps manage your sleep cycle. 5-HTP benefits neurotransmitters because it is a precursor chemical (x).”
What is 5-HTP Made From?
Like we mentioned briefly, 5-HTP is a form of L-tryptophan. The amino acid plays a role in healthy infant growth and supporting nitrogen balance in adults. L-tryptophan converts to 5-HTP with the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase to produce serotonin (x).
However, as a supplement specifically 5-HTP comes from the seeds of a plant called Griffonia simplicifolia that grows in Central and Western Africa. 5-HTP is actually the plant’s active ingredient and native medicine uses it for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic abilities. Native medicine also used the plant to address sickle cell anemia, pain, burns, diarrhea, kidney damage and tooth decay (x).
What Are the Benefits of Taking 5-HTP Supplements?
There are numerous studies that report the benefits of taking 5-HTP supplements. However, there is no evidence that the supplement can cure, treat or prevent any disease or condition on its own. Instead, Lam states that as a supplement, 5-HTP “[may] help provide your body with more materials [it needs] to build serotonin.” It may help support the body’s natural functions and act as a successful serotonin precursor to address (x):
- Mental health
Like we mentioned earlier, 5-HTP’s main role is to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. Lam states that the brain releases chemical neurotransmitters “as a way to relay information, stimulate a response and inhibit certain actions…. [They] are the source of your reactions that connect the brain’s various parts to generate a coherent physiological response, whether it is a response to stress or feeling of relaxation.”
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin specifically helps regulate sleep, appetite and mood. Experts often refer to it as the “happy hormone” (x). Lam describes serotonin as an “inhibitory” transmitter that prevents neuron activity. It’s also responsible for regulating functions like “anger response, aggression levels, food cravings and appetite, anxiety response… and sexual response.” Lam claims that these functions do not perform efficiently without adequate serotonin levels.
Studies associate serotonin levels in the body with mood and even the risk for mental health conditions. Some studies also support 5-HTP for anxiety or 5-HTP for depression as a precursor to serotonin. Lam considers it unique because although it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, serotonin “actually works more to modulate certain neurotransmitters” so that the brain can respond correctly to different situations. This naturally keeps your mood and stress response in check and 5-HTP supplements may be able to help support the process.
For example, one study with 64 subjects reported improvements in mood with the supplement compared to a placebo. The researchers stated “the symptoms of depression decreased” with 5‐HTP and tryptophan compared to a placebo (x, x).
Promoting Healthy Sleep Patterns
5-HTP may also help regulate melatonin in the body. Melatonin is another neurotransmitter that responds to light to communicate to the body when it’s time to sleep. Experts associate healthy melatonin levels with a healthy sleep and wake cycle, so you can sleep through the night and feel refreshed in the morning (x).
Researchers also associate melatonin with sleep disorders, such as insomnia or night terrors. But taking 5-HTP supplements may help support the body’s natural sleep process and promote better sleep. According to studies, 5-HTP supplements seemed to promote sleep, along with the GABA, another inhibitory neurotransmitter related to mood and sleep (x, x).
Inhibitory neurotransmitters prevent neuron activity and excitatory neurotransmitters assist neuron activity. According to Lam, they work together to create balance in the body. For example, this balance allows you to relax for comfortable sleep and adjust your mood and stress response. However, she adds, “problems begin to surface with clinical symptoms when the balance is off,” such as anxiety or depression.
Regulating Digestion & Appetite
The gut produces 90% of serotonin, which Lam calls the body’s “second brain.” The gut is involved in mood, sleep and physical and emotional stress response, along with the central nervous system and autonomic nervous system. Together these systems form the neuroaffective response system.
When you eat something toxic or irritating to the stomach, the gut may produce more serotonin to expel the food from the body more quickly. For example, research focuses on how serotonin plays a role in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that can change patients’ bowel function and causes abdominal pain and sensitivity. One study states that serotonin metabolism from 5-HTP seemed to “significantly” affect abdominal pain and severity in patients with IBS (x, x).
