Author: Luke Sholl
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) plays a crucial role in how much serotonin our body produces. However, with many health conditions linked to low serotonin levels, people are increasingly turning to 5-HTP supplements to encourage well-being. To find out what you need to know about 5-HTP, and whether supplementation is right for you, keep reading.
Starting with the basics, 5-HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid that comes from L-tryptophan (also an amino acid). When we consume foods rich in L-tryptophan, bodily enzymes convert the acid into 5-HTP, which is then converted into 5-HT, or as it’s otherwise known, serotonin.
It may seem a little confusing at first, but 5-HTP ultimately enhances levels of the so-called “happiness molecule” serotonin, and in turn potentially influences well-being.
For most of us, sufficient levels of 5-HTP will come from foods rich in L-tryptophan, such as seeds, soybeans, cheese, and turkey. However, some people choose to supplement 5-HTP to boost serotonin levels. We’ll get into why shortly, but the summary is that greater serotonin levels could help with issues related to mood, migraines, and sleep disorders.
Fortunately, the seeds of the West African plant Griffonia simplicifolia are an abundant source of 5-HTP, and with careful processing become readily available supplements.
Now that we know where 5-HTP comes from, it’s time to delve deeper into how it could promote well-being.
Research suggests a link between low levels of serotonin and an increased risk of depression, migraines, and sleep disorders. The natural assumption is that boosting serotonin levels (via 5-HTP supplements) may help to counteract these conditions.
Of course, cases are much more nuanced than addressing a single neurochemical, but provisional studies suggest it could be a good place to start. With that in mind, let’s examine some of the evidence supporting 5-HTP supplementation.
The medical journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences sought to understand the impact of 5-HTP supplementation on treatment-resistant depression. Traditionally, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) elevate the brain's natural levels of 5-HT. However, in treatment-resistant patients, maintaining slightly elevated levels is not enough to sufficiently combat depression symptoms.
It’s in these cases that individuals turn to 5-HTP supplements as a way to increase serotonin levels beyond what is possible with traditional medication.
An animal model of depressive behaviour shows that 5-HTP supplements “robustly elevate 5-HT”, and that by mimicking the interaction in humans, slow-release (SR) 5-HTP drugs could potentially be a “safe and effective” avenue to pursue.
Another condition frequently linked to low serotonin levels is migraines. While the exact cause of migraines isn’t fully understood, 5-HT may be a contributing factor, thanks to evidence from a 2011 study. Researchers established a link between serotonin deficiency and hemiplegic migraines by examining two siblings with various debilitating genetic conditions.
Although the lack of serotonin is likely part of a much broader problem with cell signalling, it supports the notion that some types of migraines could be induced or made worse by a deficiency.
5-HTP’s role in sleep is an interesting one, as supplementation may actually increase wakefulness. However, the flip side is that higher serotonin levels (as a result of 5-HTP supplementation) can boost mood, and therefore combat some of the mood-related issues that disrupt restful sleep.
There’s also the innate interaction between serotonin and melatonin to consider. The pineal gland relies on serotonin to produce melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone responsible for managing the body’s circadian rhythm. Sufficient serotonin levels may encourage healthy sleep, but the exact implications will differ from person to person.
The studies above represent a snapshot of the evidence supporting 5-HTP’s proposed health benefits. You’ll also find encouraging links between 5-HTP and several conditions we haven’t mentioned, but the recurring theme is a lack of qualitative research across all these diseases. For now, we have to wait for researchers to uncover the full potential of 5-HTP in this regard.
Dosing 5-HTP hinges primarily on the reason(s) for which you’re taking it. Different dosages influence the body in a variety of ways. As such, you can use the following guidelines as a starting point:
• Sleep: 100–300mg, roughly thirty minutes before bed.
• Migraines: 100–200mg. As for frequency, you can either consume at regular intervals throughout the day (up to three times a day with a meal) or take 5-HTP as you feel a migraine coming on.
• Mood: 50–100mg. The key to taking 5-HTP for mood is frequency. Sticking to a lower-than-usual dose, but taking the supplement more frequently, can be an effective strategy for boosting mood. Where possible, take supplements with food up to three times a day.
As is the case with any compound that influences our body’s neurochemical balance, it’s best to start low and slow. By that, we mean starting at the lower end of the recommendations above. It’s important to see how your body responds, as the greater the dose, the increased likelihood of side effects.
With potential benefits and dosing covered, it’s time to look at the possible adverse effects of 5-HTP. Fortunately, the likelihood of side effects is low, and those that do occur appear mild. Research suggests the supplement is generally safe to take daily, but possible side effects include:
• Stomach pain/diarrhoea
It’s also important to understand that 5-HTP’s impact on serotonin levels can disrupt certain prescription medications, including SSRIs and other antidepressants. As such, you must discuss supplementation with a doctor first.
Overall, the risks associated with 5-HTP supplements are minimal; however, there are some unique circumstances to be aware of. Even if you don’t fit into the categories below, it’s always beneficial to discuss any kind of regular supplement intake with a medical professional first. They will offer case-specific advice far beyond that of guides and recommendations on the web.
Anyone pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid taking 5-HTP. There isn’t evidence to suggest it’s harmful, but there aren’t any reports to say otherwise either. Always best to err on the side of caution when fetuses or newborns are involved. The same advice goes for children, specifically those under the age of twelve. Children over twelve can take 5-HTP, but you should discuss this with a doctor.
The last watch-out involves individuals soon to undergo surgery. Some of the drugs administered during surgery can alter your body’s balance of serotonin, and you don’t want to disrupt functioning further by taking 5-HTP supplements. Ideally, you’ll want to stop taking 5-HTP at least two weeks before any planned surgery.
And there you have it; a rundown of 5-HTP’s uses, benefits, and side effects in a nutshell. With a good safety profile, limited potential side effects, and a wealth of potential, there’s no doubt that 5-HTP could be a valuable supplement for well-being.
If you’re looking for a diverse range of natural wellness supplements, why not browse the Cibdol store for a selection of oils, capsules, supplements, creams, and more? Or, if you want to learn more about how the body mediates pain, sleep, and mood, visit our CBD Encyclopedia.
 Jacobsen, J. P. R., Krystal, A. D., & Krishnan, K. R. R. (2017). Adjunctive 5-hydroxytryptophan slow-release for treatment-resistant depression: Clinical and pre-clinical rationale. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5728156/ [Source]
 Horvath, G. A., Selby, K., & Poskitt, K. (2011). Hemiplegic migraine, seizures, progressive spastic paraparesis, mood disorder, and coma in siblings with low systemic serotonin. SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0333102411420584 [Source]
 Watson, C. J., Baghdoyan, H. A., & Lydic, R. (2011). Neuropharmacology of Sleep and Wakefulness. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3026477/ [Source]