Many people use over-the-counter supplements to try and boost their health. One of the most popular supplements in recent years is called 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP. This substance is said to help treat various health conditions. However, it also comes with some risks.
What Is 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan)?
5-HTP is a naturally occurring chemical. Your body makes it from an amino acid called l-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is found in foods such as poultry, potatoes, and sunflower seeds. However, you can’t get 5-HTP from eating these foods.
The only way to get more 5-HTP is to take 5-HTP dietary supplements. These supplements are made using the seeds of an African plant called Griffonia simplicifolia.
When you take one of these supplements, your body converts the 5-HTP to serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that affects various bodily functions, including mood, sleep, and appetite.
Uses Of 5-HTP
5-HTP increases the levels of serotonin in your brain. Thus, it may help treat conditions that respond well to other substances that increase serotonin. These conditions include:
Depression is a mental health condition that causes persistent feelings of sadness or numbness. Some people believe it’s caused by low serotonin levels. However, this claim has not been supported by scientific research.
Even so, many people with depression find relief when they take antidepressants that boost the amount of serotonin in your brain (especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs). Because 5-HTP has the same effect, it may also help treat depression.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes chronic pain and fatigue. It can also cause problems with sleep, mood, and memory.
Like depression, fibromyalgia sometimes responds well to SSRIs. Thus, it may also respond to 5-HTP.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep.
Some people treat their insomnia with melatonin supplements. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. When it gets dark out, your body converts serotonin to melatonin. Because 5-HTP increases serotonin, it can also increase melatonin, helping you sleep.
A migraine is an intense headache. It’s often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.
The most commonly prescribed medications for migraines are triptans. These substances affect your serotonin levels. Since 5-HTP also affects serotonin, it could help ease migraine symptoms.
Obesity is a condition that involves an excessive amount of body fat. It can increase your risk of health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Studies suggest that 5-HTP could help treat obesity by causing satiety (feelings of fullness). These feelings may lead people with obesity to eat less, resulting in weight loss.
Risks Of 5-HTP
Before starting 5-HTP, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you determine the right dosage for your needs. They can also help you avoid the risks of 5-HTP, which include:
The most common side effects of 5-HTP include:
- loose stools or diarrhea
To reduce these side effects, your doctor may recommend that you start with a low dose of 5-HTP and gradually increase it.
Your doctor will also likely recommend that you avoid 5-HTP if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Otherwise, the substance could cause side effects in your baby.
Serotonin syndrome is a serious condition that occurs when you have too much serotonin in your body. Possible symptoms include fast heartbeat, irritability, confusion, and seizures. When left untreated, it can be life-threatening.
You may develop it if you take 5-HTP at extremely high doses or alongside other substances that increase serotonin, such as:
- antidepressants, including SSRIs, tricyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- ramadol (Ultram) and meperidine (Demerol), which are both opioid pain medications
- dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant that appears in Robitussin DM and other cough and cold medicines
- St. John’s Wort, an over-the-counter supplement used to treat depression and menopausal symptoms
If you use 5-HTP alongside sedative medications (such as Ambien, Xanax, or Klonopin), your breathing may slow. You may also experience extreme drowsiness.
Scleroderma is a condition that makes your skin thick, hard, and inflamed. You face a higher risk of it if you take 5-HTP alongside carbidopa (Lodosyn), a medication used to treat Parkinson disease.
Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS)
Some 5-HTP supplements contain a contaminant called Peak X. This contaminant has been linked to eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). EMS is a life-threatening condition that causes inflammation of various parts of the body, including the skin, muscles, and lungs.
Most people who use 5-HTP will not develop this condition unless they take very large doses.
Is 5-HTP Addictive?
Research suggests that 5-HTP is not addictive. However, if you use the substance for a long time and then stop, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, and poor mood. These symptoms typically fade within a week.
Also, although rare, some people become psychologically dependent on 5-HTP. That means they start feeling like they can’t function without the supplement. As a result, they may take it more often or at higher doses than their doctor recommends. This is considered 5-HTP abuse.
If you or someone you love struggles with 5-HTP abuse, please contact a Recovering Champions specialist. Our board-certified treatment providers offer mental health counseling, support groups, and other services to help you or your loved one stay healthy.