March 25, 2022 5 min read

5-HTP, short for 5-hydroxytryptophan, is a chemical naturally found in the body that’s known to help regulate many different neurological processes. In theory, experts believe that 5-HTP supplements can affect mood, sleep, cognition, and more. The question is–have any 5-HTP benefits been scientifically proven? Before you dive into a 5-HTP dosing regimen, here’s what you should know:

Key Benefits

  • Aids in weight loss
  • Balances mood
  • Lowers stress
  • Improves sleep
An image of a measuring tape and fork representing 5-HTP's potential benefits for reducing appetite and improving weight loss efforts.

1. 5-HTP may help you lose weight.

Some evidence suggests that 5-HTP supplements may complement a healthy weight loss routine to help you shed extra pounds. One study found that 5-HTP may help to suppress hormones that induce hunger. Another small study found that diabetic people who received 5-HTP consumed over 400 calories less per day on average compared to the placebo group.

Yet another study suggests that 5-HTP may inhibit the intake of calories from carbohydrates, meaning it could improve blood sugar levels.

Actually, there have been various studies to confirm that 5-HTP may help suppress appetite (1989, 1991, 1992, 2012). Two smaller studies (1996, 2004) even suggest that 5-HTP can help limit overeating caused by stress or depression, one major cause of obesity.

2. It may help boost your mood.

More specifically, it may help increase serotonin production. It’s important to note that depression is often linked to low serotonin levels, and low serotonin may play a role in many other mood disorders.

Several studies (1972, 1974, 1980, 2017) have found that 5-HTP may help improve serotonin, which experts theorize can help manage depression. Some of these studies neglected to use a placebo control group or paired 5-HTP with other antidepressant medications, but the promising results still call for more research regarding 5-HTP benefits for mood regulation.

3. It may even lessen anxiety.

In addition to potentially managing mood disorders, 5-HTP may also help to manage panic attacks and anxiety as well. In some cases, chronic panic attacks may be caused by low serotonin levels. One study evaluated the use of 5-HTP supplements in non-depressed adults suffering from romance-related stress. All participants reported to experience less anxiety after a 6 week period of supplementing with 5-HTP. Of course, anxiety disorders are complex and more research is needed to confirm 5-HTP’s potential anxiolytic effects.

4. 5-HTP may help manage migraines and headaches.

Although the exact cause of migraines is hard to pinpoint, some experts believe that they could be linked to low serotonin levels. By this logic, some researchers theorize that 5-HTP can help reduce the occurrence of migraines. In fact, one small study compared 5-HTP to a common migraine medication and found it to decrease the number of migraine attacks in over 70% of participants. Another study also found a 70% decrease in the frequency of headaches when using 5-HTP daily in a small group of students.

More research is needed to understand how 5-HTP could help, but those who back these benefits claim that daily preventative doses are the best approach.

5. It could help manage pain in general.

Research is limited in this regard, but one small animal study suggests that 5-HTP may change the way that pain is perceived to make it more manageable. This may also have to do with 5-HTP’s impact on serotonin, which plays a role in the regulation of pain signaling.

6. It could help manage fibromyalgia, too.

Although general pain studies are limited, there is quite a bit more evidence to suggest that 5-HTP could help to manage symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Researchers are not entirely sure what may cause fibromyalgia, but many experts suggest that low serotonin levels may be linked to the condition. Some evidence (1985, 1990, 1992) suggests that 5-HTP could improve muscle pain, sleep issues, anxiety, and fatigue caused by fibromyalgia, possibly because of its ability to help balance serotonin levels.

A woman sleeping soundly after taking her nighttime 5-HTP supplement for sleep.

7. 5-HTP may help you sleep.

We mentioned that 5-HTP helps increase serotonin, but it’s also important to note that serotonin can be converted to melatonin by the body. Low serotonin can also be an implication in insomnia. Some evidence suggests that 5-HTP supplementation may help improve sleep by increasing melatonin production in your body.

