How does 5-htp work?

how 5-htp works

5-HTP is a natural extract from the Griffonia Simplicifolia seed and a pre-cursor to Serotonin (5-HT) [1, 2]. Once ingested it crosses the blood-brain barrier without the need for a transporter molecule. It subsequently interacts with the dopa-decarboxylase enzyme which strips off a piece of the molecule resulting in serotonin.

What is serotonin?

Serotonin is one of our most important neurotransmitters which is responsible for regulation of a person’s concentration span and mood [3, 4]. If there is an inadequate amount of serotonin there is often a decrease in a person’s performance and emotional state which is why serotonin deficit is implicated in many cases of severe depression [5].

Unlike many anti-depressants such as Prozac, Paxil, Citalopram & Fluoxamine which block the reuptake of serotonin, 5-htp acts to increase the amount of serotonin being produced and released at the presynaptic neuron.

What does it do?

Studies have shown that 5-HTP is beneficial for alleviating the effects of depression, anxiety, suppressing appetite and sleep [6] because of the role serotonin has on our physiology. It's most widely studied application is on depression including tests on the effects of 5-HTP on patients who were unresponsive to other treatment available for depression [9] and on people exhibiting depressive symptoms in which 5-htp has shown to alleviate symptoms [7]

5-HTP had been shown to act as an appetite suppressant. This was demonstrated in 1992 by Cangiano et al. They studied the effects of 5-HTP in 20 obese patients and found that during 5-HTP administration, the participants lost significant amount of a weight [8].

5-HTP has also been shown to improve sleep and fibromyalgia. This was demonstrated when 50 fibromyalgia patients were given 100mg of 5-HTP, three times per day for 30 days [2]. Patients reported improvements in sleep, as well as a number of other symptoms including muscle soreness, anxiety and stiffness. So, 5-HTP may provide a useful treatment for insomnia and fibromyalgia [2].

  1. Berumen, L.C., et al., Serotonin Receptors in Hippocampus. The Scientific World Journal, 2012. 2012: p. 15.
  2. Birdsall, T.C., 5-Hydroxytryptophan: A Clinically-Effective Serotonin Precursor. Alternative Medicine Review, 1998. 3(4): p. 271-280.
  3. Lira, A., et al., Altered depression-related behaviors and functional changes in the dorsal raphe nucleus of serotonin transporter-deficient mice. Biological Psychiatry, 2003. 54(10): p. 960-971.
  4. Prasad, C., Food, mood and health: a neurobiologic outlook. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 1998. 31: p. 1517-1527.
  5. Martini, Nath, and Bartholomew, Fundamentals of Anatomy and Physiology. 9th ed, ed. L. Berriman. 2012, San Francisco: Pearson
  6. van Praag, H.M., et al., A pilot study of the predictive value of the probenecid test in application of 5-hydroxytryptophan as antidepressant. Psychopharmacologia, 1972. 25(1): p. 14-21.
  7. von Sano, T., L-5-Hydroxytryptophan-(L-5-HTP) Therapie*. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 1972. 26(1): p. 7-17.
  8. Cangiano, C., et al., Eating behavior and adherence to dietary prescriptions in obese adult subjects treated with 5-hydroxytryptophan. Am J Clin Nutr, 1992. 56(5): p. 863-7.

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