Benefits & Side Effects of Using 5-HTP
So, you're thinking of taking 5-HTP? This adaptogen has many benefits and is worth taking a closer look to help with mood and much more.
I have struggled with sleep from a very young age, and when I became a teenager, the struggle intensified. At the time, I would go days without any rest. I tried several sleeping medications, which often didn’t work and left me feeling zombified. As I got older, I continued to be plagued by poor-quality sleep.
That is until I found a natural supplement that works for me, 5HTP.
And, if you're only looking for a supplement recommendation, try NeuroCalm -- it's the one I use daily and have tried many on the market.
5-Hydroxtrptonpan (5-HTP) is an amino acid that your body naturally produces. However, it is not found in the food we eat. Supplements are made from the seeds of Griffonia Simplicifolia, an African plant.
Your body uses 5-HTP to produce serotonin, a chemical that sends signals between your nerve cells. Serotonin aids your mood, sleep, weight regulation, and more. Therefore, increasing your levels of serotonin has various health benefits.
These health benefits are most prominently felt when other lifestyle changes accompany the supplement, such as diet and sleep. Here, I will look at the potential benefits, side effects, and how you can make the right lifestyle changes.
Potential Benefits of 5-HTP
Serotonin is sometimes called the happy chemical -- it is found in the brain, blood platelets, and bowels. Serotonin sends messages between nerve cells, and so it has a significant impact on several aspects of our lives, which can also include improvements to anxiety, depression, and overall mood.
For me, this was the motivation for taking 5-HTP. Traditional sleeping medications hindered my productivity and willingness from wanting to eat healthily and work out.
Serotonin can be converted into melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep. Levels rise in the evening to make you sleepy and drop in the morning to wake you up. Therefore, it makes sense that 5-HTP, which produces serotonin, may foster better sleep.
Several studies have been done and show that 5-HTP to regulate sleep works best when combined with GABA, a chemical that promotes relaxation.
However, for me, 5-HTP was sufficient. My body clock has regulated itself, and I am now, for the most part, able to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. I feel well-rested more often than not.
This has had a significant impact on my life; I can have a better and more consistent daily routine and have an overall better quality of life.
5-HTP can help you to feel full, which leads you to eat less and lose weight. When people try to lose weight, it often increases hormones that make them hungry, making that weight loss unsustainable. 5-HTP has been shown to counteract these hormones that make you hungry.
Not only could 5-HTP help you to eat less, but it also inhibits the absorption of calories from carbohydrates. This is not only good for your waistline, but it is also beneficial for your blood sugar.
Furthermore, many people struggle with emotional eating because 5-HTP increases serotonin, it improves your mood, and for some people, this results in a reduction of stress-eating.
I didn’t start taking 5-HTP to lose weight, and yet I have trimmed down. This may be partly due to better sleep and routine. Setting times to eat has improved my eating habits, and feeling well-rested has stopped my emotional eating.
Serotonin, whose chemical name is 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT, sends messages between nerves and contributes to happiness and wellness. It affects emotions, appetite, motor and cognitive functions.
This is why 5-HTP has been used to try and treat depression. We still don’t know everything about what causes depression, but there is evidence that one cause is serotonin imbalance.
Research suggests that 5-HTP can increase in effectiveness when used alongside antidepressant medications. However, you must speak to your doctor about all medication interactions. More research is needed to say that it can aid depression conclusively, but current research is promising.
While research is still inconclusive about its use for people who suffer from depression, it is safe to say that a bit more serotonin should be beneficial to anyone’s mood.
Improved Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is characterized by bone and muscle pain and general weakness. The cause is unknown, but there is substantial research to suggest that low serotonin levels could be the culprit.
An increase in serotonin for people with Fibromyalgia can improve symptoms such as irregular sleep, fatigue, anxiety, and muscle pain.
Migraines are intense headaches and often result in disturbed vision or nausea. Again, the cause is unknown, but they have been linked to low serotonin levels for some people.
