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5-HTP - 'mood enhancer'

5-HTP may be your answer if you are depressed, anxious or unable to sleep. Serotonin helps to calm and soothe our nervous system, creating a sense of contentment. A natural and safe alternative to many new prescription drugs, designed to regulate brain serotonin levels, is available in the form of 5-HTP.

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5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin...

5-HTP is the immediate metabolite between the amino acid L-tryptophan and the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin produces an inhibitory effect on the nervous system that soothes, calms and creates a feeling of contentment. Serotonin has been known to researchers for nearly half a century and new research continues to demonstrate how it influences mood and emotion.

Depression, insomnia, anxiety, suicide, migraines, PMS, obsessive/compulsive behaviour, stress, obesity and addiction are all manifestations of low levels of serotonin. Many of the new prescription drugs that have become available since the absence of L-tryptophan are designed to regulate brain serotonin levels (called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs).

5-HTP offers a safe alternative to drugs...

Now, a natural and safe alternative to these drugs is available in the form of 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan or 5-HTP. 5-HTP, a compound synthesized in the body from the amino acid tryptophan, is ten times more active than L-tryptophan. 5-HTP is the immediate precursor to serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT), which is found in the brain, blood platelets and duodenal mucosa cells of the gastrointestinal tract. Since serotonin is found in the brain and central nervous system, it has many implications on mood, behaviour and sleep patterns (1).

The function of Prozac and many other antidepressant drugs is to increase the availability of serotonin in certain brain synapses. Unfortunately, these drugs can produce many unpleasant and dangerous side effects (2). Since 5-HTP cannot be patented, drug companies have no interest in supplying this compound to the public.

Now that tryptophan is restricted by the FDA, researchers have clinically investigated 5-HTP in comparison to antidepressant drugs. The results of the studies were astounding. Using the standard depression scale, both the drug and 5-HTP groups displayed identical reduction in depression. Depressed patients, who received 100 mg of 5-HTP three times daily, showed at least a 50% improvement in their symptoms, without any reported side effects (3). Similar studies with depressed children demonstrated equal benefit (4).

Subsequent studies were performed using 5-HTP for anxiety, panic disorder, sleep difficulties and obesity. In his research, R.S. Kahn observed an obvious decline in anxiety symptoms when supplementing with 5-HTP (5)., and patients with panic disorder noticed a feeling of relief after receiving 5-HTP (6).

Melatonin, which helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle, is a metabolite of serotonin. Early research studies show that supplementing with 5-HTP may have positive effects on sleep patterns (7).

In a six-week clinical study with obese patients, those supplemented with 5-HTP were able to reduce carbohydrate intake and experienced a feeling of early satiety, which contributed to significant weight loss (8).


5-HTP is an extract from a natural plant seed, Griffonia seed and not from fermented tryptophan.

Depressed levels of serotonin are also associated with sleep problems, low threshold for pain and anxiety. Tryptophan was used by millions around the world for this purpose. We can now increase serotonin levels by supplying more of the raw materials for the manufacturing of serotonin, namely L-tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which the body uses to make 5-hydroxytryptamine, also known as serotonin.


Depression results, in part, from the lack of serotonin, a brain neuro-transmitter. The leading antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. By blocking the reuptake of serotonin, they increase the serotonin available to stimulate serotonin receptors. These include Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and Effexor. While they may be very effective for the treatment of depression, they are not without side effects, including the loss of sex drive. They are also expensive and only available by prescription.


Studies indicate that 5-HTP, a serotonin precursor, may even work better for depression than tryptophan. Beta-endorphins, the "feel-good" hormones, were also significantly elevated after consumption of 200 mg of 5-HTP by patients with severe depression.

Weight loss products, such as Redux and Fenfluramine of the popular Phen-Fen diet, work by the same serotonin reuptake inhibiting mechanism, increasing the serotonin levels. Beta- endorphins seem to fool people into feeling fuller, therefore, individuals eat less and lose weight. If you are unhappy with the results or side effects of your current diet program, 5-HTP may be an effective alternative for you!

