Many supplements exist with multiple purposes, especially when health and fitness are the main goals. While most have anabolic or thermogenic properties, occasionally there are some supplements that can do unorthodox things. The supplement in question that we will be discussing today, 5-HTP, is a very unique supplement indeed. While it is made naturally in the body, it functions as a precursor to serotonin, the hormone responsible for making us feel happy among other things. With a quite effective appetite suppression effect as well as mood boosting and melatonin production (better sleep) effect, 5-HTP might be a very important supplement to take if you believe you could benefit from one of the above benefits. Read on to learn more about 5-HTP and how it might be able to help you as well as who should/shouldn’t be supplementing with it…
Besides being made in the body, 5-HTP can be found prominently in a few different sources. The main source comes from Griffonia simplicifolia, an African plant in which most 5-HTP supplements are made from (the shrub is about 20% 5-HTP). While it cannot be found directly in food, it is made from the amino acid L-tryptophan that is found in most meats, eggs, dairy and more (after consuming L-tryptophan it gets broken down into 5-HTP in the body). It only functions in the body is to convert into serotonin, which is also known as the “happy hormone”, but there is more to it than that. While serotonin is important to improve general mood, it is also responsible for controlling your circadian rhythm, appetite, memory capability, and physical (cardiovascular/muscular) function. As we age, serotonin levels decline in the body and we must rely on consuming more food that can be made into 5-HTP (in the form of L-tryptophan rich foods). Along with age, many other factors can reduce serotonin levels in the body; when serotonin levels are chronically low it can result in many negative side effects such as insomnia, reduced memory, increased appetite, depression, fatigue and more.
If you have any of the above issues (especially a few), it is possible that your serotonin levels are lower than they should be. This is where supplemental 5-HTP comes into the picture. There is a theory that this supplement is not necessary if extra L-tryptophan is added into the diet in the form of food or a supplement, but this will not work very well. In practice more L-tryptophan in the diet will lead to more of it being converted into 5-HTP, then serotonin. Unfortunately, extra L-tryptophan will actually be diverted into niacin production or protein construction instead of 5-HTP, while 5-HTP supplementation has only one conversion, serotonin.
5-HTP & Weight Loss
For those who are also dieting, 5-HTP has an added benefit of being able to suppress hunger. In many independent studies (using obese women as the test subjects), supplementation of 5-HTP over the course of anywhere from two to six weeks lead to a decrease in appetite over the placebo group as well as about an extra kilo (about 2 pounds) of weight loss. While most studies have been conducted on women, some mixed gender studies have shown that this effect can benefit both men and women. Unfortunately, though, no studies (that I found) have been done on non-obese, resistance trained individuals, meaning we are not sure if these benefits will still be relevant. More than likely 5-HTP will have a satiating effect on most, meaning that when taken with a meal, it will help you feel more full and less likely to snack soon after.
One last note on this, one study has shown that 5-HTP might actually lower cravings for carbohydrates, which can be beneficial for those who tend to binge on sugary foods when dieting (more research needs to be done on this though to see if it is true or just accurate for that one study). Of course, a 5-HTP supplement is not a good replacement for proper diet and exercise and should be used together for the best results possible
5-HTP & Anxiety/Depression
5-HTP has been marketed mainly as a natural antidepressant in the past, due to its ability to be as effective as some drugs for increasing serotonin. Surprisingly though not many reputable studies have been conducted on this supplements ability to increase mood. The main reason why 5-HTP was considered a powerful antidepressant was the correlation between low serotonin levels and depression. The main draw for a natural antidepressant over prescription drugs is the lack of side effects and allergic reactions. So while 5-HTP might not be as effective as some pharmaceutical drugs, it is a safer way to possibly increase mood and decrease depression without any dangerous complications or allergic reactions, although more research needs to be done in this aspect. Your doctor should be consulted to determine if a 5-HTP supplement can replace any prescriptions you are taking.
5-HTP & Sleep Quality
The last researched benefit that we will be talking about in this article is 5-HTP’s ability to affect sleep. If you have heard about how the amino acid we talked about, L-tryptophan can help individuals sleep better, then it makes sense that what it breaks down into will do the same. Research has shown that increased levels of serotonin can restore a broken sleep cycle as well as help those who wake up frequently at night to have uninterrupted rest. 5-HTP can do this as one of its metabolic pathways is through melatonin, meaning some of it will not be converted into serotonin but instead the sleep hormone.
More than likely if you have ever had trouble sleeping whether it be from the night shift or jet lag, you were probably recommended to take supplemental melatonin to fall asleep and stay asleep. By converting into melatonin as well as serotonin, 5-HTP can help decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as keeping you asleep throughout the night. While a 5-HTP supplement will definitely help, it shouldn’t be an excuse to stay up late and avoid actively trying to get to sleep at a reasonable hour.
When To Consume
There is one crucial thing to keep in mind before deciding to take a 5-HTP supplement. If you are currently taking any antidepressant drugs such as MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) or SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), do not supplement with 5-HTP. This could actually cause your serotonin levels to rise abnormally high and cause much more side effects than benefits. In the form of a condition known as serotonin syndrome, it will cause high blood pressure, hyperthermia, twitching, dizziness, coma and in serious cases be fatal. Other than that, if your doctor has told you it would be okay to try a 5-HTP supplement (or you are not on any prescription drugs), a dose of 300-500 mgs can be taken in a single dose or throughout the day to receive all its benefits. To suppress appetite it is best taken with a meal, and to help sleep it should be taken 30 minutes before bed.
Take Home Message
There is everything you need to know about 5-HTP! An effective supplement that can be used to help improve mood, sleep and diet. Again if you are on any prescription drugs (especially the ones mentioned above), it would be wise to ask your doctor if a 5-HTP supplement would be okay to try. Thank you for reading to the end and always remember to supplement smarter, not harder.