What is 5-HTP?
5-HTP, also known as 5-Hydroxytryptophan, oxitriptan (INN), HTP-5, and 5HTP, is a naturally-occurring amino acid that your body synthesises from L-Tryptophan.
Both 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan are metabolic intermediates or chemical precursors to serotonin, the body's "happiness hormone." A deficiency in serotonin is linked to anxiety and depression, but serotonin is also important because it regulates bodily functions such as sleeping, eating, and digestion.
L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning that it cannot be synthesised by the body, and must be obtained from one's diet. L-Tryptophan is typically found in foods such as turkey, lamb, chicken, egg whites, oats, milk, nuts, and cheese, and in so-called "superfoods" such as seaweed and spirulina.
But wait…there's a problem
The problem with getting all the serotonin you need from your diet is that the L-Tryptophan in your food cannot be converted directly into serotonin. It has to first go through an intermediate stage in which it is converted to 5-HTP. So the internal chemical process that produces serotonin looks essentially like this:
Tryptophan --> 5HTP --> Serotonin --> Melatonin
In addition, your body synthesises 90% of its serotonin in the intestines, but this doesn't help it get to the brain, because serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. This is a membrane that separates the blood from the cerebrospinal fluid, creating a barrier to the passage of cells, particles, and large molecules.
So because the serotonin created in the intestines can't cross the blood-brain barrier, the brain synthesises its own, much smaller amounts of serotonin from 5-HTP, which can cross the barrier.
This is important, because it means that you can use natural 5-HTP amino acid supplements as a nootropic (brain-enhancing) agent to increase your brain's supply of 5-HTP, and thus serotonin.
What is the recommended dosage of 5-HTP?
When taking 5-HTP for sleep, the recommended maximum dosage of 5-HTP is 90mg.
If 5-HTP has been prescribed for you as part of a treatment for other conditions, follow your doctor's orders.
For dosages on specific issues, such as anxiety and insomnia, read further on in this guide.
Is 5-HTP safe?
5-HTP, when taken orally as a supplement, has been shown to be safe in clinical studies in doses up to 400mg per day. It is less effective and considered unsafe in larger doses. This is because an over-dose in 5HTP can spike serotonin levels, leading to unwanted side effects such as anxiety, shivering and in rarer cases, heart problems.
5-HTP should not be mixed with alcohol. It's important to know that alcohol can interact with the 5HTP and reduce its effectiveness. So it's best to allow at least six hours to pass between taking 5HTP and drinking alcoholic beverages.
Because 5-HTP increases the levels of serotonin in the brain, and because some drugs administered during surgery also affect serotonin, doctors recommend that you stop taking 5-HTP at least two weeks before any surgery.
If you are taking prescription medications to counter depression such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), amitriptyline (Elavil), sertraline (Zoloft), clomipramine (Anafranil), or imipramine (Tofranil), you should not take 5-HTP supplements. The reason is that these medications also increase serotonin levels, and combining them with 5-HTP can cause serious side effects including heart problems, shivering, and anxiety.
Moderate negative interactions have also been found between 5-HTP and the following:
- Carbidopa (Lodosyn), a drug used to treat Parkinson's disease
- Dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant found in Robitussin DM, and other meds
- Meperidine (Demerol), a synthetic pain medication
- Pentazocine (Talwin), a pain medication
- Tramadol (Ultram), another prescription pain reliever
If you are taking any of these medications, check with your doctor before taking 5-HTP.
What are the uses and benefits of 5-HTP for sleep, anxiety and depression?
The benefits of 5-HTP can be summed up in one phrase – increased serotonin production. Serotonin works in the body by facilitating the transfer of signals between nerve cells, and by altering the brain functions that control sleep and mood states.
Nootropic treatment of mood disorders and sleep problems is based on the fact that natural amino acids such as 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan can help to resolve certain adverse health conditions by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Disorders that have been successfully treated with natural nootropic supplements include:
- Sleep disorders
- Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression
- Weight loss and eating disorders, especially "binge eating"
- Migraines and tension headaches
Will 5-HTP make you sleepy?
