5-HTP Overview – What is it and how does it work?
5-HTP, or 5 Hydroxytryptophan, sounds like it might be some synthetic chemical by name alone. It’s actually a naturally occurring amino acid, most often produced from the seeds of the African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia. Very few known foods have any, so don’t expect to get any from your diet.
It is a precursor to serotonin. This means that 5-HTP helps the body naturally produce serotonin and raise a person’s natural levels of serotonin. It also helps produce melatonin from Tryptophan, but more on that below.
Serotonin is widely known as the “happiness hormone” and most pharmaceutical anti-depressants work on one of 3 main mechanisms.
1. By increasing the amount of serotonin directly.
2. By blocking the enzyme which destroys serotonin (MAO inhibitors), thus allowing more serotonin to remain in the blood for longer.
3. By blocking the synapses from re-absorbing the serotonin in the blood, thus increasing serotonin levels (SSRI’s).
Simply put, 5-HTP helps to increase blood levels of serotonin, and high serotonin levels are responsible for many things like improving mood, decreasing appetite, improving sleep quality, reducing anxiety, and increasing a person’s confidence and self-esteem.
To get an idea of how powerful serotonin can be on a person’s mood, the drug ecstasy (MDMA) acts by dramatically elevating serotonin levels to the point of absolute euphoria. Many people swear by using 5-HTP to help with the MDMA “comedown”, which is the depressing experience of very low levels of serotonin following a dramatic spike.
Unlike Ecstasy, however, 5-HTP can be taken regularly to raise a person’s natural or “baseline” levels of serotonin, thus making them happier, less hungry, less anxious, and have increased confidence. It is available in Canada, the US, and the UK as an over the counter supplement. It’s not allowed over the counter in several countries yet. This can sometimes give an idea that it’s quite powerful and effective.
Does 5-HTP work?
The short answer is YES. 5-HTP works, and it works very well. It’s essential you get a very pure form of it, so don’t be fooled and do your research, but it does indeed work, and it’s been backed up heavily by scientific studies. Here is a decent overview on 5-HTP done by NYU medical centre. Another good thing about 5-HTP is the fact that you don’t need too much of it to get a therapeutic effect. 50mg is often enough for a powerful dose. In contrast, many herbs require several grams of the dried plant to be ingested before any positive effects are experienced. That makes it almost impossible to sell as an effective supplement because people don’t want to take 25 capsules of something per dose. With 5-HTP, you get a lot of “bang for your buck”. It can be combined with other herbs to really enhance it’s effects as well.
5-HTP is very often sold as a single ingredient supplement. This is fine, but it’s often a lot more effective when it’s used in combination with other herbs. This produces a “multiplier effect” where the combination of the herbs work far better than one might guess.
For example, we’ve made a very powerful herbal anxiety supplement and a very potent herbal sleep supplement by combining an extremely pure form of 5-HTP with several other co-factors and potent and standardized herbal extracts. We also have a single ingredient natural 5-HTP product with our our Pure™5HTP. The amount of 5-HTP in these supplements alone would work well, but when combined in these formulas, the results are amazing.
For example, in our daytime anti-anxiety mood enhancing supplement, we combine 5-HTP with passionflower (which also helps increase serotonin through a slightly different mechanism), thereby increasing happiness and confidence.
We also add in ashwagandha and Valerian root. Ashwagandha decreases the stress hormone “cortisol”, whereas Valerian root acts like “nature’s Valium” and calms people down with sedative and anxiolytic properties.
There is enough of each ingredient to work alone because we used only the strongest and most potent extracts, but when combined, the effects really show up and work incredibly well. Learn more about Zen-X and Sleep-X
The recommended dosage of 5-HTP is all over the board if you try to learn about this on your own. This is extremely important so please take the time to read this paragraph so you can make your own intelligent and informed decision.
Before I give a “recommended dose” I need to clear up a few things and explain why it’s not a “one size fits all answer”. First of all, everyone’s body is different and they metabolize 5-HTP differently. Some people experience major effects with very small doses, like 25mg, whereas other people claim that massive doses like a gram (1000mg) do nothing. Both of these extremes are rare, but they do exist.
It’s also important to know if a person is taking anything that would work synergistically with 5-HTP to increase serotonin or keep it in the blood longer (both have the same effect on the body). People who take MAO inhibitors or SSRI’s would need far less 5-HTP to experience the same increase in serotonin.
Reading a disclaimer which is far overused is something like, “don’t take 5-HTP if you are taking any MAO inhibitors” for example. The challenge with this type of claim is it is a little careless in the sense that it pays zero attention to the amounts of either. Taking 1 mg of each would do basically nothing, so that statement on it’s own really needs to be understood properly to have meaning.
