5-HTP: Benefits, Uses, And History

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a naturally occurring compound (also available in nature) that plays a crucial role in the synthesis of serotonin in the human body. Due to its involvement in serotonin production, this special compound has garnered significant attention in recent years, with researchers and individuals alike taking an interest in its use to treat a variety of conditions and mood disorders. Join us as we uncover everything you need to know about 5-HTP: its history, benefits, common uses, and alternative options. 

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What is 5-HTP?

The Definition: 5-HTP is a compound produced in the body from the essential amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is obtained from dietary sources and is converted into 5-HTP through a series of biochemical reactions. 

The Process: After consumption, tryptophan is absorbed into the bloodstream through the digestive system. Once in the bloodstream, it is transported to the brain, where it crosses the blood-brain barrier. Within the brain, tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP by the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase. Once 5-HTP is formed, it readily enters the neurons and is further metabolized into serotonin, primarily within the raphe nuclei of the brainstem. Serotonin then acts as a neurotransmitter, transmitting signals between neurons and influencing various physiological and psychological processes.

How To Take: 5-HTP supplements are available in the form of capsules or tablets and can be taken orally. The recommended dosage may vary depending on the individual's needs and health condition, so it's important to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice. Typically, a common starting dose is around 25-100 milligrams per day.

History: For centuries, Africans have used the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia shrub to alleviate various health conditions, including mental malaise and other conditions related to mood and well-being. Traditional African medicine recognized the benefits of consuming these seeds, which led to further scientific research and the development of 5-HTP supplements. In the US, 5-HTP became available over the counter in April of 1995.1 Since then, it has gained popularity as a natural supplement for supporting mental health and well-being. 

The Breakdown: 5-HTP

5-HTP is a common dietary supplement that is derived from the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia plant. It's a popular choice among individuals seeking to improve their mood and overall well-being, and 5-HTP has become a staple in many mood supplements, regardless of whether it’s the main ingredient or part of the formulation. The reason behind its popularity lies in its ability to increase the production of serotonin.

Why Is 5-HTP Important?

As noted above, 5-HTP plays a crucial role in the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating various bodily functions, including mood, appetite, sleep, and pain sensation.2 By supplementing with 5-HTP, individuals can help increase serotonin levels in the brain, potentially leading to a number of health benefits.

What Are The Benefits Of 5-HTP? 

Several studies have suggested that 5-HTP may help with: 

  • Mood Enhancement: Serotonin is often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter because it regulates mood and feelings of happiness and well-being. By boosting serotonin production, 5-HTP may help alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low mood.3 
  • Better Sleep: Melatonin is a hormone that plays a crucial role in regulating sleep patterns.4 5-HTP can increase serotonin levels, which can be converted into melatonin in the brain, promoting better sleep quality and potentially alleviating insomnia symptoms.5 
  • Appetite Control: Research suggests that 5-HTP may help regulate appetite and promote weight loss by suppressing hunger cravings and reducing calorie intake.6 7 
  • Stress Management: Serotonin regulates stress and anxiety levels in the body. By increasing serotonin levels, 5-HTP may help reduce stress, promote relaxation, and improve overall resilience to stressful situations.
  • Pain Relief: Some research suggests that 5-HTP may alleviate certain types of pain, including migraines and fibromyalgia.8 9

What Are The Practical Uses Of 5-HTP?

5-HTP is commonly used as a dietary supplement to address various health concerns. Some practical uses of 5-HTP include:

Enhanced Cognitive Function

Serotonin is involved in various cognitive processes, including memory, learning, and focus.10 By supporting optimal serotonin levels, 5-HTP may contribute to improved cognitive function.

Support For Fibromyalgia

Research suggests that 5-HTP may help alleviate symptoms associated with fibromyalgia (a chronic disorder that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body, as well as fatigue and trouble sleeping).9 It may aid in reducing pain sensitivity and improving overall well-being.

General Well-Being

Many individuals use 5-HTP as part of their overall wellness routine to support emotional balance, stress reduction, and overall mental well-being. 

What Are The Alternatives To 5-HTP?

While 5-HTP is a popular supplement for boosting mood, sleep quality, appetite control, stress management, and more, there are alternative approaches that individuals can consider. These alternatives include: 

  • L-Tryptophan 
  • St. John's Wort 
  • Exercise and lifestyle modifications 


What happens when you stop taking 5-HTP?