In all likelihood it will. 5-HTP and sleep "go together" well because just as 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, the hormone that signals our bodies to tell them "It's time to sleep now."
There is strong clinical evidence that 5-HTP can help to overcome sleep disturbances and help you to sleep better, which will improve your overall physical and mental health tremendously. Sleep deprivation is a common cause of depression, weight gain, anxiety, and reduced concentration and memory.
Will 5-HTP help with depression and anxiety?
Again, clinical evidence suggests that taking 5-HTP benefits these conditions. Some studies have found that the combination of 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan work as well as prescription antidepressants in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
What are the other health benefits of 5-HTP?
Additional 5-HTP benefits for health include:
- Facilitating weight loss by reducing appetite and cravings that lead to "binge eating"
- Reducing the frequency and severity of migraines and tension headaches
- Helping to overcome addictions, again by reducing cravings
How does 5-HTP work in the body to aid sleep and reduce anxiety?
5-HTP is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which has been shown in studies to help regulate a number of factors, including sleep, depression, anxiety, aggression, and even pain cessation.
5-HTP and serotonin – how does 5HTP and serotonin work to aid sleep and reduce anxiety?
How does 5-HTP aid sleep?
5-HTP supplementation directly increases the amount of serotonin in the brain, so that when you turn out the lights and your brain is finally able to synthesize the "sleep hormone" melatonin, it has a ready supply of serotonin to work with. Healthy serotonin levels are considered essential for healthy melatonin levels, and both are essential for good sleep and a well-functioning "biological clock".
How does 5-HTP aid anxiety?
Serotonin is often referred to as the "happiness chemical" because as a neurotransmitter it is responsible for sending signals of pleasure and contentment between the neurons. So when 5-HTP supplementation increases the amount of serotonin in the brain, it sets the stage for a wide number of benefits, one of which is the reduction of anxiety symptoms.
How does 5-HTP aid depression?
5-HTP's ability to increase serotonin production is so well documented that 5HTP supplementation is often prescribed by physicians to treat depression. Numerous studies have demonstrated a clear link between low serotonin levels and depression, so when 5-HTP increases those levels, it fights depression at its source.
Does 5-HTP really work for sleep and anxiety?
The answer to this question has to be an emphatic "Yes". Many clinical studies (see the 'What clinical research is there on the benefits of 5-HTP?' section of this guide) have shown conclusively that 5-HTP works to help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep through the night, allowing you to wake up more refreshed and alert.
With regard to the treatment of anxiety, some studies have actually found that 5-HTP supplementation is as effective as some prescription medications.
Where does 5-HTP come from? Is 5-HTP from a natural source?
In the body, 5-HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid created as a byproduct of L-Tryptophan. As a dietary supplement, 5-HTP is often extracted from the seeds of an African plant known as Griffonia simplicifolia. These seeds have been found to contain relatively huge amounts (up to 20% by weight) of 5-HTP. 5-HTP from Griffonia seed extract is considered the best all-natural source of this important amino acid.
Is 5-HTP safe to take for sleep and anxiety related issues?
In numerous clinical studies, 5-HTP has been found to be safe in doses up to 400mg per day for most people. The exceptions to this general rule have to do with interactions with prescription or over-the-counter medications, and have been covered above in the Warnings section of this guide.
How to take 5-HTP safely
Follow the guidelines of the 5-HTP product you are taking, and never exceed the maximum recommended dosage, or combine it with medications or other substances with which it could potentially interact.
Also, when shopping for the best source of 5-HTP, pay attention to other ingredients that are included in the formulation. Combining - or "stacking" - 5-HTP with other ingredients can improve its effectiveness. For example, a 5-HTP formulation that also includes L-Tryptophan is better than either supplement alone, because the L-Tryptophan increases production of serotonin, too, and thus allows you to take lower quantities of 5-HTP.
How to take 5-HTP for sleeplessness and insomnia
Our recommendation is to take 5-HTP in a formulation that combines it with other sleep-inducing natural supplements, such as our Advanced Night-Time Nutrients. Take it 30 minutes before bed time.
How often should you take 5-HTP?
