The Benefits of 5HTP & Tryptophan

February 7, 2015
Plants like Maize produce high levels of Trytophan

Available from the seed pods of a plant grown in West Africa, Griffonia simplicifolia, 5HTP is a substance which plays an integral role in a chain of reactions within the human brain.

If it starts out as Tryptophan, an enzyme converts it to 5HTP before another enzyme converts this to serotonin, a neurotransmitter which is responsible for a diverse range of functions.

Serotonin deficiency can cause a lot of problems, including emotional and mood disorders, so taking supplements of 5HTP can help to keep levels topped up.

The Importance Of Serotonin

A powerful neurotransmitter in the brain, produced in response to the chain which starts with Tryptophan and changes to 5HTP, serotonin has also has functions in the digestive system too.

Some of the functions which serotonin plays a part in include appetite, memory, sleep, temperature regulation, learning, sexual behaviour, mood, muscle contraction, endocrine regulation and cardiovascular function.

Serotonin works by relaying messaging from one part of the brain to another, with most of the 40 million brain cells influenced in one way or another by the neurotransmitter.

One theory is that serotonin also plays a role in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS); its function is widespread and its effect shouldn’t be underestimated.

Brain function showing the importance of serotonin


An imbalance in serotonin levels has been strongly linked to depression as well as other mood disorders including anxiety, OCD, panic and excessive anger.

The difficulty is that although doctors believe serotonin levels dropping can cause depression, there’s no way to actually measure it in the brain. Medication designed at increasing levels in a living brain are nothing more than an educated guess.

Can you get more serotonin through the diet?
Yes and no.

It is possible to boost your serotonin levels but not directly as there are no foods which contain the neurotransmitter. It is however, possible to boost your levels of serotonin by taking in more Tryptophan through the diet. This in turn can be converted to 5HTP and then onto Serotonin.

Tryptophan can be found primarily in protein-rich food, dairy and nuts. However by eating lots of protein, you won’t actually be increasing your serotonin levels because as amino acids compete with each other in the bloodstream and only a small amount of tryptophans trickle through to the brain.

Turkey is one food which is relatively rich in tryptophan and many people credit this as the reason for the sleepiness they feel after eating their Christmas dinner. In fact so little of the tryptophan will have gotten through to the brain; it’s far more likely than the reason for the sleepiness is simply the effect of eating a huge dinner!

In direct contrast to consuming protein, a meal heavily loaded with carbohydrates can have a very positive effect. This is because the body becomes flooded with insulin which leads to the body taking up nearly all of the amino acids, other than tryptophan which instead is taken up by the brain. This in turn causes serotonin levels in the brain to rise.

Exercise can also help to improve depression, but it’s not yet known whether this is due to changes in the levels of serotonin or some other mechanism.

Taking 5HTP

In order to improve the function of the brain in any of the above key areas, an increase in the levels of serotonin may be required and this is arguably best achieved by taking a 5HTP supplement.

Tryptophan supplements were used for many years as a treatment for depression, and despite suffering a ban in 1989, are an effective way to boost serotonin levels.

Foods which contain Tryptophan


However, although there remains some unresolved, and largely unjustified. Controversy over the use of tryptophan studies suggest that taking 5HTP has a more beneficial effect instead anyway.

With virtually no side effects and fast-acting, the simple conversion of 5HTP to serotonin is a simple and uncomplicated process.

5HTP can either by purchased or its own or bound with other compounds to create different but more potent treatments.

Here’s a range of conditions which can be treated very effectively by 5HTP.

Low Mood

For those experiencing depression and low mood, a special mood-enhancing combination of 5HTP and St John’s Wort can be taken specifically. This is designed to specifically address mood issues, particularly that caused by a simple decline in age. Ideally suited to those who are suffering from mild to moderate depression, this combination of treatments will help to boost low mood.

St John’s Wort is another substance which has been previously proven to have a demonstrable effect on low mood, but no-one is exactly sure what mechanism is used by St John’s Wort, whether it’s as a result of raised 5HTP levels or something else.

Commonly used in some countries such as Germany for a routine treatment for depression it has also been around since ancient Greece.

By combining this potent age-old treatment with 5HTP, a new compound is created which is capable of providing new and improved benefits. 5HTP and St John’s Wort have an interesting effect on each other and the end resulting medication is far stronger than the silts individually.

As well as depression and low mood, this combined treatment is used for a whole range of different conditions including anti-inflammatory, wound healing, seasonal affective disorder SAD and relief from sinusitis.

Lifting Mood And Energy

Being depressed or suffering from low mood often goes hand in hand with lethargy and reluctance to exercise or move around. Yet conversely, by taking exercise there can be a distinct improvement in mood.

More or less everyone aged over 30 – surprisingly young! – will be experiencing a decline in essential hormones in the body. By helping to replace DHEA together with the neurotransmitter serotonin, the inevitable age-related decline can be stopped or even reversed, combatting low mood and energy.

