The Health Benefits of 5-HTP

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

The Health Benefits of 5-HTP

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a chemical that the body makes from tryptophan (an essential amino acid that you get from food).

After tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, the chemical is changed into another chemical called serotonin (a neurotransmitter that relays signals between brain cells). 5-HTP dietary supplements help raise serotonin levels in the brain.

Since serotonin helps regulate mood and behavior, 5-HTP may have a positive effect on sleep, mood, anxiety, appetite, and pain sensation.

5-HTP is not found in the foods we eat, although tryptophan is found in foods. Eating foods with tryptophan does not increase 5-HTP levels very much, however. As a supplement, 5-HTP is made from the seeds of an African plant called Griffonia simplicifolia.

In 1989, the presence of a contaminant called Peak X was found in tryptophan supplements.

Researchers believed that an outbreak of eosinophilic myalgia syndrome (EMS, a potentially fatal disorder that affects the skin, blood, muscles, and organs) could be traced to the contaminated tryptophan, and the U.S.

Food and Drug Administration pulled all tryptophan supplements off the market. Since then, Peak X was also found in some 5-HTP supplements, and there have been a few reports of EMS associated with taking 5-HTP.

However, the level of Peak X in 5-HTP was not high enough to cause any symptoms, unless very high doses of 5-HTP were taken. Because of this concern, however, you should talk to your health care provider before taking 5-HTP, and make sure you get the supplement from a reliable manufacturer. (See «Precautions» section.)

5-HTP may help treat a wide variety of conditions related to low serotonin levels, including the following:


Preliminary studies indicate that 5-HTP may work as well as certain antidepressant drugs to treat people with mild-to-moderate depression.

the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which includes fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), 5-HTP increases the levels of serotonin in the brain.

One study compared the effects of 5-HTP to fluvoxamine (Luvox) in 63 people and found that those who were given 5-HTP did just as well as those who received Luvox. They also had fewer side effects than the Luvox group. However, these studies were too small to say for sure if 5-HTP works. More research is needed.


Research suggests that 5-HTP can improve symptoms of fibromyalgia, including pain, anxiety, morning stiffness, and fatigue.

Many people with fibromyalgia have low levels of serotonin, and doctors often prescribe antidepressants. antidepressants, 5-HTP raises levels of serotonin in the brain.

However, it does not work for all people with fibromyalgia. More studies are needed to understand its effect.


In one study, people who took 5-HTP went to sleep quicker and slept more deeply than those who took a placebo. Researchers recommend 200 to 400 mg at night to stimulate serotonin, but it may take 6 to 12 weeks to be fully effective.

Migraines and Other Headaches

Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for migraine headaches. Studies suggest that high doses of 5-HTP may help people with various types of headaches, including migraines. However, the evidence is mixed, with other studies showing no effect.


A few small studies have investigated whether 5-HTP can help people lose weight. In one study, those who took 5-HTP ate fewer calories, although they were not trying to diet, compared to those who took placebo. Researchers believe 5-HTP led people to feel more full (satiated) after eating, so they ate less.

A follow-up study, which compared 5-HTP to placebo during a diet and non-diet period, found that those who took 5-HTP lost about 2% of body weight during the non-diet period and another 3% when they dieted. Those taking placebo did not lose any weight.

However, doses used in these studies were high, and many people experienced side effects such as nausea. If you are seriously overweight, see your health care provider before taking any weight-loss aid.

Remember that you will need to change your eating and exercise habits to lose more than a few pounds.

You can't get 5-HTP from food. The amino acid tryptophan, which the body uses to make 5-HTP, can be found in turkey, chicken, milk, potatoes, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, turnip and collard greens, and seaweed.

5-HTP is made from tryptophan in the body, or can be taken as a supplement. Supplements are made from extracts of the seeds of the African tree Griffonia simplicifolia. 5-HTP can also be found in many multivitamin and herbal preparations.


Because 5-HTP can be toxic at high doses, you should talk to your health care provider before taking 5-HTP. Your provider can help determine the right dose for you.

Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of your health care provider.

Tryptophan use has been associated with the development of serious conditions, such as liver and brain toxicity, and with eosinophilic myalgia syndrome (EMS), a potentially fatal disorder that affects the skin, blood, muscles, and organs (see «Overview» section). Such reports prompted the FDA to ban the sale of all tryptophan supplements in 1989. As with tryptophan, EMS has been reported in 10 people taking 5-HTP.