It is, however, important to pay close attention to what else you are taking which affect serotonin levels and adjust your dosage accordingly (and do so with the help of a trusted healthcare practitioner).
Assuming you are taking no other supplements at all which affect serotonin, the recommended daily dose can range from 50mg per day to 600mg per day (spaced out in several doses), or sometimes even more.
Most often, the recommended dosage is between 50-300 mg’s daily.
The reason recommended doses almost always come out in nice round numbers like 100 or 300, is that this is the amount which scientific studies use. If a study tests the effects of 300 mg of something vs. nothing, and the results show that 300 mg’s made an improvement, then people will start recommending 300. It’s unfortunately not true that there are studies on every amount. People need to be careful here, speak with their doctor, and make decisions based on how they are reacting personally.
We recommend starting with 50 mg’s and working your way up, with 50 mg jumps each time. It’s a safer way to experiment than just jumping right into higher levels the first time you take it.
As mentioned above, we also combine 5-HTP in synergistic blends in our Anxiety Zen-X and Sleep-x formulas, so we are careful not to go overboard with incredibly high doses.
And a 50 to 100 mg dose is quite powerful, especially because we combine it with the best quality B6 and B12 vitamins on the market, making it absorb much better. We combine this with an extremely wonderful and potent passionflower extract as well, which has been shown to increase serotonin levels by acting somewhat similarly to a mild MAO inhibitor, although the jury is still out on the exact mechanisms of passionflower. What is true, however, is that they both work very well for millions of people, even when taken in isolation.
5-HTP for weight loss and appetite suppression
5-HTP aids in weight loss in part by decreasing a person’s appetite (an appetite suppressant). Higher levels of serotonin make people feel more satiated, and therefore less hungry.
Sugar cravings are a big one, and 5-HTP works by reducing those. There are many reasons a person may feel hungry, even to the point of pigging out for “no reason”. Well, a huge part of that “no reason” comes back to serotonin levels. Sugary carbohydrates help to increase serotonin as well, and that is one major why eating junk food is so appealing in the short term. It’s not the taste, it’s the dopamine and serotonin spikes we’re really after. 5-HTP can give you the serotonin increase you desire and all the mood and other benefits which go along with that, without giving you the empty calories and all the horrible things that go along with over-eating. Once your serotonin levels are high from the 5-HTP, you will be far less hungry and have far less cravings for food, because you won’t be requiring the serotonin spike from the outside. 5-HTP as an appetite suppressant and weight loss supplement have been studied and the effects have proven to be great.
5-HTP for depression and anxiety
People want to feel calm, happy, energized, confident, worry free, and optimistic rather than depressed and negative. High levels of serotonin alone can achieve a lot of these results, and 5-HTP works accordingly as a supplement to achieve all this. As we’ve mentioned in other posts, depression and anxiety are not the same thing, but they are both psychological problems which feed off each other.
Raise your serotonin levels naturally, and you will feel better, happier, and more optimistic. These feelings in turn help melt away your anxiety and needless worrying as a welcomed by-product.
5-HTP is directly more of an anti-depressant than an anti-anxiety (anxiolytic), but the anti-depression properties from higher serotonin, work wonderfully well in combination with anxiolytics (anti-anxiety) supplements.
If you are anxious or depressed, you will likely be interested in checking out our incredibly potent and effective daytime anxiety supplement Zen-x
5-HTP for sleep
5-HTP is often prescribed as a sleep supplement. It’s a by product of L-Tryptophan, a powerful amino acid which helps with sleep. It also increases natural levels of melatonin, the most powerful hormone produced in the pineal gland, which tells the body when it’s time to sleep. And 5-HTP can be taken in the day without causing drowsiness because the melatonin it helps produce will stay in the pineal gland until nightfall, when the body recognizes it’s night time.
In our potent sleep formula, we combine 5-HTP with a pure melatonin supplement, L-Tryptophan, and some anti anxiety herbs to help you relax and drift off to sleep, like very strong extracts of Valerian root and passionflower. The combo will help you fall asleep, stay asleep through the night, and wake up refreshed.
But you can buy 5-HTP on it’s own, and many people report that it works well for helping them fall asleep when taken on it’s own. This is a testament to how powerful 5-HTP is for not only sleep, but reducing anxiety, improving mood, helping with weight loss, and increasing a person’s confidence and self esteem. It’s even being prescribed as a supplement to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. We’re currently researching this heavily right now and are looking into making a daily cocktail of powerful herbs to reduce migraines. There is really nothing good on the market for that at the moment, so please check back here soon for what is coming up for migraines.
So check out taking 5-HTP on it’s own in different doses and seeing what’s right for you, or look into taking it in combination supplements like the ones we make here. This is an amazing supplement and it is absolutely worth trying.