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5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is derived from Tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids in our body through biochemical synthesis. Tryptophan can be found in plant and animal products including fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, chocolate, oats, sesame and su
What Is 5-HTP?
5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is made in our body from Tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. Tryptophan can be found in plant and animal products including fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, chocolate, oats, sesame and sunflower seeds, among many others.
With the help of an enzyme, 5-HTP is converted into a neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin is called the “happy chemical” because this neurotransmitter is known to contribute to the feeling of wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin has been known to have a role in the regulation of our mood, sleep, pain sensation, appetite, memory, and social behaviour.
Interestingly, in the evening, pineal gland starts converting serotonin into melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone mainly involved in the sleep regulation and maintaining our circadian rhythm (the “biological clock” that regulates our mental and physical changes in a 24-hour cycle). Therefore, 5-HTP has a role in the production of both serotonin and melatonin in our body.
Why Take 5-HTP VersusTryptophan?
Many researchers suggest that serotonin levels in the brain are highly associated with the levels of 5-HTP and Tryptophan in our body. While our blood cells and intestinal cells make and/or use serotonin, all serotonin used by our brain cells must be made within the brain because serotonin cannot pass the barrier between the blood and brain (known as the “blood-brain-barrier”). Therefore, the synthesis of serotonin in the brain largely depends on the availability of Tryptophan and 5-HTP.
There are several studies that support the association between Tryptophan and serotonin and/or melatonin. For instance, a study found that taking tryptophan at night time appeared to increase concentrations of both serotonin and melatonin. Another experiment showed that tryptophan depletion in human subjects may have a negative impact on staying in sleep.
For Tryptophan to gain access to the brain, it requires a transport molecule. The downside is that Tryptophan shares this transport molecule with five other amino acids(tyrosine, phenylalanine, valine, leucine and isoleucine). These amino acids can compete one another to be transported, reducing the transport of Tryptophan into the brain. Since Tryptophan is present in foods in relatively small amounts compared to these amino acids, as little as 1 % of dietary Tryptophan may be transported into the brain. Moreover, factors like stress, elevated cortisol levels, and vitamin B6 deficiency can also compromise Tryptophan transport.
On the other hand, 5-HTP does not require such transport molecule to be transported into the brain. Therefore, the absorption of 5-HTP was shown to be not affected by the presence of other amino acids. When taken orally, 5-HTP was found to be well absorbed, with about 70% ending up in our blood. 5-HTP orally taken has been found to easily enter the brain and effectively increase central nervous system synthesis of serotonin.
Uses of 5-HTP
Depression: Much of the published research on 5-HTP involves its use in the treatment of depression and mood regulation. Of the 15 studies looking at the clinical effects of 5-HTP on depression, 56% of the subjects with depression showed significant mood improvement after receiving 5-HTP therapy.
Migraine: Chronic headaches,especially migraines, are considered by some researchers to be the result of low serotonin levels. Low serotonin levels are thought to lower pain tolerance in our body, therefore allowing headache triggers to more easily set off a headache. 5-HTP has been used in the prevention of chronic headaches of various types, including juvenile headaches, tension headaches,and migraine. A study comparing the effects of 5-HTP to one of the most widely used migraine drugs suggested that 5-HTP may be effective for preventing or decreasing the number of migraine attacks in humans.
Nutridom 5-HTP provides 100 mg of 5-HTP per capsule. For healthy mood balance or a prophylactic for migraine headaches, 1 capsule 3 times a day is recommended for adults. To minimize the risk of gastrointestinal side effects, starting at 1 per day and slowly increasing to effective dose over 2 weeks period is recommended.
Yurcheshen, M., Seehuus, M.,& Pigeon, W. (2015). Updates on nutraceutical sleep therapeutics and investigational research. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015.
(2017) A review of sleep disorders and melatonin, Neurological Research, 39:6, 559-565,
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