5-HTP is finding its way into nootropic wellness blends designed to promote focus, relaxation, and better sleep, but what is 5-HTP and what can it really do for your wellness routine?
Short answer–it’s a chemical naturally found in the body that can impact serotonin production. That means it can affect various cognitive and neurological functions, possibly improving overall health. Here’s what we know based on the research available:
5-HTP, short for 5-hydroxytryptophan, is one chemical byproduct of L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid used in most neurochemical processes. Although research on 5-HTP’s benefits is limited, many people claim to use it successfully to manage anxiety, insomnia, mood imbalances, and more.
5-HTP works in the brain and central nervous system and is converted to serotonin by the body. Serotonin can affect sleep, appetite, temperature, sexual arousal, pain signaling, and more. Unfortunately, 5-HTP is not available in foods that we eat, so many people turn to 5-HTP supplements to experience its benefits.
For those with low serotonin levels, using 5-HTP as a wellness supplement could be a promising solution to many problems, but more research is needed to confirm its potential benefits and risks.
Before you decide whether 5-HTP supplementation is right for you, take a look at the research available to assess its potential benefits:
Human research on 5-HTP is still ongoing, but some areas have been researched more heavily than others. Here are some potential benefits of 5-HTP according to the research available:
One study found that 5-HTP may help suppress hormones that induce hunger, helping you suppress appetite and aiding in a healthy weight loss routine. 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.
According to another study, 5-HTP may inhibit the intake of calories from carbohydrates, meaning it could improve blood sugar levels. Various other studies (1989, 1991, 1992, 2012) have verified that 5-HTP can increase feelings of fullness or help suppress appetite, potentially improving weight loss efforts. Two smaller animal studies (1996, 2004) even suggest that 5-HTP can help limit overeating caused by stress or depression, one major cause of obesity.
Depression is often linked to low serotonin levels, so experts theorize that 5-HTP may help improve depression.
Several studies (1972, 1974, 1980, 2017) have found that 5-HTP may help improve serotonin levels to help combat depression. In all of these studies, depression symptoms were lessened with daily 5-HTP doses, but it’s important to note that two of these studies failed to use a placebo control group.
Some of these studies combined 5-HTP with other substances, like creatine monohydrate or prescription antidepressants. While 5-HTP has been shown to improve depression on its own potentially, many successes were due to combining 5-HTP with other substances.
The benefits of 5-HTP for depression look promising, but more research is needed to confirm 5-HTP’s benefits as an antidepressant supplement.
Although researchers are not entirely sure what may cause fibromyalgia, low serotonin levels are often 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.
Again, researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes migraines, but they have been linked to low serotonin levels, so 5-HTP may help.
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.
5-HTP is known to increase serotonin production, and serotonin can be converted to melatonin by the body. One study found that 5-HTP combined with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) decreased participants' time to fall asleep. The combination also improved sleep duration and quality compared to the placebo.
However, most evidence regarding the benefits of 5-HTP for sleep only looks at its synergistic benefits when combined with GABA. Most trials involve animal subjects, so more information is needed to understand the impact 5-HTP may have on sleep on its own.
It’s important to note that supplements are not regulated in the same way as medications are in the U.S., so it’s important that you carefully consider the quality of the 5-HTP supplements you choose. Also, pay close attention to dosing, since the dosage for 5-HTP isn’t standardized.
Here are some things to consider when designing your 5-HTP dosing routine:
The quality of your wellness supplements is significant, primarily since supplements are not regulated the same way as prescription medications. Ensure that the 5-HTP supplements you buy come from a trustworthy manufacturer that uses a third-party testing process to ensure quality. You may also look for a company that is experienced with wellness supplements and uses a cGMP compliant manufacturing facility.
There are many different methods for taking 5-HTP, and the best time to take it depends on how you intend to use it. For instance, you may take it 30 minutes before a meal to enjoy its potential weight loss benefits.
Those who take it for mood enhancement may take one larger dose first thing in the morning with breakfast or smaller doses up to three times daily with their meals. To enjoy the potential benefits of 5-HTP for sleep, you may take your dose about 30 minutes before bed.
Because 5-HTP is classified as a supplement in the U.S., no standardized dosing suggestions are available. However, adults have taken doses ranging from 150-800 mg daily in various studies.
Typically, you’ll find that smaller doses are recommended when multiple doses are taken daily. 5-HTP is mostly well tolerated, but larger doses (6 grams or more) may cause serious side effects and should be avoided. Speak with your doctor to determine what 5-HTP dosage is best for you.
You will most often find 5-HTP in capsule or tablet form, although wellness supplements containing 5-HTP in powder form are becoming more popular. For dosing throughout the day, you may choose a low-dose capsule. For a one-off daily dose, you may choose a larger dose or a multi-functional powder blend that can be mixed into food or beverages.
For a multifaceted nootropic blend, check out this nootropic+mushroom coffee drink.
5-HTP is considered safe for most adults when used responsibly, but there are some potential risks. Some of these risks include:
People who should not take 5-HTP include those who:
As always, you should talk to your doctor before changing your wellness routine.
Read "5-HTP Side Effects" for more information.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid that the body needs to produce serotonin. Researchers theorize that 5-HTP can help balance serotonin levels in those with low serotonin to help with various conditions, like poor sleep, depression, anxiety, and more. However, more research is needed to understand 5-HTP’s full benefits and potential risks.
Studies have found that 5-HTP is generally well tolerated when taken by mouth in doses of up to 400mg per day for up to one year. Daily use is the best way to get the most benefit out of 5-HTP.
Some evidence suggests that 5-HTP can boost serotonin to help improve mood, but more research is needed to confirm its antidepressant capabilities.
5-HTP can quickly increase serotonin levels in the body. That means you may see any potential benefits for sleep immediately, but you may need to wait a week or more (of daily doses) to experience the potential benefits of 5-HTP for mood disorders or similar conditions.
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