5-Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is often used as a supplement to boost serotonin levels. The brain uses serotonin to regulate mood, appetite, and other important functions.
Unfortunately, 5-HTP is not found in foods we eat. However, 5-HTP supplements, made from the seeds of the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia, are widely available. People are increasingly turning to these supplements to help boost their moods, regulate their appetites, and help with muscular discomfort. But are they safe?
Because it is sold as an herbal supplement and not a medication, 5-HTP has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There haven’t been enough human trials to prove or disprove the effectiveness, dangers, or side effects. Still, 5-HTP is widely used as an herbal treatment, and there is some evidence that it may be effective in treating certain symptoms.
People take supplements for many reasons, including weight loss, sleep disorders, mood disorders, and anxiety. These are all conditions that can be improved naturally through an increase in serotonin.
According to one study, taking a 5-HTP supplement of 50 to 3,000 milligrams every day might improve symptoms of depression, binge eating, chronic headaches, and insomnia.
5-HTP is also taken to alleviate symptoms of fibromyalgia, seizure disorders, and Parkinson’s disease. Since people with fibromyalgia have low serotonin levels, they may find some relief from pain, morning stiffness, and sleeplessness. A few small studies have been conducted, some showing promising results. Further study is required to investigate other possible side effects and to decide upon the best dosage and length of treatment. Studies haven’t been able to support the claims that 5-HTP supplements help with seizure disorders or Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
Too much 5-HTP in your system can cause a spike in serotonin levels, resulting in side effects such as anxiety, shivering, and serious heart problems.
Some people who have taken 5-HTP supplements have come down with a serious condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). It can cause blood abnormalities and excessive muscle tenderness.
It’s not clear whether EMS is caused by an accidental contaminant or by 5-HTP itself. Keep this in mind when deciding whether 5-HTP is right for you.
There are other minor possible side effects of taking 5-HTP supplements. If you experience drowsiness, digestive issues, muscular issues, or sexual dysfunction, discontinue use and consult a doctor right away.
Do not take 5-HTP if you are taking other medications that boost serotonin levels, such as antidepressants like SSRIs and MAO inhibitors. Use caution when taking carbidopa, a medication for Parkinson’s disease. 5-HTP may interact with other medicines as well, so as with any supplement, be sure to check with your doctor before starting something new.
5-HTP is not recommended for people with Down syndrome, as it has been linked to seizures. Also, do not take 5-HTP less than two weeks before surgery as it may interfere with some drugs commonly used during surgical procedures.