Side effects of 5-HTP are generally mild and may include nausea, heartburn, gas, feelings of fullness, and rumbling sensations in some people. At high doses, serotonin syndrome, a dangerous condition caused by too much serotonin in the body, could develop. Talk to your provider before taking higher-than-recommended doses.

People with high blood pressure or diabetes should talk to their doctor before taking 5-HTP.

If you take antidepressants, you should not take 5-HTP (see «Possible Interactions» section).

People with liver disease, pregnant women, and women who are breastfeeding should not take 5-HTP.

If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use 5-HTP without first talking to your health care provider.


People who are taking antidepressant medications should not take 5-HTP without their provider's supervision. These medications could combine with 5-HTP to cause serotonin syndrome, a dangerous condition involving mental changes, hot flashes, rapidly fluctuating blood pressure and heart rate, and possibly coma. Some antidepressant medications that can interact with 5-HTP include:

  • SSRIs: Citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluvoxamine (Luvox), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Tricyclics: Amitriptyline (Elavil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Phenelzine, (Nardil), tranylcypromine (Parnate)
  • Nefazodone (Serzone)


Taking 5-HTP with carbidopa, a medication used to treat Parkinson disease, may cause a scleroderma- illness. Scleroderma is a condition where the skin becomes hard, thick, and inflamed.

Tramadol (Ultram)

Tramadol, used for pain relief, and sometimes prescribed for people with fibromyalgia, may raise serotonin levels too much if taken with 5-HTP. Serotonin syndrome has been reported in some people taking the two together.

Dextromethorphan (Robitussin DM, and others)

Taking 5-HTP with dextromethorphan, found in cough syrups, may cause serotonin levels to increase to dangerous levels, a condition called serotonin syndrome.

Meperidine (Demerol)

Taking 5-HTP with Demerol may cause serotonin levels to increase to dangerous levels, a condition called serotonin syndrome.

Triptans (used to treat migraines)

5-HTP can increase the risk of side effects, including serotonin syndrome, when taken with these medications:

  • Naratriptan (Amerge)
  • Rizatriptan (Maxalt)
  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex)
  • Zolmitriptan (Zomig)

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Cangiano C, Ceci F, Cascino A, et al. Eating behavior and adherence to dietary prescriptions in obese adult subjects treated with 5-hydroxytryptophan. J Clin Nutr. 1992;56(5):863-867.

Caruso I, Sarzi Puttini P, Cazzola M, Azzolini V. Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome. J Int Med Res. 1990;18(3):201-209.

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Freedman RR. Treatment of menopausal hot flashes with 5-hydroxytryptophan. Maturitas. 2010;65(4):383-385.

Gardner DM, Lynd LD. Sumatriptan contraindications and the serotonin syndrome. Ann Pharmacother. 1998;32(1):33-38.

Gendle MH, Young EL, Romano AC. Effects of oral 5-hydroxytryptophan on a standardized planning task: insight into possible dopamine/serotonin interactions in the forebrain. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2013;28(3):270-273.

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Joffe RT, Sokolov ST. Co-administration of fluoxetine and sumatriptan: the Canadian experience. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1997;95(6):551-552.

Joly P, Lampert A, Thomine E, Lauret P. Development of pseudobullous morphea and scleroderma- illness during therapy with L-5-hydroxytryptophan and carbidopa. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1991;25(2 pt 1):332-333.

Juhl JH. Primary fibromyalgia syndrome and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan: a 90-day open study. Altern Med Rev. 1998;3(5):367-375.

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Mason BJ, Blackburn KH. Possible serotonin syndrome associated with tramadol and sertraline coadministration. Ann Pharmacother. 1997;31(2):175-177.

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Unwinding at Night: The Benefits of 5-HTP for Sleep and Anxiety

The Health Benefits of 5-HTP

If you suffer from anxiety, it could be impacting your sleep hygiene, and vice versa. Anxiety can trigger changes to your sleep patterns, while poor sleep can impact emotional regulation and mood.

5-HTP (or 5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a chemical naturally found in the body, which has a direct or indirect impact on sleep and anxiety. It can also be produced for supplementation from the seeds of an African plant called Griffonia Simplicifolia.

