L-5-hydroxytryptophan, commonly called 5-HTP, is a chemical the body uses to create the neurotransmitter serotonin. 5-HTP is derived from the essential amino acid L-tryptophan and provides various health benefits.
People can obtain 5-HTP by eating foods containing L-tryptophan, which include meat, seafood, soy, cottage cheese, spinach, peanuts and other sources. 5-HTP supplements also are available.
5-HTP is a popular weight loss supplement. It can make people feel more satiated after eating, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, so they consume less food. Additionally, low serotonin levels are linked with impulsive behavior, which can include excessive eating.
Low serotonin levels also are associated with depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Because the body converts 5-HTP to serotonin, 5-HTP has a similar but less powerful effect as antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
5-HTP supplements do not work for everyone, according to natural supplement expert and physician Ray Sahelian, possibly because these people have mental health conditions not caused by low levels of serotonin.
5-HTP side effects usually are mild, such as headaches, drowsiness and heartburn. Taking very high doses, or combining 5-HTP with antidepressants, can lead to a serious condition called serotonin syndrome, with symptoms of hallucinations and fluctuating heart rate.