What does 5-HTP do?
As a supplement, 5-HTP is used to help lift a low mood, improve sleep and reduce headaches. 5-HTP acts as a building block to make the brain ‘happy’ chemical, serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT). Serotonin in turn can be converted into other brain chemicals, including melatonin which regulates the sleep-wake cycle and levels of other substances such as dopamine, noradrenaline and endorphins also increase after taking 5-HTP, these also help to regulate mood and pain perception. 1
Several studies show that 5-HTP supplements have a positive effect on low mood, and are better than placebo in treating depression, with benefits usually occurring within two weeks.2 One study, involving 60 people with a first episode of depression compared the effects of taking 5-HTP against the prescribed antidepressant drug, fluoxetine, for eight weeks. Both groups showed a significant and nearly equal improvement in depression, starting from the second week of treatment and increasing over the eight weeks. By the end of the study, 73% of those taking HTP and 80% taking fluoxetine felt significantly better. 3
Serotonin has effects on blood vessel dilation in the brain and, by increasing serotonin production, 5-HTP can improve chronic daily headache, tension headache and migraine. A study that compared the effects of 5-HTP against those of a prescribed treatment in 124 people with migraine found that 75% taking the medicine and 71% taking 5-HTP improved. 5-HPT produced greater effects against the intensity and duration of migraine attacks, and was associated with fewer side effects. 4
5-HTP is helpful in treating insomnia, as it boosts the production of melatonin, your natural sleep hormone. Sleep studies suggest that 5-HTP significantly extends the amount of time spent in REM (rapid eye movement, or dreaming) sleep by 53%, so you wake feeling more refreshed. 5 In some people 5-HTP may trigger vivid dreams.
Fibromyalgia is a condition associated with pain, sleep disturbances and fatigue that has been linked with low serotonin levels. Taking 5-HTP supplements may help to improve pain, the number of tender points, morning stiffness, sleep patterns, anxiety and fatigue 6, 7 .
Getting 5-HTP from your diet
5-HTP is not naturally available in the diet but is added to some night time chocolate drinks designed to aid a good night’s rest.
5-HTP should not be taken at the same time as prescription anti-depressant drugs.
If 5-HTP causes drowsiness, do not drive, or operate heavy machinery.
The correct dosage
Start with 100mg at night, increasing if necessary to a maximum of 300mg daily. It may take a few weeks to notice the full effects. Use for up to three months, stop for one month and review. This dosage can be repeated.