When used as a sleep aid, you normally take 5-HTP only once a day, just before bed. If your GP has prescribed 5-HTP for other reasons, such as the treatment of depression or to help with weight loss, follow your doctor's orders.
Long term use of 5-HTP
5-HTP supplementation will provide a boost to serotonin levels in the short term. But for longer term use, it should be stacked with other nootropics, such as L-Tryptophan.
Also, even completely balanced supplements such as Advanced Night-Time Nutrients should be combined with healthier before-sleep "wind down" routines. These routines also facilitate sleep, and after some time may prove so effective that you can stop taking the sleep aids.
Can I take 5HTP while breastfeeding?
The jury seems to still be out on this question but here at The Restored, we recommend to avoid taking 5HTP whilst pregnant or breastfeeding. WebMD, a trustworthy source of online medical information, says, "There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking 5-HTP if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use."
Can I take 5-HTP to treat depression?
Yes. The beneficial effects of 5-HTP in the treatment of depression have been documented in many, many clinical studies. The exact cause of depression is still unknown, but all indications are that one of the most contributing factors is an imbalance in the body's levels of serotonin. 5-HTP treats depression by increasing serotonin levels.
Can I take 5-HTP with anti-depressants?
No. As stated above in the Warnings section of this guide, 5-HTP often interacts in undesired ways with antidepressants.
The rule of thumb should be to never, ever take a serotonin-boosting nootropic if you are taking prescription antidepressants from the SSRI and SNRI class of drugs, or if you are taking MAOIs, often prescribed for social anxiety disorder.
When is the best time to take 5-HTP for sleep?
We recommend taking one or two Advanced Night-Time Nutrients capsules 30 minutes before bedtime. It's best to take 5HTP before bed, and as part of a "wind down" sleep routine that includes setting aside time to relax before going to sleep.
It's also important to avoid watching TV or looking at bright computer or smart phone screens just before bed, because your brain cannot produce the "It's time to go to sleep now" hormone melatonin in bright light, no matter how much serotonin is present.
How long does it take 5-HTP to start working?
Because your body sees increased amounts of 5-HTP as a signal to synthesize serotonin, if you take 5-HTP for sleep 30 minutes before bed time, it should "start working" immediately. If you are taking 5-HTP for other reasons, such as to treat depression or aid with weight loss, it may take several weeks for you to notice its full effects.
What is the correct 5-HTP dosage for sleep and anxiety?
How much 5-HTP should you take? At The Restored, we recommend a maximum dosage of 108mg. That's the amount of 5-HTP contained in two of our sleep aid capsules.
What are the side effects of 5-HTP?
One of the benefits of all-natural nootropic supplements is that they are remarkably free from side effects. In addition, "stacking" 5-HTP with other complementary ingredients such as L-Tryptophan reduces the risks of any side effects, because it allows you to use lower dosages of both 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan.
That said, some people experience mild side effects from 5-HTP, such as nausea, grogginess, stomach pain, heartburn, and diarrhoea. More serious side effects, usually associated with taking high dosages of 5-HTP, have included vomiting, sexual problems, and rarely, muscle problems such as eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS).
As stated in the Warnings section of this guide, stop taking 5-HTP at least two weeks before any surgery, and DO NOT combine it with prescription or over-the-counter antidepressants or mood elevators.
Clinical studies have shown that there are no long term side effects of 5-HTP.
Can I overdose on 5-HTP?
Yes. Taking extremely large doses of 5-HTP (over 400mg per day) can cause a spike in serotonin levels, and result in side effects such as anxiety, shivering, and serious heart problems.
Does 5-HTP cross the blood brain barrier?
Yes. As opposed to supplemental L-Tryptophan, which cannot.
Should 5-HTP for sleep be taken with food?
Absorption of 5-HTP in the stomach and intestines does not seem to be affected by the other fluids or amino acids present in food, so you can take 5HTP with meals without reducing its effectiveness. 5-HTP is remarkably well absorbed from oral doses, with about 70 percent of the dosage making its way into the bloodstream.