Here, we investigate the research into the benefits of using 5-HTP to help you achieve better sleep, and how to supplement it in your diet.

What is 5-HTP?

A naturally-occurring amino acid, 5-HTP supports the body’s production of serotonin — an important chemical messenger that transmits signals between your nerve cells.


Often called the ‘happy hormone’, serotonin is mostly known for its role in wellbeing and regulating the sleep-wake cycles.ii Low serotonin stores have been linked to cases of anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.

iii Increasing your intake of 5-HTP, therefore, could offer multiple health benefits.

How does 5-HTP support sleep?

It’s thought that 5-HTP supports sleep by promoting the production of serotonin.

Some experts believe increased serotonin production can impact sleep health as it may affect emotional factors known to interfere with sleep.

Given that 5-HTP aids the production of serotonin, experts believe it can play a role in reducing anxiety, stress and depression. In a 2012 study, researchers found that taking 5-HTP reduced symptoms of panic and anxiety in subjects with a panic disorder.iv In managing symptoms of anxiety, 5-HTP can help to relax the mind and prepare the body for bed at night.

Research also suggests 5-HTP may support the reduction of low mood and depressionv, which can lead to sleep troubles, but more studies are needed into this area.

While the exact causes of depression remain largely unknown, some experts believe a serotonin imbalance may, in certain circumstances, be a contributing factor.

vi By increasing levels of serotonin, therefore, 5-HTP may help to improve the regulation of mood and promote better sleep health.

5-HTP also aids sleep as it increases levels of serotonin, which plays a role in levels of the body’s sleep hormone, melatoninvii, so an increase in serotonin influences melatonin production.

Melatonin governs the body’s ‘sleep-wake’ cycle. Production of the hormone rises in the evening to promote sleep and drops in the morning to help wake the body up. With its capacity to increase serotonin, 5-HTP aids the neurochemical process that encourages quality sleep and regulates the biological clock.

There’s a growing body of data to suggest 5-HTP may help shorten sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and increase sleep amounts. A review of available treatments for poor sleep revealed that 5-HTP supported the reduction of sleep-walking, sleep terrors, and arousal.viii

Another study highlighted that when 5-HTP was combined with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) — a chemical messenger that promotes relaxation — it significantly decreased the time it took to fall asleep, improved sleep quality, and increased sleep duration.ix However, while these findings are promising, it’s difficult to ascertain the effects of 5-HTP in insolation since GABA was also involved in the analysis.

What is the best way to boost my 5-HTP intake?

Since 5-HTP can’t be found in food, the only means to attain it is through supplementation. To support quality sleep, we recommend taking 100-300 mg of Nature’s Best 5-HTP 100 mg (extracted from 800 mg Griffonia seeds), 30-45 minutes before bed.

5-HTP can negatively interact with some medications (particularly those that increase serotonin production) you should always consult your doctor before taking it.

  By increasing serotonin, 5-HTP helps to minimise stress, anxiety, and low mood — all of which can disrupt sleep — as well as indirectly supporting the production of melatonin. It’s an excellent addition to your diet for aiding sleep.

If you’d to learn more about improving your sleep hygiene, as well as more information on other natural sleep supplements, explore our dedicated sleep health resources.


  1. Van De Walle. G. (2018). 5 Science-Based Benefits of 5-HTP (Plus Dosage and Side Effects). Healthline. Available online:

  2. McIntosh. J. & Wilson D. (2009). Serotonin: Facts, uses, SSRIs, and sources. Medical News Today. Available online:

  3. Vashadze. S. (2007). Insomnia, serotonin and depression. Georgian Med News. (150), 22-4.

  4. Schruers. K., van Diest. R., et al. (2002). Acute l-5-hydroxytryptophan administration inhibits carbon dioxide-induced panic in panic disorder patients. Psychiatry Research. 113(3), 237-243.

  5. Shaw. K., Turner. J., Del Mar. C., et al. (2002). Tryptophan and 5-Hydroxytryptophan for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

  6. Cowen. P. & Browning. M. (2015). What has serotonin to do with depression? World Psychiatry. 14(2), 158-160.

  7. Van De Walle. G. (2018). 5 Science-Based Benefits of 5-HTP (Plus Dosage and Side Effects). Healthline. Available online:

  8. Manni. R., Toscano. G., Terzahi. M. (2018). Treatment of insomnia: effectiveness and tolerance of a valerian extract [in German]. Current Treatment Options in Neurology. 20(7).

