What is 5-Hydroxytryptophan?

Christine Gray

The dietary supplement 5-hydroxytryptophan is manufactured from the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia plant, a native of West Africa. Proponents of the supplement claim that it effectively treats anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia and headaches and promotes weight loss. Side effects of 5-hydroxytryptophan include nausea, heartburn, gas and anorexia. Extremely high doses might lead to serotonin syndrome, a potentially fatal condition caused by excessive serotonin production. The supplement also has been linked to an outbreak of eosinophilic myalgia syndrome, a potentially fatal disease characterized by inflammation of nerve, muscle and connective tissue.

5-hydroxytryptophan may be used to treat insomnia and other conditions related to insomnia.
5-hydroxytryptophan may be used to treat insomnia and other conditions related to insomnia.

The human body converts 5-hydroxytryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitting chemical that relays signals between different parts of the brain and helps regulate mood and behavior. Brain serotonin levels are raised by 5-hydroxytryptophan. It also might help regulate sleep cycles, elevated mood, and reduce anxiety, pain and appetite, but little clinical testing of the supplement has been done. Children, women who are pregnant or lactating and individuals who have a history of liver disease, diabetes or high blood pressure should not take 5-hydroxytryptophan without consulting a physician.

Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acids tryptophan and 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP).
Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acids tryptophan and 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP).

Some clinical evidence suggests that 5-hydroxytryptophan might be as effective as some prescription antidepressants at treating mild to moderate depression. Research has suggested that 5-hydroxytryptophan provides benefits that are similar to those of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), but with fewer side effects. Fibromyalgia patients are also treated with SSRIs, and studies have shown that some fibromyalgia patients experience a reduction of pain, anxiety, morning stiffness and fatigue when treated with 5-hydroxytryptophan.

Research also indicates that the supplement might help battle insomnia. Comparing the effects of 5-hydroxytryptophan to a placebo has revealed that study participants who take the supplement typically fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply than participants who are given the placebo. It might take as long as 12 weeks for the supplement to impact sleep cycles, though.

Another use for 5-hydroxytryptophan might be to aid weight loss. Research has shown that people who are taking the supplement consume fewer calories than those who take a placebo, even when neither group is trying to lose weight. Weight loss also increases when users take high doses of the supplement while dieting, although nausea is a common side effect of this.

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