One study found that 5-HTP combined with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) decreased the amount of time it took for participants to fall asleep. The combination also improved sleep duration and quality compared to the placebo. Several other animal and insect studies confirmed these effects as well, although more evidence is needed to see how 5-HTP may affect sleep when not combined with GABA.

Conclusion

5-HTP is a powerful, essential neurochemical that plays a role in many body processes, and supplementing with 5-HTP is often regarded as a natural solution for mood disorders, stress, and sleep issues. Of course, more evidence is needed to understand the true extent of 5-HTP benefits.

For now, those who want to experience 5-HTP benefits for themselves choose to combine it with various adaptogenic herbs and powerful nootropics for more complete effects. Of course, 5-HTP can be used on its own (and is frequently used in combination with GABA supplements), but can also be an essential part of a well-rounded wellness regimen for boosting brain health, immunity, and physical health.

Because 5-HTP supplements are not regulated as strictly as pharmaceuticals in the U.S., it’s important that you look for a high-quality supplement that’s well-made and lab tested. This, combined with using the correct dosage, is the best way to avoid 5-HTP side effects.

Always talk to your doctor before adding new supplements or making any changes to your wellness routine, especially if you take prescription medications.

Resources

  1. “Serotonin reciprocally regulates melanocortin neurons to modulate food intake” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16846858/
  2. “Effects of oral 5-hydroxy-tryptophan on energy intake and macronutrient selection in non-insulin dependent diabetic patients” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9705024/
  3. “The effects of oral 5-hydroxytryptophan administration on feeding behavior in obese adult female subjects” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2468734/
  4. “Effects of 5-hydroxytryptophan on eating behavior and adherence to dietary prescriptions in obese adult subjects” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1722953/
  5. “Eating behavior and adherence to dietary prescriptions in obese adult subjects treated with 5-hydroxytryptophan” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1384305/
  6. “Relationship between the absorption of 5-hydroxytryptophan from an integrated diet, by means of Griffonia simplicifolia extract, and the effect on satiety in overweight females after oral spray administration” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22142813/
  7. “Role of 5-HT in stress, anxiety, and depression” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8728550/
  8. “5-Hydroxy-L-tryptophan suppresses food intake in food-deprived and stressed rats” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14724051/
  9. “What has serotonin to do with depression?”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4471964/
  10. “A pilot study of the predictive value of the probenecid test in application of 5-hydroxytryptophan as antidepressant” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/4556909/
  11. “5-Hydroxytrytophan as an antidepressant. The predictive value of the probenecid test” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/4596091/
  12. “l-5-Hydroxytryptophan in depression: the first substitution therapy in psychiatry? The treatment of 99 out-patients with 'therapy-resistant' depressions” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6967194/
  13. “An Open-Label Pilot Study of Combined Augmentation With Creatine Monohydrate and 5-Hydroxytryptophan for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor- or Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor-Resistant Depression in Adult Women” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28787372/
  14. “An open-label trial of L-5-hydroxytryptophan in subjects with romantic stress” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21178946/
  15. “Serotonin and CGRP in Migraine” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4117050/
  16. “5-Hydroxytryptophan versus methysergide in the prophylaxis of migraine. Randomized clinical trial” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3536521/
  17. “Headache in association with sleep disorders in children: a psychodiagnostic evaluation and controlled clinical study--L-5-HTP versus placebo” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3308389/
  18. “The Effects of 5-Hydroxytryptophan on Pain Following Formalin Administration”https://www.indianjournals.com/ijor.aspx?target=ijor:ajrps&volume=8&issue=1&article=001
  19. “Fibromyalgia—” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990568/
  20. “Serotonin precursors in chronic primary headache. A double-blind cross-over study with L-5-hydroxytryptophan vs. placebo” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3913752/
  21. “Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2193835/
  22. “Primary fibromyalgia syndrome and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan: a 90-day open study” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1521674/
  23. “A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of an amino acid preparation on timing and quality of sleep” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19417589/
  24. “Sleep-promoting effects of the GABA/5-HTP mixture in vertebrate models” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27150227/
  25. “Sleep-promoting effects of a GABA/5-HTP mixture: Behavioral changes and neuromodulation in an invertebrate model” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26921634/

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