  9. Shell. W., Bullias. D., et al. (2010). A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of an Amino Acid Preparation on Timing and Quality of Sleep. American Journal of Therapeutics. 17(2), 133-139.



Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut.

After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related.

There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.

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6 Surprising 5-HTP Benefits + Side Effects & Dosage

The Health Benefits of 5-HTP

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid precursor of serotonin with potential antidepressant, anti-anxiety, sleep, and weight management benefits, though it’s not without dangers. Read this post to learn more about the health benefits and downsides of supplementing with 5-HTP.

What is 5-HTP?

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid that serves as a precursor for the biosynthesis of serotonin and melatonin in the brain from the amino acid tryptophan.

Currently, depression is thought to caused (at least partially) by having low levels of serotonin in the brain, however, it is still not fully understood as to what exactly causes depression [1, 2].

5-HTP in supplement form is extracted from the plant Griffoniasimplicifolia, an African shrub.

Testing Serotonin

It is not possible to measure serotonin levels in a human brain without a brain biopsy. Indirect markers that are good indicators of serotonin levels in the brain are cortisol levels and blood or urinary HIAA levels [3, 4].

Primary Benefit of 5-HTP

The people who most commonly use 5-HTP are those who struggle with depression.

Note that 5-HTP supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use and generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

1) Depression

In small clinical studies, 5-HTP alleviated depression better than a placebo. However, more large-scale and higher quality studies are necessary to confirm the safety and effectiveness of 5-HTP [5].

The antidepressant effects of 5-HTP have been comparable to those of some conventional antidepressants [6].

The combined use of 5-HTP and SSRIs seem to have strong synergistic effects on serotonin levels in rats and humans. Therefore, some research has investigated the use of slow-release 5-HTP in combination with SSRIs [7, 8, 9].

In a small clinical trial involving 52 healthy male subjects, 5-HTP and an SSRI enhanced serotonin levels by 35% and 100%, respectively. Together, however, they increased serotonin by 500% [8].

Additional clinical trials are required to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of this approach. Do not combine 5-HTP and medications without the recommendation and supervision of a doctor.

Other Potential Benefits

5-HTP is currently under investigation for several other health benefits, for which the evidence is not as strong as in the case of depression. The available research here is considered insufficient, either because the human trials are small or because only animal studies exist. Talk to your doctor before using 5-HTP for any reason.

“Insufficient Evidence”:

The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of 5-HTP for any of the below-listed uses. Remember to speak with a doctor before taking 5-HTP, and never use it in place of something your doctor recommends or prescribes.

2) Panic Attacks and Anxiety

In a small study of 15 young adults who suffer stress or anxiety from unreciprocated romanticism, 6-weeks of supplementation with 5-HTP decreased anxiety by 3 weeks. The authors attributed the positive results to increased BDNF and serotonin levels [10].

24 people who suffered from chronic panic attacks, due to lower availability of serotonin in the brain, found significant relief after taking 200 mg of 5-HTP [11].

In clinical trials, herbal extracts of 5-HTP were shown to activate GABA receptors or increase GABA levels, promoting a sense of relaxation and decreased anxiety [12].

While these results have been promising, more human trials are required to determine the role of 5-HTP in people with anxiety disorders.

3) Appetite, Cravings, and Weight Loss

Carbohydrates increase serotonin levels in the brain. Supplementing with 5-HTP can mitigate carbohydrate craving and appetite; thus, it could help with adherence to dietary interventions and weight loss [13, 14].

In small clinical trials, 5-HTP supplementation in obese women resulted in no mood changes but decreased food intake and caused weight loss [15, 15].

Dietary Intervention in Type II Diabetes

In a 2-week-long clinical trial involving 25 overweight diabetic subjects given no dietary restrictions, subjects who received 5-HTP had reduced caloric, carbohydrate, and fat intake compared to placebo. Subjects who received 5-HTP also have reduced body weight, blood sugar, insulin, and HbA1C levels after 2 weeks, possibly due to changes in the diet [16].

