What is 5-HTP?
5-HTP or «hydroxy L-tryptophane» (5-Hydroxytryphophan) is a naturally-occurring amino acid and is the precursor and metabolic intermediate in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin from tryptophan. 5-HTP is converted to the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT), with the help of vitamin B6. This occurs both in nervous tissue and in the liver. 5-HTP crosses the blood-brain barrier (while 5-HT does not). Supplementation with 5-HTP therefore increases production of Serotonin.
Most 5-HTP is extracted from the seeds of a woody climbing shrub native to West Africa, called the Griffonia simplicifolia plant.
5-HTP for Depression and Insomnia
5 HTP is a term that is used to denote 5-Hydroxytryptophan. This is an amino acid that occurs naturally and a very important constituent of Serotonin. Serotonin is a very important element in the transmission of information by the brain.
If the transportation of L-tryptophan into the brain has been ineffective, then this is a factor that can cause depression.
Insufficient levels of serotonin and 5 HTP in the cerebrospinal fluid can also be a factor that leads to depression. This will also be the case if the individual also experiences low levels of tryptophan.
If the receptors responsible for the activity of serotonin has been increased in number, or have increased their sensitivity, can also be a factor leading to depression. This will also be the case if some of the receptors have been decreased in number or their sensitivity decreased by any reason.
5 HTP treatments work through increasing the amount of serotonin. The level of serotonin that is produced in the brain is increased through a simple process. Once you have increased the amount of 5 HTP that gets through to the brain cells, then this will increase the production of serotonin. These direct treatments through the application of 5 HTP supplements ensure that there is increased concentration of serotonin in the blood plasma as well as in the cerebrospinal fluid.
Taking 5 HTP for depression has been effective. Studies have indicated that this treatment method is comparable to using antidepressants. In this way, it has been documented that the use of 5 HTP is effective and can be used. However, there are a few side effects that are associated with the use of 5 HTP in the treatment of depression. Among these side effects include headache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Some people may also experience insomnia and hasty heartbeats.
It should be born in mind that the use of 5 HTP should be guided by a qualified physician when it comes to being used together with other treatment methods such as the use of antidepressants. There should also be caution in the use of 5 HTP treatments by those who have liver or kidney problems. It should also not be used by pregnant or lactating women.
Melatonin vs 5-HTP
Melatonin is the primary hormone of the pineal gland and acts to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, especially the sleep/wake cycle. When administered in pharmacological doses (1-3mgs), melatonin acts as a powerful sleep regulating agent that controls the circadian rhythm. A low dose of melatonin has also been shown to be effective in treating insomnia and jet lag. In a recent study, volunteers were either given a .3 mg or a 1 mg dose of melatonin or a placebo. Both levels of melatonin were effective at decreasing the time needed to fall asleep. The same area of the brain that releases melatonin also regulates serotonin production. Serotonin helps to produce melatonin. If you are deficient in serotonin, you’ll also be deficient in melatonin (can’t sleep). If you’re low in serotonin I recommend you start taking 5HTP before beginning Melatonin Therapy.
Melatonin is affected by a persons exposure to light. Melatonin levels start to rise as the sun goes down and drop off as the sun comes up. The retina (eyes) are extremely sensitive to changes in light. An increase in light that strikes the retina triggers a decrease in melatonin production. Conversely, limited exposure to light increases melatonin production. This explains why some individuals suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
5-HTP bypasses the brain’s light-regulation system that controls the secretion of melatonin. 5-HTP results in the increased the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine that stimulate the noradrenergic receptors in the brain. This stimulation directly triggers the production and release of melatonin.
Thus, when you take 5-HTP, it causes the release of melatonin irrespective of how much light is present. The higher levels of melatonin in circulation, helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep better.
People with low melatonin who take 5-HTP at nighttime can enjoy the same sleep enhancing benefits as they will from taking melatonin alone, but they will also be getting the broader spectrum of benefits that comes from increased serotonin levels. (If you take melatonin alone it does not enhance the functions of the serotonin system.)
5-HTP for weight loss
A study by Cangiano, et al., published in the «Journal of Clinical Nutrition» in 1992 followed 20 obese patients who were assigned to intervention or placebo groups. No diet was prescribed during the first six-week period and a low-calorie diet was prescribed for the second. Placebo participants did not lose weight, but those on 5-HTP lost 2 percent of their body weight during the non-diet period and an additional 3 percent on the diet. They also experienced quicker satiety. Another study by Cangiano, et al., published in 1998 in the «International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders» followed 20 overweight adults with type-II diabetes and found that using 750 mg per day of 5-HTP resulted in a 4 1/2 lb. weight loss over two weeks. Using 5-HTP reduced carbohydrate intake by 75 percent.
As far back as 1975, researchers demonstrated that administering 5-HTP to rats that were bred to overeat and be obese resulted in significant reduction in food intake . It turns out that these rats have decreased activity of the enzyme that converts tryptophan to 5-HTP and subsequently to serotonin. In other words, these rats are fat as a result of a genetically determined low level of activity of the enzyme that starts the manufacture of serotonin from tryptophan. As a result, these rats never get the message to stop eating until they have consumed far greater amounts of food than normal rats.
There is much circumstantial evidence that many humans are genetically predisposed to obesity. This predisposition may involve the same mechanism as that observed in rats genetically predisposed to obesity. In other words, many people may be predisposed to being overweight because they have a decreased conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP and, as a result, decreased serotonin levels. By providing preformed 5-HTP, this genetic defect is bypassed and more serotonin is manufactured. 5-HTP literally turns off hunger .
The early animal studies that used 5-HTP as a weight loss aid have been followed by a series of three human clinical studies of overweight women, conducted at the University of Rome (8-10). The first study showed that 5-HTP was able to reduce caloric intake and promote weight loss despite the fact that the women made no conscious effort to lose weight . The average amount of weight loss during the five-week period of 5-HTP supplementation was a little more than 3 pounds.
Wasn’t the drug Redux, which raises serotonin levels, taken off the market because it caused damage to the heart valves? Is there a risk with 5-HTP doing the same?
In September 1997, the popular weight loss drug Redux and its chemical cousin fenfluramine, part of the «fen-phen» combination, were taken off the market based on a study showing that these drugs may have caused permanent damage to heart valves in as many as one-third of the people who took them. There is no evidence that 5-HTP produces these effects. Unlike Redux, 5-HTP does not raise blood serotonin levels to a significant degree nor does it block reuptake of serotonin. The point here is that 5-HTP does not disrupt the normal process of serotonin release, reabsorbtion, and elimination from the body. 5-HTP is not a synthetic drug; it is an amino acid produced naturally by your body’s metabolism
Most research seems to suggest that 5-HTP is safe in the right dose. This seems to be no more than 100mg per day. 5-HTP is usually tolerated much better than traditional antidepressants. HOWEVER, it is important not to take more than 100mg per day, or other antidepressants at the same time.