5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an aromatic amino acid produced naturally in the body from the essential amino acid L-Tryptophan. The 5-HTP in nutritional supplements is extracted from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia, a West African plant. 5-HTP has been used for over 30 years for conditions such as depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia, obesity and chronic headaches. The clinical effectiveness of 5-HTP is due to its ability to increase serotonin levels in the brain.
Serotonin is one of the major neurotransmitters in the body. It plays a prominent role in sleep, depression, anxiety, appetite and pain sensation. Decreased serotonin production has been implicated in a number of disorders including depression, insomnia and fibromyalgia. Supplementing with 5-HTP increases serotonin levels and benefits those conditions where serotonin synthesis is compromised.
One condition in which 5-HTP has been used successfully is fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is characterized by musculo-skeletal pain, multiple tender points, fatigue, morning stiffness and sleep disturbances. In several studies, fibromyalgia patients have been shown to have low levels of serotonin and the serotonin precursor, tryptophan. Three clinical studies utilizing 5-HTP in the treatment of fibromyalgia have demonstrated significant improvement in symptoms including pain, morning stiffness, sleep quality, anxiety and fatigue.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 50 fibromyalgia patients were given 100 mg of 5-HTP 3 times daily for 30 days. All clinical variables that were studied significantly improved including pain severity, morning stiffness, sleep patterns, anxiety and fatigue. In a longer-term study, 50 fibromyalgia patients were treated with 100 mg of 5-HTP 3 times per day for 90 days. Significant improvement was seen in total number of tender points, pain intensity, sleep quality, morning stiffness, anxiety and fatigue.
Depression is another condition in which 5-HTP has been used successfully. Since 1970, at least 15 studies on 511 patients have examined the effectiveness of 5-HTP on depression. The results of these studies have been very positive. Of the 511 patients, 56% showed significant improvement. Also, in studies where 5-HTP was compared to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), or to tricyclic antidepressants, 5-HTP was shown to be at least as effective as these prescription drugs and with fewer side effects. In these studies the response rate for those taking 5-HTP was quite rapid, with many reporting improvement in less than 2 weeks. Conventional antidepressants may take 4 weeks or longer to achieve therapeutic effect.
5-HTP has also been used successfully in the treatment of obesity, chronic headaches and insomnia. Three clinical trials in obese patients have demonstrated decreased food consumption and subsequent weight loss with 5-HTP supplementation. Studies have shown that 5-HTP can help prevent chronic headaches of various types. 5-HTP has been utilized to treat insomnia especially in improving sleep quality by increasing REM sleep.