As always, talk to your doctor before using 5-HTP for this purpose. They can help you develop an appropriate weight loss plan, which may or may not include 5-HTP.

4) Sleep Quality

In a person with a genetic mutation that caused serotonin deficiency, it resulted in a lack of a circadian rhythm and overeating. For this person, supplementation with 5-HTP restored a normal circadian rhythm and food intake [17].

Over long periods of supplementation, production of GABA receptors increased, which assisted with natural sleep cycles and the promotion of healthy sleep [18].

A small clinical trial demonstrated that the use of 5-HTP in combination with GABA significantly improved sleep quality in 9 subjects with sleep disorders, in comparison to placebo [19].

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Nightmares in Children

Children aged 3 to 10 who suffer from nightmares had a 93.5% reduction after taking 2 mg/kg of 5-HT for a month every night before bed [20].

5) Fibromyalgia

5-HTP supplementation has repeatedly been shown to improve symptoms of fibromyalgia since the early 1990s. People with fibromyalgia who take 5-HTP report reduced anxiety and depression, better sleep quality, and less pain [21].

6) Migraines

The exact cause of migraines is still unknown, but many researchers and doctors now believe that low serotonin is at the root. To that end, many migraine medications increase serotonin, and 5-HTP has been found to decrease the frequency of migraine attacks when used regularly [22, 23, 24].

5-HTP Versus Tryptophan

5-HTP and tryptophan are both serotonin precursors, so what are the differences between them? Is one more effective than the other?

1) 5-HTP is Readily Made into Serotonin

The amino acid tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP before it is converted to serotonin. TPH1 and TPH2, the enzymes responsible for converting tryptophan to 5-HTP, are the slowest (rate-limiting) enzymes in serotonin production [25].

5-HTP is readily and freely converted to serotonin without biochemical inhibition.

2) The Blood-Brain Barrier

Tryptophan competes with leucine, valine, tyrosine, and isoleucine to cross the blood-brain barrier [26].

5-HTP, however, does not compete with other amino acids to enter the brain.

5-HTP readily crosses the blood-brain barrier without receptors or channels.

Serotonin does not cross the blood-brain barrier, so serotonin outside of the brain (in the gut, platelets, heart, and liver) stays separate from serotonin in the brain.

5-HTP gets converted into serotonin both inside and outside of the brain.

3) 5-HTP is Only Made Into Serotonin

While tryptophan can be used for protein synthesis and the production of niacin, 5-HTP can only be converted into serotonin [27].

Tryptophan can be converted into kynurenic acid and quinolinic acid, which are involved in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and ADHD [27].

These conversions happen more in individuals with inflammation, which may be a link between inflammation and psychiatric or neurological disorders [28, 29, 30].

5-HTP is not directly converted into neurotoxic metabolites [31].


Remember that there have not been sufficient studies to determine a safe and effective 5-HTP dose for various ailments, and the FDA has not approved its use for any medical purpose or health claim. That being said, many clinical studies have found significant results using similar doses.

200 mg safely increased serotonin levels in the brain [5]. Higher dosages increase the lihood of side effects.

In obesity and weight loss intervention studies, up to 900 mg or 8 mg/kg of body weight of 5-HTP was safely used for 2 weeks, although side effects of nausea and vomiting were reported [15].

Talk to your doctor before supplementing to prevent adverse side effects and unexpected interactions.

5-HTP Absorption and Elimination

5-HTP is rapidly absorbed in the upper intestine, with 50% of 5-HTP absorbed in 1.5 hours [32].

Elimination of 5-HTP is also rapid [32].

Due to the rapid pharmacokinetics of 5-HTP, some researchers have suggested that slow-release supplementation of 5-HTP may be more beneficial to maintain serotonin levels in the brain [9].

About 70% of ingested 5-HTP is measurable in the bloodstream [33].

Patients who take 5-hydroxytryptophan have severely decreased levels of P450 expression [34].

Risks and Side Effects of 5-HTP Supplementation

This is not intended to be a complete list of all possible side effects of 5-HTP. To avoid these and other adverse events and interactions, talk to your doctor before supplementing.