How to choose a premium a 5-HTP supplement
If you have read about the many benefits of 5-HTP and are looking for the best form of it available, we have two suggestions for what to look for when choosing a 5-HTP supplement:
- First, look for 5-HTP made from natural sources. The best 5-HTP herbal supplements we know of are derived from Griffonia Seed Extract.
- Second, make sure that the 5HTP natural supplement you decide on is combined or "stacked" with other ingredients that work with it synergistically. For example, 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan together is a tremendous combination because it allows both amino acids to work more effectively, allowing you to take smaller doses of them.
Taken as a standalone supplement, 5-HTP can provide short-term increases in serotonin levels. But for longer-term use you need to stack it with other nootropics such as L-Tryptophan and L-Taurine, and with B vitamins that contribute to normal psychological functioning.
Is 5-HTP and tryptophan the same thing?
No. In the body, 5-HTP is synthesised from L-Tryptophan. While both 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan have benefits for sleep, 5-HTP supplementation is considered more effective because it bypasses the step of having to convert L-Tryptophan into 5-HTP. An ideal formulation for sleep would contain both 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan, because when combined they work synergistically to make each other more effective.
Should I take 5-HTP or Tryptophan for better sleep?
We recommend both for quality sleep as they work together synergistically. Our Advanced Night-Time Nutrients formulation provides (in two capsules) 108mg of 5-HTP from Griffonia Seed Extract and 100mg of L-Tryptophan.
We also include other nutrients that have been proven to aid sleep and reduce anxiety such as Magnesium and L-Taurine, plus fruit extracts of Montmorency Cherry, grape skin, and watermelon, and the B vitamin biotin.
Is it beneficial to take 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan supplements together to aid sleep and anxiety?
As stated above, it IS beneficial to take 5-HTP together with L-Tryptophan. Both are important nutrients, but they differ from one another in important ways.
L-Tryptophan, unlike 5-HTP, is an essential amino acid, which means that it must be absorbed from food, after which the body uses it to create proteins, vitamins such as niacin, and enzymes.L-Tryptophan can be readily converted to 5-HTP as needed, but 5-HTP cannot replace L-Tryptophan.
The benefits of 5-HTP and Tryptophan together have been well established in clinical studies. But rather than try to "mix and match" them yourself, we advise relying on a professionally created formulation that mixes them in the proper amounts, and combines them with other nootropic nutrients to provide optimum benefits.
The ingredients in our Advanced Night-Time Nutrients formulation, for example, combine 5-HTP, L-Tryptophan, L-Taurine, and other ingredients so that they all work synergistically to reduce anxiety and aid natural sleep.
Is 5-HTP the same as melatonin?
No. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the brain as a response to low light conditions, such as turning out the lights before you go to sleep.
Even in low light, however, the brain must have adequate levels of serotonin to produce melatonin, so taking 5-HTP supplements provide an indirect but effective method of increasing melatonin production.
Can I take 5-HTP with melatonin?
Yes, but you should be careful. At The Restored, we feel it is wiser to choose a professionally formulated natural sleep supplement that includes the correct level of ingredients to take for sleep.
In addition, synthetic melatonin is not available in the UK without a prescription, because it can occasionally cause side effects such as daytime sleepiness, dizziness, headache, short-term feelings of depression, stomach cramps, and irritability.
We recommend the combination of 5-HTP and natural melatonin from Montmorency cherry extract that we use in our Sleep Quality Blend.
What is the link between 5HTP and serotonin?
5-HTP is the immediate chemical precursor to serotonin. L-Tryptophan is also a precursor to serotonin, but it must first be converted to 5-HTP, because Tryptophan cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, and 5-HTP can.
What else can I take with 5-HTP to aid sleep and anxiety?
Other natural supplements that aid sleep include Magnesium and natural melatonin from Montmorency Cherry Extract. Magnesium helps the mind relax and contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue, and melatonin helps to signal the body that it's ready for sleep by regulating sleep and wake cycles.
Supplements that fight anxiety include L-Tryptophan, L-taurine, and biotin. L-Tryptophan works in harmony with your body’s metabolism to naturally produce more 5-HTP when you need it. L-Taurine has a naturally calming effect on the nervous system, and biotin helps maintain a positive, relaxed mood by contributing to normal psychological functions.
