Everyone may experience difficulties in social situations at some point in their lives. From the inability to face any form of interaction, to the panic many people feel when asked to give a speech, social anxiety is a wide-ranging and hard to diagnose condition. In a US study, people generally reported "worrying" for an average of 55 minutes a day, compared to over 300 minutes a day in people suffering from anxiety . The subject of huge amounts of ongoing research, sufferers and clinicians alike are asking for more answers. Could taking 5-htp help?
What is social anxiety disorder?
One in four people in the UK will experience mental health problems in a year . In 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety - placing it consistently within the top three mental health problems in the UK . Social anxiety disorder is characterised by an overwhelming and persistent fear of social situations. In sufferers, everyday things can provoke intense anxiety, such as speaking on the phone or shopping, causing them to fear doing or saying something inappropriate or humiliating. It's a type of phobia that can have a disabling impact on a person's ability to live day to day, affecting self-esteem, hampering relationships and interfering with performance at work or academically.
Social anxiety, cortisol and serotonin
Your body is wired with a complex alarm system designed to trigger when you encounter a perceived threat – such as a large dog barking. Your hypothalamus at the base of your brain springs into action, setting off a combination of nerve and hormonal signals that prompt your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenaline sets your heart pumping and beefs up your energy resources. Cortisol – known as the “stress hormone” – increases your blood sugar, fuels your brain and puts more substances on hand to repair tissues.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol halts anything that might not help in a fight or flight situation, altering your immune system’s responses and suppressing digestion, the reproductive system and growth while your body deals with the threat. It also communicates with the areas of your brain responsible for mood, fear and motivation. All of this is designed to return to normal once the threat has passed. However, when you feel constantly under attack – through persistent everyday stress – the alarm continues to ring. The overexposure to cortisol can disrupt most of the body’s processes, putting you at an increased risk of anxiety, depression and digestive problems, among others.
How can serotonin help?
Many recent studies have shown a link between excessive cortisol levels and lowered serotonin in the brain . Serotonin is a neurotransmitter – a chemical conduit that carries different signals between the nerve cells in the brain that influence your emotions, mood and sleep. After a message has been transmitted, serotonin is usually reabsorbed by nerve cells – known as “reuptake”. Selective serotonin repute inhibitors (SSRIs), a common type of antidepressant drug that is also widely prescribed for moderate to severe anxiety, work by blocking this reabsorption so more serotonin is on hand to transmit further messages. The theory is that by promoting more active serotonin to boost mood, the effects of excessive cortisol in the body can be counteracted.
Does 5-htp work for anxiety?
Some studies have found that 5-htp can help to relieve anxiety and boost mood, including protecting against carbon dioxide-induced panic attacks  and comparable to Clomipramine (a tricyclic antidepressant) in reducing the symptoms of anxiety . 5-htp (a pre-cursor to serotonin – otherwise known chemically as 5-HT) has been used to treat depression for over 30 years. In short, when taken as a supplement, it interacts with an enzyme that strips off part of the molecule to leave serotonin that can work to counteract the effects of excessive cortisol in anxiety and improve the production of melatonin for better sleep.
brain feed’s 5-htp supplements are the smallest yet most nutrient-dense tablets available on the market. The UK’s premium supplier, brain feed put your health and wellbeing front and centre of product design, using 100% naturally derived ingredients to drive results grounded in science. Made from the highest quality extracts taken from sustainable sources – in this case, from griffonia seeds – they are twice the strength of 5-htp available from Holland & Barrett and MyProtein, helping you to relieve your anxiety in an easy-to-swallow, reliable and consistent tablet.
5-htp works on the serotonergic pathway which regulates sleep, appetite and stress so it is more than simply an option for a depressed mood. It’s great for those wishing to maintain health and enhance performance. To find out more about 5-htp click here.
 McManus S, Meltzer H, Brugha T, Bebbington P, Jenkins R (eds), (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: Results of a household survey. [online] NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care, pp.1-274.