1) Nausea and Vomiting

Since serotonin in the digestive system controls gut movement, all interventions that increase serotonin levels, including 5-HTP supplementation and SSRI antidepressants, can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The most commonly reported side effects of 5-HTP in all clinical trials in humans are nausea and vomiting as the quick surge of serotonin throughout the body is not well tolerated (35, 36).

Slow-released 5-HTP may be better tolerated and less ly to cause side effects [9].

2) Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Epinephrine Depletion

Serotonin shares the same conversion (AAAD) and breakdown enzyme (MAO) with other neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine).

Long-term supplementation of 5-HTP can cause imbalances of these neurotransmitters. It is therefore recommended that 5-HTP supplementation is supervised by qualified clinicians and balanced with neurotransmitter precursors [37].

In cases where there is too much 5-HTP, it will reduce dopamine synthesis as a result of overwhelming the AAAD enzyme through competitive inhibition, leading to depletion of dopamine, norepinephrine and other neurotransmitters [37].

With increasing doses of 5-HTP, MAO activity increases. When this happens, MAO can then break down dopamine and cause it to decrease [37].

3) Serotonin Syndrome

5-HTP is freely converted to serotonin without biochemical feedback inhibition. When infinitely high amounts of 5-HTP are administered, it is theoretically possible to achieve extremely high levels of serotonin. One limiting factor is the availability of the enzyme L-aromatic amino acid decarboxylase (AAAD), which is an enzyme that converts 5-HTP to serotonin [37].

Serotonin syndrome explains a set of symptoms caused by very high levels of serotonin, which can be very serious and life-threatening [38].

Mild symptoms include shivering, sweating, tremor, restless limbs, and headache. Serious symptoms include hypertension, fever, mania, hallucination, and ataxia [39].

Serotonin syndrome is almost exclusively caused by SSRI and MAOI combinations, causing excessive levels of serotonin in the brain [9].

5-HTP or 5-HTP in combination with SSRI has not been reported to cause serotonin syndrome [9, 40]. But if it’s taken with SSRIs, it might theoretically increase the risk of serotonin syndrome.

4) Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome

Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) is a disease causing severe, disabling, chronic muscle pain, skin symptoms, and other neurotoxic reactions which have affected over 1,500 people and caused at least 38 deaths. The FDA estimated that there are 10 EMS cases associated with 5-HTP worldwide [41].

It seems more ly that it is caused by bacterial contamination in the supplement than tryptophan or 5-HTP itself. No new cases of supplement-related EMS have been reported since 1990 [42].

Other Side Effects

Other rare side effects of 5-HTP include hypomania, lightheadedness, headache, and heart palpitations [43, 40].


5-HTP: benefits, dosage and side-effects

The Health Benefits of 5-HTP

5-HTP, which is the shortened name for L-5 hydroxytryptophan, is a compound that’s made by the body.1

This compound is created by our bodies from the amino acid, tryptophan, which is found in foods, such as turkey, salmon, seeds and eggs.2

In this article, we talk you through all you need to know about 5-HTP, including what it does, the benefits of taking it and how much you might need of it.

What is 5-HTP and what does it do?

Our bodies use 5-HTP to make the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which contributes towards mood and appetite regulation, as well as influencing gut function.

5-HTP isn’t present in any foods, which means it isn’t something we can simply just get from our diet.

It is possible to take 5-HTP supplements – this removes the need for our bodies to create it from tryptophan, which is believed to raise serotonin levels in the body.

5-HTP supplements (more on them below) tend to be made from the seeds of an African shrub called Griffonia simplicifolia.3

5-HTP benefits and uses

As we’ve just mentioned up above, 5-HTP is involved in the production of serotonin.

It’s thought regulating the amount of serotonin in our system may have an impact on many conditions, including:

The evidence for 5-HTP’s ability to tackle depression is still unclear, but some studies have found it to have a positive effect.

For example, a 2013 trial of 70 patients, who were experiencing their first episode of depression, concluded 5-HTP did have an ‘antidepressant effect’ on the subjects.4

It’s still not known exactly what causes migraines, but one theory is they’re triggered by changes in serotonin levels within the brain.5

This has led to some researchers studying the effects of 5-HTP on migraines – according to one classic study published in European Neurology in 1986, migraineurs who took 5-HTP experienced reduced severity and duration of attacks.6

For more on migraines, check out this article, ‘The ultimate guide to migraines.’

