You're probably most familiar with tryptophan, the ingredient in turkey that makes you want a nap after Thanksgiving dinner. But the tryptophan in 5-HTP can do much more than make you calm and sleepy. Taking 5-HTP can help control your appetite and improve your mood. For some people, it may even work as well as antidepressants.
5-HTP stands for 5-hydroxytryptophan. It's an herbal supplement made from the seeds of a West African plant called griffonia simplicifolia. It has not been evaluated by the FDA, but it is believed to help with depression, sleep disorders and weight problems. It's most commonly found in capsule form.
When tryptophan is in the body, some of it is converted into hydroxytryptophan, which is then converted into serotonin and melatonin. Taking 5-HTP bypasses the first step of this process, which leads to more production of serotonin and melatonin than taking tryptophan alone. Up to 70 percent of 5-HTP will be absorbed by the blood, and it easily passes the blood-brain barrier.
One of the major causes of depression is low serotonin levels, so boosting production of serotonin in the body by taking 5-HTP can help alleviate depression. It may work well in combination with some types of medical antidepressants, or it may be used on its own in cases of mild depression. Since it works differently from antidepressants, it may work well for those who are resistant to medications.
Low serotonin levels can bring on cravings for sugar and fats, so 5-HTP may help control appetite and binge eating.
5-HTP also produces melatonin, which is responsible for the body's sleep cycle, so 5-HTP may help promote regular sleeping patterns.
The recommended starting dose of 5-HTP is 50 mg a day. It should be taken with food, or shortly before eating, with a full glass of water. If you see no benefit at 50 mg, this can be gradually increased. As with all herbal supplements, discuss dosage with your doctor.
The best time of day to take 5-HTP depends on what benefit you hope to gain from it. As an appetite suppressant, it should be taken about 20 minutes before meals. To regulate sleep, it should be taken about half an hour before bed. If you're taking it for depression, you may see the most benefit by taking smaller doses several times a day.
5-HTP may cause sun sensitivity; protect yourself until you know how it affects you. In some people, 5-HTP may cause a rash. It also may cause an upset stomach or constipation.
Some medications may interact adversely with 5-HTP, so as with any herbal supplement, discuss use with your doctor. In particular, SSRI antidepressants shouldn't be combined with 5-HTP. In addition, some medical conditions, such as an ulcer or liver, kidney or blood-platelet disease, may prohibit your use of 5-HTP. Pregnant or lactating women should not take 5-HTP.
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