March 08, 2022 8 min read

5-HTP is finding its way into 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 that’s naturally found in the body that can impact serotonin production. That means it can impact various cognitive and neurological functions, possibly to improve overall health. Here’s what we know based on the research available:

Key Takeaways

  • 5-HTP is an amino acid that is made by the body but cannot be consumed through diet alone.
  • It converts to serotonin, so many researchers believe it may be useful for conditions linked to low-serotonin levels.
  • Some potential benefits include improved sleep, balanced mood, decreased anxiety, or fewer migraines.
  • If you intend to take 5-HTP, check with your doctor first since it is not safe to combine with certain medications, like some antidepressants or pain medications.

About 5-HTP

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.

A model of 5-HTP's molecular structure

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 who have 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 it’s potential benefits and risks.

Before you make a decision regarding whether 5-HTP supplementation is right for you, take a look at the research available to assess its potential benefits:

5-HTP Benefits and Research

Human research on 5-HTP is still ongoing, but some areas have been researched more heavily than others. Here are some of the potential benefits of 5-HTP according to the research available:

Aid in Weight Loss

One studyfound that 5-HTP may help to 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 to potentially improve 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.

Increase Serotonin to Improve Depression

Depression is often linked to low serotonin levels, so experts theorize that 5-HTP may be useful for improving 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 potentially improve depression on it’s own, 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.

Improving Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Although researchers are not entirely sure what may cause fibromyalgia, low serotonin levels have often been 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.

Reduce Frequency of Migraines

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 studycompared 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.

In fact, a number of studies (1982, 1984, 1985) have confirmed a link between 5-HTP and migraine treatment. Still, more research is needed to understand the mechanisms by which 5-HTP may help.

May Improve Sleep

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 the amount of time it took for participants 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 look at it’s 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.

How to Use 5-HTP

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:

Source and Quality Importance

The quality of your wellness supplements is incredibly important, especially since supplements are not regulated the same way as prescription medications. Ensure that the 5-HTP supplements you buy comes from a trustworthy manufacturer, specifically 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.

When Should I Take 5-HTP?

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 it’s potential weight loss benefits.

Those who take it for mood enhancement may take one larger dose first thing in the morning with breakfast, or up 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.

How Much 5-HTP Should I Take Daily?

Because 5-HTP is classified as a supplement in the U.S., there are no standardized dosing suggestions available. However, adults have taken doses ranging from 150-800 mg daily in various studies.

A person holding a capsules contain a single daily dose of 5-HTP

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.

Forms of 5-HTP

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.

5-HTP Safety

5-HTP is thought to be safe for most adults when used responsibly, but there are some potential risks to be aware of. Some of these risks include:

  • Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS): A very rare but serious condition that results in elevated white blood cell levels. Symptoms include muscle pain, weakness, rashes, fatigue, or breathing difficulties.
  • Overdose: Higher doses of 5-HTP (6 grams or more) may cause serious side effects like organ failure.
  • Allergic reaction: It’s possible to be allergic to 5-HTP, although it is rare. If you experience hives, anaphylaxis, or another allergic reaction after taking 5-HTP, seek emergency medical services.
  • Heartburn, gas, or upset stomach
  • Increased risk of blood clots for some people
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis caused by too high levels of serotonin

People who should not take 5-HTP include those who:

  • Have or are at a higher risk for osteoporosis
  • Are breastfeeding or pregnant
  • Take antidepressants, migraine medications, or certain pain medications
  • Are at a high risk for blood clots
  • Have high blood pressure

As always, you should talk to your doctor before making any changes to your wellness routine.

Read "5-HTP Side Effects" for more information. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does 5-HTP do for your body?

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 in order to help with a variety of conditions, like poor sleep, depression, anxiety, and more. More research is needed to understand 5-HTP’s full benefits and potential risks, however.

Is 5-HTP safe to take everyday?

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.

Does 5-HTP make you happy?

Some evidence suggests that 5-HTP can boost serotonin to help improve mood, but more research is needed to confirm it’s antidepressant capabilities.

Does 5-HTP work immediately?

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.

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. “Fibromyalgia” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990568/
  15. “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/
  16. “Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2193835/
  17. “Primary fibromyalgia syndrome and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan: a 90-day open study” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1521674/
  18. “5-Hydroxytryptophan versus methysergide in the prophylaxis of migraine. Randomized clinical trial” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3536521/
  19. “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/
  20. “Serotonin precursors in migraine prophylaxis” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7034490/
  21. “[Treatment of essential headache in developmental age with L-5-HTP (cross over double-blind study versus placebo)]” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6397729/
  22. “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/
  23. “A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of an amino acid preparation on timing and quality of sleep” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19417589/

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