Because serotonin also regulates appetite, some studies focus on its effectiveness for weight loss. Research from UT Southwestern Medical Center states that serotonin affects the melanocortin system in the brain, which is a “pathway that controls body weight.”
Dr. Joel Elmquist, professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern is co-senior author of the study. His team produces research on how serotonin blocks neurons to prevent appetite increases. Dr. Elmquist says, “The more we understand about the pathways and the way serotonergic drugs regulate body weight, the more it one day might lead to harnessing beneficial properties of anti-obesity treatments (x).”
Managing Chronic Pain
Research identifies a number of neurotransmitters, neuromodulators and receptors that play a role in pain perception, but serotonin and norepinephrine are the main ones. Chemical imbalances can contribute to chronic pain (x).
Research from John Hopkins University School of Medicine identifies molecules involved in chronic pain. One of the researchers in the study, Xinzhong Dong, PhD., associate professor of neuroscience says, “With the identification of these molecules, we have some additional targets that we can try to block to decrease chronic pain (x).”
The researchers focused on a system of pain-sensing nerves called the trigeminal nerve and discovered that pain can spread beyond the specific location of an injury. The brain releases serotonin into the spinal cord and activates the trigeminal nerves, even “causing some non-pain-sensing nerve cells to start responding to pain,” Dong says. The research states that serotonin seems to activate nerve cells to increase pain signals to the brain.
Other studies suggest that taking 5-HTP supplements may produce similar effects and help with pain management. For example, research associates low serotonin levels with fibromyalgia, which causes weak and painful muscles and bones. But studies suggest that 5-HTP supplements may be able to reduce pain and other symptoms (x, x).
Is 5-HTP Safe? How to Take 5-HTP Supplements
Although research supports its potential to address mental health, digestive health and healthy sleep, 5-HTP supplements are not an adequate substitute for medical treatment. They do not aim to treat, cure or prevent any health condition and you should check with your doctor for approval before you take it.
The recommended serving size for 5-HTP (Griffonia Seed Extract) powder is 50 to 200 mg per day with food, or as directed by a physician.
Possible Side Effects of Taking 5-HTP Supplements
5-HTP is possibly safe in appropriate, oral doses. But it may cause some mild side effects (x):
Warnings & Safety Precautions
It’s essential to be aware of certain warnings and precautions in regards to taking 5-HTP as a dietary supplement. First, avoid the supplement if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or scheduled for surgery. Physicians may administer drugs during surgery that can affect serotonin levels in the brain. Combined with 5-HTP supplements, it can cause too much serotonin and cause heart problems, shivering and anxiety. Stop taking the supplement at least two weeks before scheduled surgery (x).
5-HTP supplements can also cause unwanted side effects and interact with medications that also affect serotonin levels, such as (x):
- Antidepressant drugs
- MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors)
- Sedative medications (CNS depressants)
Where to Buy 5-HTP Supplements
You can purchase 5-HTP supplements at BulkSupplements.com. The company is an industry-leading manufacturer and distributor for pure dietary supplements. BulkSupplements.com is not just a consumer brand. It also supplies pure ingredients to other brands that distribute food and other supplement products. All products at BulkSupplements.com are manufactured and tested according to current and proper manufacturing practices.
Are you interested in trying 5-HTP as a dietary supplement for its potential effect on mood, sleep, pain perception, digestion, and appetite? Contact BulkSupplements.com to place an order today.
5-HTP is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which experts often call the “happy hormone.” It’s the active ingredient in Griffonia simplicifolia, a bush native to Central and Western Africa. For centuries, traditional medicine used it to address pain and burns, as well as conditions like sickle cell anemia, diarrhea, vomiting, kidney damage and tooth decay.
5-HTP’s main role is to produce serotonin, which regulates several different functions in the body. Research suggests that taking 5-HTP as a precursor to serotonin may be beneficial for sleep, mood, anxiety, weight loss and managing chronic pain. Always consult a doctor before taking 5-HTP or any other supplement. 5-HTP supplements are not an adequate substitution for medical treatment, although they may be beneficial to your health.
The Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated these statements. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.