5-Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is often used as a supplement to boost serotonin levels. However, taking it can cause some side effects by spiking your serotonin too much. Ask your doctor before trying 5-HTP.

The brain uses serotonin to regulate:

  • mood
  • appetite
  • 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’s sold as an herbal supplement and not a medication, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved 5-HTP. There haven’t been enough human trials to prove or disprove the supplement’s:

  • effectiveness
  • dangers
  • side effects

Still, 5-HTP is widely used as an herbal treatment. There’s some evidence that it may be effective in treating certain symptoms.

People take supplements for many reasons, including:

  • weight loss
  • sleep disorders
  • mood disorders
  • 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 300 milligrams every day might improve symptoms of depression, binge eating, chronic headaches, and insomnia.

5-HTP is also taken to alleviate symptoms of:

Since people with fibromyalgia have low serotonin levels, they may find some relief from:

  • pain
  • morning stiffness
  • sleeplessness

A few small studies have been conducted. Some have shown 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 body can cause a spike in serotonin levels, resulting in side effects such as:

  • anxiety
  • shivering
  • serious heart problems

Some people who’ve taken 5-HTP supplements have developed 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. Discontinue use and consult a doctor right away if you experience:

  • drowsiness
  • digestive issues
  • muscular issues
  • sexual dysfunction

Do not take 5-HTP if you’re taking other medications that increase serotonin levels, such as antidepressants like SSRIs and MAO inhibitors. Use caution when taking carbidopa, a medication for Parkinson’s disease.

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.

5-HTP may interact with other medications as well. As with any supplement, be sure to check with your doctor before starting something new.

Side Effects

  • Reported side effects of 5-HTP include:
    • anxiety
    • shivering
    • heart problems
  • Some people have developed eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), which causes muscle tenderness and blood abnormalities, though this may be related to a contaminant in the supplement and not the supplement itself.