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5-HTP for menopause: hope or hype?

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Menopause is a normal phase in the life of women. It usually occurs between the ages of 45-55 years. Women undergo new life-changing symptoms they need to adapt to. Around 80% of women experience hot flushes and night sweats [1] during menopause. Mood swings are reported by 50% of women [2] and 40% of them have disturbed sleep [3].

Hot flushes- why do you feel the heat?

Your brain has a built-in thermostat. It is a fine-tuned system to maintain optimal body temperature by boosting sweating if the temperature rises or inducing chills if the temperature drops. Oestrogen and serotonin are two brain chemicals involved in maintaining the thermostat. During menopause, the levels of oestrogen decreases. This leads to decrease in serotonin and disruption of the thermostat balance, causing hot flushes [4].

Oestrogen and serotonin- what is the connection?

The reproductive hormone, oestrogen is involved in the production and maintenance of your happy chemical, serotonin [5]. Oestrogen increases the production of serotonin and allows it to be available for longer to perform its essential functions.

Serotonin- keeping you cool, happy and well rested

Serotonin must be produced in the brain for temperature, mood, and sleep benefits. Its building block, tryptophan found in protein-rich foods, enters the brain and is converted to serotonin. Oestrogen increases the production of the enzyme that allows this conversion [4]. Enzymes are chemicals that speed up a conversion. In certain countries like the USA, medications that increase serotonin availability in the brain are used to treat hot flushes. A few studies found that these medications decreased hot flushes by 60% [6]. But they can cause serious side effects and in certain cases, increase night sweats [7].

Serotonin promotes positive mood and lowers stress. Low serotonin levels are associated with low mood and depression [8].

Serotonin is also involved in sleep regulation. At night, serotonin is converted to melatonin, the sleep chemical that promotes restful sleep [11]. Low levels of serotonin impact melatonin production.

5-HTP- direct route to serotonin (5-HT)

5-HTP is a supplement that is directly converted to serotonin, bypassing the need for oestrogen. Based on serotonin’s involvement in temperature regulation and its oestrogen-led decline in menopause, 5-HTP seems like a viable solution but evidence is limited. A small study of 24 women with hot flushes were supplemented with 150mg of 5-HTP. They found a lack of significant benefit [8]. Though this group reported a decrease in the number of hot flushes episodes, the small study size meant the evidence is weak and needs further research. 

5-HTP has been studied for its role in mood and depression. A review of 13 studies of 5-HTP supplementation in depressed individuals found that even doses as low as 50mg/day had a beneficial effect in lowering depression scores and improving mood [11]. Another study comparing 5-HTP with an antidepressant found equal benefits in managing depression in 2 weeks [12]

5-HTP has shown to improve troubled sleep. Participants with sleep disorders provided 50mg 5-HTP reported improved sleep quality and lessened episodes of disturbed sleep [13]. Those supplemented with 100mg 5-HTP fell asleep faster [14]. 

Is 5-htp recommended for menopause?

5-HTP is a safe supplement and long-term side effects are unreported. Positive results were seen among other population groups supplemented with 5-HTP. Menopause symptoms like hot flushes, mood and sleep issues and their resolution warrants further research because the theory of 5-HTP’s action is logical and promising.

Some menopause supplements on the market, like Vitabiotics’ Menopace contains 5-HTP but only 20mg per tablet. Research has found beneficial effects at doses 50-300mg/day [9]. Brain feed’s 100mg 5-HTP is extracted and isolated from Ghanian Griffonia Simplicifolia seeds. 98% of the tablet is comprised of 5-HTP making it the smallest, nutrient-dense tablet available and no unnecessary bulking agents. You can read more about it here.

Brain feed is conducting a survey to assess benefits of 5-HTP supplementation among menopausal women. Complete the pre-screening survey below to register your interest:

 


References

  1. NICE. (2022). Menopause. [online]
  2. Health & Her. (2021). A fact-based focus on Perimenopause and Menopause issues faced by women. [online]
  3. Augoulea, A. et al. (2019). Psychosomatic and vasomotor symptom changes during transition to menopause. Przeglad Menopauzalny = Menopause Review, [online] 18(2), pp.110–115. 
  4. Wiśniewska, I. et al. (2016). The pharmacological and hormonal therapy of hot flushes in breast cancer survivors. Breast Cancer (Tokyo, Japan), [online] 23, pp.178–182. 
  5. Rybaczyk, L.A. et al. (2005). An overlooked connection: serotonergic mediation of estrogen-related physiology and pathology. BMC Women’s Health, [online] 5(1). 
  6. Freedman, R.R. (2014). Menopausal hot flashes: Mechanisms, endocrinology, treatment. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, [online] 142, pp.115–120.
  7. Mold, J.W. et al. (2015). Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Night Sweats in a Primary Care Population. Drugs - Real World Outcomes, 2(1), pp.29–33. 
  8. Freedman, R.R. (2010). Treatment of menopausal hot flashes with 5-hydroxytryptophan. Maturitas, 65(4), pp.383–385.
  9. Javelle, F. et al. (2019). Effects of 5-hydroxytryptophan on distinct types of depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews.
  10. Carhart-Harris, R. et al. (2017). Serotonin and brain function: a tale of two receptors. Journal of Psychopharmacology, [online] 31(9), pp.1091–1120.
  11. Poza, J.J., et al. (2020). Melatonin in sleep disorders. Neurología (English Edition). 
  12. Jangid, P. et al. (2013). Comparative study of efficacy of l-5-hydroxytryptophan and fluoxetine in patients presenting with first depressive episode. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 6(1), pp.29–34. 
  13. Meloni, M. et al. (2021). Preliminary finding of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of 5-hydroxytryptophan on REM sleep behavior disorder in Parkinson’s disease. Sleep and Breathing, 26(3), pp.1023–1031. 
  14. Sutanto, C. et al. (2021). The Impact of 5-Hydroxytryptophan Supplementation on Sleep Quality of Older Adults in Singapore: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Current Developments in Nutrition, 5(Supplement_2), pp.372–372. 

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