The Benefits – And Precautions – Of 5-HTP

5-HTP – A Funny Name For A Powerful Supplement

If you’ve looked for help with things like anxiety, depression, insomnia, or even fibromyalgia, you’ve likely heard of 5-HTP. It’s a fairly common supplement, with potentially uncommon effects.

Let’s be clear – 5-HTP will not replace anti-anxiety medication and it should not be considered a life-long solution. But if you need a leg up on some impending depression or just can’t seem to sleep, it might be time to give this a try.

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a chemical that the body makes from tryptophan (an essential amino acid that you get from food). After tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, the chemical is changed into another chemical called serotonin (a neurotransmitter that relays signals between brain cells). 5-HTP dietary supplements help raise serotonin levels in the brain. Since serotonin helps regulate mood and behavior, 5-HTP may have a positive effect on sleep, mood, anxiety, appetite, and pain sensation.

5-HTP is not found in the foods we eat, although tryptophan is found in foods. Eating foods with tryptophan does not increase 5-HTP levels very much, however. As a supplement, 5-HTP is made from the seeds of an African plant called Griffonia simplicifolia.

In 1989, the presence of a contaminant called Peak X was found in tryptophan supplements. Researchers believed that an outbreak of eosinophilic myalgia syndrome (EMS, a potentially fatal disorder that affects the skin, blood, muscles, and organs) could be traced to the contaminated tryptophan, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled all tryptophan supplements off the market. Since then, Peak X was also found in some 5-HTP supplements, and there have been a few reports of EMS associated with taking 5-HTP. However, the level of Peak X in 5-HTP was not high enough to cause any symptoms, unless very high doses of 5-HTP were taken. Because of this concern, however, you should talk to your health care provider before taking 5-HTP, and make sure you get the supplement from a reliable manufacturer. (See “Precautions” section.)

5-HTP may help treat a wide variety of conditions related to low serotonin levels, including the following:


Preliminary studies indicate that 5-HTP may work as well as certain antidepressant drugs to treat people with mild-to-moderate depression. Like the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which includes fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), 5-HTP increases the levels of serotonin in the brain. One study compared the effects of 5-HTP to fluvoxamine (Luvox) in 63 people and found that those who were given 5-HTP did just as well as those who received Luvox. They also had fewer side effects than the Luvox group. However, these studies were too small to say for sure if 5-HTP works. More research is needed.


Research suggests that 5-HTP can improve symptoms of fibromyalgia, including pain, anxiety, morning stiffness, and fatigue. Many people with fibromyalgia have low levels of serotonin, and doctors often prescribe antidepressants. Like antidepressants, 5-HTP raises levels of serotonin in the brain. However, it does not work for all people with fibromyalgia. More studies are needed to understand its effect.


In one study, people who took 5-HTP went to sleep quicker and slept more deeply than those who took a placebo. Researchers recommend 200 to 400 mg at night to stimulate serotonin, but it may take 6 to 12 weeks to be fully effective.

Migraines and Other Headaches

Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for migraine headaches. Studies suggest that high doses of 5-HTP may help people with various types of headaches, including migraines. However, the evidence is mixed, with other studies showing no effect.
– via University of Maryland Medical Center

There are still dangers to consider

5-HTP is a great resource for some people, but it isn’t a miracle pill. And as with any other powerful medication or supplement, staying aware of the side effects and interactions is key to keeping yourself safe.

Using 5-HTP Capsules

When a 5-HTP supplement is consumed, it enters the blood, crosses the blood brain barrier, and is immediately converted into serotonin. This makes 5-HTP a direct pre-cursor to serotonin.

This conversion time is much shorter than with comparable Tryptophan supplements since it cuts out the middle conversion step. 5-HTP is also converted into the sleep regulating hormone melatonin.

Finally, its presence actually inhibits the release of dopamine. Too much dopamine can result in a highly agitated, overly energized state which leads to stress for many people. 5-HTP encourages calm while inhibiting the fight or flight stress reactions that come from external triggers.

Serotonin Syndrome

One of the chief 5-HTP dangers is the possibility of generating too much serotonin. When this condition occurs, we call it Serotonin Syndrome.

Initially, the symptoms may seem merely uncomfortable, such as trouble concentrating or excessive sweating. More severe side effects like fast and irregular heartbeat follow. In extreme cases, Serotonin Syndrome can be fatal.

That is an extreme outcome, but serves as good reminder to respect dosage recommendations, and listen to your body when negative side effects symptoms present themselves. However within normal dosage guidelines, this will not be a problem for most 5-HTP users.

5-HTP Danger with Other Anti-depressants

One very important contraindication when talking about 5-HTP dangers is the interaction of the compound with prescription anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications.

Pills like Monoamime Oxidase Inhibitor (MAOIs) and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) should absolutely not be taken in conjunction with 5-HTP. When these meds are combined, they too can produce an over-abundance of serotonin resulting in Acute Serotonin Syndrome.

As your doctor about trying 5-HTP with other mood enhancing natural supplements instead of traditional prescription meds. It is not a good idea to try them at the same time.

Natural therapies for stress relief, mental focus, and mood lift seek to create effects without generating harsh side effects. These remedies work with existing brain biochemical processes to promote improvements to cognition and mood.

Safe Dosages to Avoid 5-HTP Dangers

The routine dose for 5-HTP begins around 50 mg per day. This is an excellent baseline dose for most people. If effects are too mild, you can add an additional 25 – 50 mg.

However, more than 100 mg per day is not considered necessary and will not create any additional benefits for mood enhancement. Above that amount, users will only start to experience more side effects. Higher dosages have been used in studies as a weight loss aid, but only with doctor supervision.
– via Nootriment

Have you ever tried 5-HTP? How did it affect you?