One 1998 study involving 20 people found that people who were taking 5-HTP consumed fewer calories from carbohydrates and fat than those taking a placebo.7

In a more recent 2016 trial, researchers from Brunel University backed up these findings.

Using brain imaging scans, their study suggested 5-HTP alters our brain activity when we look at food, shifting our focus away from high-calorie and high-carbohydrate foods, and towards healthier and higher protein foods.8

It’s believed taking 5-HTP may help ease anxiety. However, more research is required to prove this.

Early studies have found that taking 25 to 150 mg of 5-HTP a day, alongside carbidopa, appears to reduce anxiety symptoms.

However, other early research has shown taking higher doses of 5-HTP, 225mg a day or more, may make anxiety worse.

More research into the link between 5-HTP and anxiety is therefore required.9

5-HTP produces serotonin, which can be converted into the hormone, melatonin.

It’s this particular hormone that helps regulate our sleep and, because of this, it’s thought that taking 5-HTP for sleep can potentially increase how much melatonin our bodies produce.10

Studies have also found that 5-HTP can have a positive effect on fibromyalgia.

This is due to the fact low serotonin levels have been linked to potentially contributing to the condition, which causes muscle and bone pain and weakness.

Initial studies have found 5-HTP may improve symptoms of fibromyalgia due to its ability to increase serotonin levels.11


5-HTP helps our bodies produce serotonin.

Because of this, it’s thought it may help with several serotonin-related issues and health conditions, such as migraines, depression and anxiety.

There’s no recommended daily amount for 5-HTP, but studies on its impact on the human body have involved amounts, ranging from 50mg a day to 300mg.

If you’re considering taking 5-HTP, don’t do it unless you’ve seen your GP first, especially if you’re planning on taking higher doses.12

You should not take 5-HTP supplements if you are also taking antidepressants or sleeping tablets, as this can be extremely dangerous.13

5-HTP side effects and risks

So what are the side effects of taking 5-HTP?

Because serotonin is also involved in gut activity, taking 5-HTP can lead to digestive issues, such as heartburn, nausea or diarrhea.14 

This could be avoided if you start on a low dose, and then increase it gradually over a few weeks.15

Other side effects include:

  • Stomach pains
  • Drowsiness
  • Sexual problems
  • Muscle problems

What are the risks associated with taking 5-HTP?

Many experts advise against using 5-HTP to tackle depression.

While low serotonin levels may be one cause, it’s not the only neurotransmitter involved – 5-HTP can actually reduce levels of other brain chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, low levels of which have also been linked to depression.16

If you believe you have depression, talk to your doctor first before trying 5-HTP or any other remedies.

They will be able to advise you on whether or not 5-HTP is the best solution for you and, if it is, the recommended dosage, depending on your symptoms.

Other risks include

  • 5-HTP and pregnant or breastfeeding women — there isn't enough reliable information at present to know if 5-HTP is safe to use when pregnant or breast-feeding. Not taking it is therefore the safest option
  • 5-HTP and children – it’s believed that it’s safe for children, infants to 12-year-olds, to take up to 5mg/kg of 5-HTP a day. However, there is a risk they might develop eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, which is a serious condition that causes extreme muscle tenderness and blood abnormalities
  • H-HTP and surgery – due to 5-HTP’s ability to impact serotonin levels, it’s best to stop taking 5-HTP two weeks before surgery, especially if the medication you’re given during surgery impacts serotonin levels too. Taking 5-HTP pre-surgery might result in there being too much serotonin in the brain, which can lead to serious side effects, including heart problems, shivering and anxiety

Is 5-HTP safe for everyone?

5-HTP tablets aren’t recommended for everybody. If you have a high blood pressure or diabetes, you should speak to your doctor first.17

And if you’re taking antidepressants, have liver disease, are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s not advisable for you to take it.

Is 5-HTP bad for your liver?

Taking 5-HTP tablets can potentially mean you’re at risk (a small risk) of developing liver toxicity. L-tryptophan, which is closely linked to 5-HTP and has been associated with liver failure.18

While 5-HTP may not categorically cause this problem, its connections with L-tryptophan means it’s best you check with your doctor first if you do intend to take it.

This is particularly important if you currently have or have had liver problems in the past.

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