All of these ingredients are found in our Advanced Night-Time Nutrients.
Can I buy 5-HTP in the UK?
Yes. Unlike melatonin, which requires a prescription, you can buy 5-HTP at any pharmacy or health food store. However, rather than experiment with 5-HTP as a standalone supplement, we recommend using the enhanced formulation of 5-HTP contained in our sleep aid.
What is the best brand of 5-HTP for sleep?
We feel that one of the best formulations of 5-HTP on the market is in our Advanced Night-Time Nutrients. This formulation contains a full range of ingredients that have been proven to make it one of the most effective anxiety-reduction and sleep-aid supplements on the market. These ingredients include:
- Magnesium, to reduce tiredness and fatigue.
- L-Tryptophan, an amino acid that increases production of the chemical serotonin.
- 5-HTP from Griffonia Seed Extract, to increase serotonin production, and reduce anxiety and insomnia.
- Montmorency cherry, which is high in melatonin, and helps to regulate sleep and wake cycles.
- Grape skin, also a natural source of melatonin.
- Watermelon, high in L-Tryptophan and a natural source of mood-boosting magnesium.
- Chamomile, to calm the mind and reduce anxiety
- L-Taurine, an amino acid that has a naturally calming effect on the nervous system.
- Biotin, a B vitamin which helps to maintain a positive, relaxed mood.
Can 5-HTP cause insomnia?
There have been isolated reports of temporary insomnia after taking 5-HTP, but they are rare and most have been found to be related to taking too much of it. This can produce a sudden spike in serotonin levels and cause shivering and anxiety, which can keep you awake.
Taking 5-HTP in the recommended dosages should actually help you to fall asleep, not keep you awake.
How long does it take for 5HTP to work?
If you take 5-HTP for sleep 30 minutes before bed time, it should "work" to help you fall asleep more easily immediately. If you are taking 5-HTP to treat other conditions such as anxiety or depression, or to help reduce cravings as part of a weight loss program, it may take several weeks for you to notice its full effects.
Is 5-HTP good for you?
Yes. Your body wouldn't be able to create serotonin, its "happiness hormone," without it. Taken as a supplement, all indications thus far from clinical studies indicate that 5-HTP is very good for you indeed.
Is 5-HTP bad for you?
No. Not unless you take too much of it (over 400mg per day), or try to combine it with medications with which it interacts negatively (see the Warnings section of this guide for more information).
What clinical research is there on the benefits of 5-HTP?
There have been so many research studies showing the benefits of 5HTP that it's impossible to list all of them in this article. Here are a few of them:
General overview of 5-HTP and its benefits
5-HTP and Sleep
- The combination of 5-HTP and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) increased sleep duration, improved sleep quality significantly, and reduced the time it took to fall asleep.
5-HTP and Depression
5-HTP and Weight loss
- Subjects taking 5-HTP consumed 432 fewer calories per day
- 5-HTP reduces the intake of calories from carbohydrates, and is associated with better control of blood sugar in diabetics
- 5-HTP reduces excessive eating due to stress or depression
- 5-HTP increases feelings of fullness in overweight or obese subjects
5-HTP and Fibromyalgia
5-HTP and Migraine
- 5-HTP daily for 6 months prevented or significantly decreased migraine attacks in 71% of participants.
- 5-HTP caused a 70% decrease in migraine frequency, compared to an 11% decrease in the placebo group.
5-HTP for Sleep Reviews in the UK
Our Advanced Night-Time Nutrients contains a premium source of 5HTP - it’s 100% natural, vegan, and gluten-free, and contains a full range of ingredients that have been proven to be one of the most effective anxiety-reduction and sleep-aid supplements on the market.
97% of our customers slept better after taking Advanced Night-Time Nutrients. 98% would recommend to a friend. You can read other customer reviews of Advanced Night-Time Nutrients here, at the bottom of the page.
If you're having trouble falling asleep lately, isn't it worth giving our natural sleep aid a try?
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