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L-5 hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a natural chemical in the body that is also available as a nutritional supplement.
This article examines the possible benefits and risks of 5-HTP supplements. It also offers examples of these supplements that people may consider trying.
Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that helps regulate a person’s mood, happiness, and anxiety. The body naturally produces this hormone through a series of chemical processes, with 5-HTP being a precursor to serotonin.
Previously, the substance was only available via prescription. However, companies have been selling 5-HTP as a nutritional supplement since 1995.
Many behavioral and emotional issues are associated with low levels of serotonin. These include:
On the other hand, a person with high levels of serotonin may experience serotonin syndrome. This can occur if a person takes medications that increase levels of this hormone. Symptoms can include:
- shivering or excessive sweating
- high blood pressure
- uncontrollable twitching
- high fever
- loss of consciousness
- irregular heartbeat
Taking medication or supplements known to raise serotonin levels increases the risk of serotonin syndrome.
Because of 5-HTP’s connection to this hormone, some doctors, researchers, and people believe it can help raise serotonin levels in the body. However, experts are not fully clear on the effectiveness of 5-HTP.
There are a few potential benefits of taking 5-HTP, with some evidence to promote its use. They include:
- supporting weight loss
- helping depression
- improving sleep
An older study examined the role of 5-HTP in supporting weight loss. The researchers gave 10 females with obesity a supplement containing 5-HTP.
The research concludes that those given the supplement experienced greater satiety and lower BMI than the placebo group. This suggests 5-HTP may promote weight loss. However, this was a small study, and more research is necessary to confirm the findings.
Another study suggests 5-HTP may be effective for treating depression. Researchers divided 60 people who met the diagnostic criteria for a depressive episode into two groups. One group received 5-HTP while the other received an antidepressant. After 8 weeks, both groups reported a reduction in depression.
A third study shows that 5-HTP may be effective in improving the quality and duration of sleep. Researchers gave nine people with trouble sleeping an amino acid supplement containing 5-HTP and gamma-aminobutyric acid. Another nine received a placebo.
The people who received the supplement fell asleep faster and for longer. They also woke less frequently than the placebo group.
Some research suggests 5-HTP may also help with:
- migraine pain
However, in a 2012 review, researchers looked at positive claims about 5-HTP. They conclude that taking 5-HTP supplements, without balancing them with other amino acids, can decrease their effectiveness in treating depression. It could also result in increased side effects.
Many studies on the health benefits of 5-HTP are older. New research is necessary to determine how effective this substance is in supporting various health conditions.
For most people, the side effects of 5-HTP are generally mild. They include:
- feeling full
- rumbling sensations
Many 5-HTP supplements are available to buy. Below, we list four products that people may wish to try.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All product information is purely research-based.
Nested Naturals 5-HTP
Nested Naturals perform four stages of tests on their 5-HTP supplements. It is also GMP certified and independently tested.
This supplement is vegan and does not contain GMOs. Their product claims to promote relaxation and calmness, which is consistent with available studies.
Swanson 5-HTP Maximum Strength
Swanson is a GMP certified manufacturer of 5-HTP. In addition, they participate in third-party testing of their supplements.
The company claims this product helps with mood and emotional well-being, which is backed by some research.
Natrol’s 5-HTP supplement slowly releases 5-HTP over 10 hours.
Their product claims that it promotes stress relief and helps people maintain a positive outlook.
Myprotein 5-HTP capsules
Myprotein claim that their MyVitamin supplements are specifically for health and fitness.
They state their 5-HTP capsules may help improve sleep and suggest taking it before bed on an empty stomach. As this product contains 50 milligrams of 5-HTP per pill, it might suit a person who prefers a smaller dose.
There are other ways to increase serotonin in the body naturally, including:
- regular exercise
- bright light exposure, such as sunlight
- self-induced changes in mood
- increasing the amount of tryptophan in a person’s diet
A person should talk to their doctor before taking 5-HTP. People who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding should consult with their doctor before taking these supplements.
A person should also speak with a medical professional if they take any other medications, such as antidepressants, as taking supplements may interfere with how they work. Those living with medical conditions should also consult their doctor first to explore any possible risks.
People should see a doctor if they think they are experiencing side effects from 5-HTP. Seek emergency medical attention if these effects become severe.
Taking 5-HTP supplements may support sleep, and help with depression and weight loss in some people. However, there is not enough research to support 5-HTP’s other purported health benefits.
A person should look for certified and third-party tested supplements to help ensure their quality.
Before starting a supplement, a person should talk to their doctor. Those taking certain prescription medications or living with certain conditions should also consult with a medical professional before taking 5-HTP.
If doctors do not recommend these supplements for a person, they may suggest other options, such as exercise, dietary changes, and exposure to sunlight.