As well as our bodies producing less of these important hormones as we get older there’s some evidence that suggests we get less efficient in making the most of them too. Chronic stress can also play a role, diminishing the ability to use these hormones even further.

To preserve the vital functions of the brain, and to get people moving by boosting energy levels, 5HTP is an essential supplement.

Aiding Sleep

There’s a well-known link between insomnia and age and getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult as you get older.

But rather ironically, it’s also when you need to healing properties of sleep the most.

Without sufficient sleep, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression can occur along with social disorders too. As well as simple exhaustion, individuals who haven’t had sufficient sleep could suffer from problems with their mood, memory and the function of their immune system.

There’s a range of natural products which can help to promote a good night’s sleep. These include 5HTP and valerian root, melatonin and chonin.

Tryptophan has a long history of being used as a sleep aid and as a related product; it’s not surprising that 5HTP is seen to have similar qualities. Serotonin has been shown to be beneficial in a range of situations, including withdrawal from heavy drugs, and it’s these qualities which mean that 5HTP is a very important supplement for sleep too. 5HTP has been shown to be able to help re-establish healthy sleep patterns in individuals who have suffered from chronic sleep disturbance.

Melatonin is the substance responsible for making us feel tired or awake and one of the metabolic pathways for serotonin leads straight to it. It melatonin which will regulate our sleep and wake cycle so it’s critical in helping individuals to get a good night’s sleep.

Boosting Weight Loss

Losing weight is never easy and stripping away those unwanted pounds particularly whilst juggling the ever-changing needs of a child can be difficult.

Thermogenesis is the name for the type of fat-burning which takes place when a herbal supplement known as ephedra is used to promote weight loss. Caffeine and white willow bark can help to boost the results of ephedra even further.

However, in order to enjoy the maximum effect it’s possible to combine the thermogenesis with a different approach to losing weight.

The role of serotonin in obesity and weight management has been the subject of long-term assessment and a genetically induced serotonin deficiency is believed to be at the heart of weight gain for many individuals. 5HTP with its recognised qualities in satisfying serotonin deficiency has a dual effect: appetite satiety. As the 5HTP provides the brain with the supply of serotonin that it requires, the hormone responsible for satiety is gradually released cholecystokinin.

Combining ephedra, 5HTP and white willow bark together can create an extremely powerful compound with the ability to lead to a dramatic weight loss. This is achieved via the fat burning process of thermogenesis as well as the satiety response.

The other benefit of adding 5HTP is that the other ingredients can be rather stimulating and the soporific qualities of 5HTP can help to balance it out.

5HTP Bottle


Pre-Existing Medication

If you are taking any regular medication, either prescribed or over the counter, you may find that taking 5HTP changes how much you need, particularly those taking SSRI antidepressants. In fact, the latter group can be quite dangerous because too much serotonin can cause harm.

It’s therefore always essential to seek medical advice before starting to take 5HTP if you are already on a treatment of any kind as there could be a serious interaction. It may well be that the dose needs altering but in some cases you might need to stop taking the medication altogether.

Who Should Take 5HTP And Tryptophan?

According to the research work carried out by the Founding Director of Research and Development at Pfizer, Dr Charles Jarowski, tryptophan and 5HTP are the amino acids which are the most likely to be lacking in the diet.

Because it’s impossible to measure the amount of serotonin in the brain, if you recognise any of the symptoms of a deficiency described above, you might want to consider adding a 5HTP supplement to your diet.

Doctors normally suggesting starting on a low dose of tryptophan and gradually increasing to get the desired effect. It’s important to give the body time to relax and adjust, as well as time for the medication to start working. Your doctor can help you to decide how much to take and how quickly to increase the dose.

As a general rule, it can take up to 60 days for the full effects of a 5HTP supplement to be seen so don’t lose heart if you don’t notice an immediate improvement after starting the treatment.

When taking the supplement, it is the most effective when eaten on a full stomach but not taken with lots of protein. Wherever possible, a low-protein food or even a drink should be taken should be consumed with it.

Wide-Ranging Support

5HTP is a supplement that has been likened to a network because of the wide-ranging support and benefits that it delivers.

By helping to boost levels of serotonin in the brain, 5HTP can help a diverse range of problems including sleep deprivation, depression, loss of energy, pain and memory loss. It can also help with appetite and improve your ability to withstand stress; it’s a supplement which reaches out into every corner of your life.

There’s no denying that 5HTP is a powerful supplement and one which has the ability to transform lives. However, it’s when it is combined with another supplement as described above that it biomes particularly potent. In many cases joining two natural supplements together creates a compound which is far stronger than the equal of its parts.

Getting the synergy right by picking the right balance and blend could revolutionise your life. 5HTP and a little bit of something else could be the perfect supplement to give you the edge that you’re missing.

Image Credits: CIAT, Wikipedia, Kami Watkins, M Thorne and Shockingly Tasty