Although 5-HTP is generally well-tolerated and not addictive, some people report experiencing mild side effects such as dizziness, fatigue, and poor mood when they stop taking the supplement abruptly.11 However, these symptoms typically fade within a week.

Does 5-HTP affect hormones?

Yes, 5-HTP may impact hormone levels in the body. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, and serotonin plays a role in regulating various hormones in the body. 

Is 5-HTP the same as melatonin?

No, 5-HTP is not the same as melatonin. While both substances are involved in regulating sleep, they have different roles in the body. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin. By increasing serotonin levels, 5-HTP can indirectly support the production of melatonin. On the other hand, melatonin is primarily responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. It is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and helps control the timing and quality of sleep.

Is 5-HTP better than antidepressants?

The effectiveness of 5-HTP compared to antidepressants depends on various factors and individual circumstances. Antidepressants prescribed by healthcare professionals are extensively studied and regulated medications specifically designed to treat depression and related conditions. 

They may be more suitable for individuals with clinically diagnosed depression or other mood disorders. On the other hand, 5-HTP is available as a dietary supplement and is generally considered a more natural approach. It may be a viable option for individuals with milder forms of depression or those seeking alternative treatments.

All this in mind, it is crucial that you do not use 5-HTP as a replacement for traditional medication and talk therapy. Speak with your psychiatrist to learn more about whether or not 5-HTP is right for you.

Are there any downsides to 5-HTP?

5-HTP is generally considered safe for most people when taken in appropriate doses. However, there are a few potential downsides to be aware of, including potential interactions with medications like antidepressants, increased risk of serotonin syndrome (which is characterized by symptoms like respiratory distress, rapid heartbeat, and elevated blood pressure12), gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea and diarrhea, and pregnancy and breastfeeding concerns.

In 1998, some 5-HTP supplements were believed to have Peak X in them, which caused eosinophilia malgia syndrome, a potentially fatal blood disease in which muslce damage occurs. The good news? Most supplements are generally safe and it would take a large dose to experience said issues. However, it speaks to how important it is to heavily vet where your supplements come from. 

Can you take 5-HTP on an empty stomach?

Yes, 5-HTP can be taken on an empty stomach. However, it's important to note that some individuals may experience mild gastrointestinal discomfort when taking 5-HTP without food. To avoid this, consider taking 5-HTP with a small snack or meal.

What is the difference between 5-HT and 5-HTP?

The main difference between 5-HT and 5-HTP is that 5-HT is serotonin (a neurotransmitter), while 5-HTP is a precursor that converts into serotonin in the brain.

How long does it take for 5-HTP to work?

The time it takes for 5-HTP to take effect can vary among individuals. Some people may notice improvements within a few days, while others may require several weeks. Consistency and patience are key when using any supplement.

Can I use 5-HTP for weight loss?

5-HTP may support weight management by reducing appetite and cravings,6 but it's not a magic solution for weight loss. It should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise for optimal results.

Is 5-HTP addictive?

5-HTP is not considered addictive, as it does not stimulate the reward center in the brain like some other substances. However, it's important to use it responsibly and as directed.

Can 5-HTP be taken with other supplements or medications?

It's important to exercise caution when combining 5-HTP with other supplements or medications. 5-HTP can potentially interact with certain substances, including antidepressants, sedatives, and substances that affect serotonin levels, resulting in adverse side effects. 

Can 5-HTP cause serotonin syndrome?

When taken in high doses or combined with other medications that increase serotonin levels, 5-HTP can potentially cause serotonin syndrome.

Is 5-HTP safe for children and adolescents?

While more research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of 5-HTP in children and adolescents, several studies demonstrate that 5-HTP can be safely given to children even to treat delicate conditions like sleep disorders and depression.13 14 However, It's important to consult a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage and suitability for individual cases.

Can 5-HTP cause drowsiness or fatigue?

5-HTP is generally well tolerated, but in some cases, it can cause drowsiness or fatigue as minor side effects, especially when taken in large doses. Be safe if you plan on taking 5-HTP and need to operate heavy machinery.

Does 5-HTP work for everyone?

While 5-HTP may provide benefits for many individuals, its efficacy can vary from person to person. The response to 5-HTP supplementation depends on various factors, including individual physiology, health conditions, and lifestyle. 


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