5-HTP should not be used with MAO inhibitors or other antidepressants.

5-HTP as an alternative to tryptophan...

If you're one of the 14 million people who previously took L-tryptophan to obtain relief from sleeping difficulties, premenstrual syndrome, obsessive/compulsive behaviour, stress and depression, a newly available nutritional supplement, 5-HTP, may be of special interest to you.

Tryptophan is a naturally occurring amino acid required by the human body for the production of melatonin and serotonin, two vital brain chemicals necessary for sleep and mood regulation.

Once readily available as a nutritional supplement, tryptophan has been one of the most difficult substances to obtain in the U.S., since being banned by the FDA in November of 1990. The FDA's decision to remove all tryptophan-containing supplements from store shelves was in response to an outbreak of Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS) that was linked to the use of tryptophan. EMS is a dangerous and potentially deadly blood disease that is usually associated with parasitic infections or severe allergy. From July of 1989 to December of 1990, more than 1500 cases of EMS and 27 deaths were associated with the outbreak in the United States.

In a report released by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in August of 1992, researchers revealed that tryptophan was not the cause of the of EMS outbreak. The CDC, working with scientists from the Mayo Clinic, the Oregon State Health Division and the Minnesota Department of Health, traced the cause of the EMS crisis to a contaminant found only in batches of tryptophan manufactured by a single Japanese company, Showa Denko. Showa Denko, the source for up to 60% of all the tryptophan sold in the United States, had produced the tainted tryptophan, after introducing an untested manufacturing process that reduced the amount of activated charcoal used to filter fermented raw tryptophan.

After tryptophan was cleared of any role in the EMS outbreak, it was natural to expect that tryptophan supplements would soon reappear in health food stores. In reality, tryptophan has been kept off the market by the FDA, which currently has no plans for lifting the ban on sales of this supplement. This position is ironic, since the FDA feels that tryptophan is safe enough to use in infant formulas and parenteral (IV feedings) solutions. Still, it is doubtful that this unique supplement will ever be found on store shelves again.

In the absence of access to tryptophan, several new prescription drugs designed to regulate brain serotonin levels (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs) have been introduced. Drugs such as Prozac work through the selective enhancement of serotonin levels and Dexfenfluramine, used in Europe to reduce carbohydrate-cravings and suppress appetite, works by mimicking serotonin activity in the brain. Unfortunately Prozac can present unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects and the safety of Dexfenfluramine is in question, after a study found it might cause brain damage in monkeys.

5-HTP safe alternative to tryptophan...

Pure 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan (5-HTP) is considered by many researchers to be the safest tryptophan alternative available. 5-HTP is normally converted in the body from L-tryptophan and as an intermediate metabolite, is further converted into melatonin, a neuro-hormone and serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT), a neurotransmitter.

While 5-HTP is more expensive than tryptophan prior to the 1990 ban, it is also ten times as effective (a 50 mg capsule of 5-HTP is generally regarded as the equivalent of 500 mg of tryptophan).

Ideal Health stocks 5-HTP capsules, extracted from the Griffonia simplicifolia plant. We have this in all different strengths, ranging from 50mg of 5-HTP right up to 120mg in each capsule.

(1) Serotonin and Neuropsychiatric Disorders, Pharmacological Reviews Vol. 43, No.4, 1991
(2) The Prozac Story, Perceptions, Fall 1994
(3) A functional-dimensional approach to depression, comparing 5-HTP to Fluvoxamine, Psychopathology 1991; 24:53-81
(4) Neuroendocrine response to 5-HTP in prepubertal major depression, Arch Gen Psychiatry Vol 49, Nov 1992
(5) The treatment of anxiety disorder using 5-HTP, J Affective Disorders, 1985;8: 197-200
(6) Behaviour and panic disorder, Psychiatry Research, 1990; 31: 267-278
(7) The effect of 5-HTP on sleep patterns, Brain Research, 1976; 106: 106-115
(8) Eating behaviour in obese adults treated with 5-HTP, AJCN, 1992; 56:863-867

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The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.

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