In one study, 124 people were given 5-HTP as well as traditional migraine medication. The study found that 5-HTP taken every day for six months significantly reduced migraines for 71% of people.
Parkinson’s is a disease that disrupts the nerves that run from the brain through the central nervous system. Testing levels of dopamine have been shown to diagnose Parkinson’s. However, serotonin also has a large impact. Serotonin aids the production of dopamine, and people with Parkinson’s will have lower levels of both. Therefore, 5-HTP may reduce symptoms of the disease.
5-HTP leads to serotonin, which improves wellness and happiness. What’s not to like, right?
Unfortunately, 5-HTP has been known to have some pretty adverse side effects, such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. However, this is usually because the dose is too high for that individual.
If you are considering taking 5-HTP supplements, according to Healthline, you should start with 50-100 mg twice a day and then increase to the appropriate dosage for your health and needs.
I started at 50mg, and I now take 150mg 30 minutes before I go to bed. When you take it and how much will be dependent on why you are taking it as well as your body processes it. Always start with less and work your way up. You can learn more about the dosage here.
Some medications increase the production of serotonin, so taking them with 5-HTP can cause dangerous levels of serotonin, which can be life-threatening. Medications include antidepressants, prescription pain relievers, or cough medicines. Therefore, always consult with your doctor, especially if you are taking any other drugs or supplements.
The most severe complication of taking 5-HTP can lead to "serotonin syndrome," -- which can be fatal. Again, consult with your physician if you take any other medication before trying 5-HTP.
Furthermore, a small number of people who have taken 5-HTP supplements have developed eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). This severe condition causes muscle tenderness and blood abnormalities, although it is unclear whether this was due to an accidental contaminant.
It is essential to ensure that you are getting your supplements from a reputable source; look for the NSF or USP seals. These are third-party companies that confirm that supplements contain what they say they do.
For me, 5-HTP supported me in making necessary lifestyle changes, which in turn also aided my sleep.
For example, not eating late at night resulted in my body no longer having to work hard at night to digest food. Sleep is also vital for the production of serotonin, so once I began to sleep better, a good cycle was created.
Even small lifestyle change victories can have a huge impact on your mood.
Our bodies naturally produce serotonin, but in the modern world filled with processed food and stress, our levels can become depleted. Many of us also have disturbed sleep due to blue light from our devices and a disrupted body clock due to work or our social lives.
Serotonin depletion, as we have seen, leads to poor mood, inability to focus, insomnia, and anxiety. That sounds like a lot of people in society today, and depletion in serotonin could be a big culprit.
Therefore, if you are thinking of trying 5-HTP to change some aspect of your life, such as your focus, sleep, or eating habits, then it could be a great tool. However, you need to put the work in as well and make positive changes to your daily habits. Do this, and you will start seeing changes.
5-HTP produces serotonin, which not only improves our mood; it also has an impact on several functions in our body, including those associated with sleep, our gut, brain function, and our hunger levels.
For me, it had a massive impact on my sleep and my associated health, improving my quality of life and encouraging me to keep motivated and live healthier.
However, 5-HTP is not a cure-all. Each person varies, and if you decide to take a 5-HTP supplement, you could be conscious of the source and your individual dosage.
Take your time with it and get it right. You should also allow it to support you in making any other lifestyle changes that you need to make, whether it is better eating habits, daily meditation, or going to bed at the same time each day.
The future of 5-HTP research is exciting, with more and more studies showing the connections between serotonin in our gut, blood, and brain and how that can lead to countless illnesses. It could be beneficial for people with seizures, gut problems like IBS, blood clots, bone density, and sexual function, to name a few.
But more research needs to be done before informed advice can be given. I, for one, can’t wait to learn what else we have to learn about 5-HTP and other supplements in the adaptogen category.
Tony Lee, MS, RD
Tony Lee, RD, MS, is a highly qualified and accomplished Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Sciences from Arizona State University. Tony brings over two decades of experience in dietetics, specializing in sports nutrition. Interests include studying all aspects of wellness, fitness, genetics, and peak health performance.