5-HTP: Could This Be The Key To Happiness?

How 5-HTP boosts your happiness hormone - essential for regulating mood and sleep.

5-HTP: Could This Compound Be The Key To Happiness? photo

You may not have heard of 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) before, yet it plays an important role in mental wellbeing and sleep. We take a look at this fascinating substance that has the potential to unlock the secret to happiness and a good night’s rest.


What is 5-HTP?

5-HTP is a compound naturally produced in the body as a by-product of L-tryptophan, an amino acid (building block of protein). It is a precursor to serotonin, a type of neurotransmitter (chemical messenger in the brain). Serotonin is sometimes referred to as the ‘happiness hormone’, but it doesn’t stop there - serotonin helps to regulate mood and promote calm, supports the production of melatonin (a crucial hormone in the regulation of sleep), contributes towards appetite regulation and influences gut function too.


How does 5-HTP work?

Serotonin is manufactured through a series of chemical reactions in the brain and nervous system. Starting with L-tryptophan, 5-HTP is one of the compounds responsible for converting L-tryptophan into serotonin.

If tryptophan and, subsequently, serotonin levels are decreased, symptoms such as low mood, depression, disrupted sleep and low sex drive may arise.


Where to find 5-HTP

We cannot source 5-HTP from food, instead it is created in the body from tryptophan. This is sourced easily from food sources such as fish, turkey, eggs and seeds, but if there’s not adequate tryptophan in the diet, or issues with digestion and absorption of nutrients, then there may not be sufficient amounts available for the body to use and convert into serotonin.


5-HTP supplements

5-HTP supplements are becoming increasing popular as a natural way to help boost serotonin production. They are made from the seeds of an African shrub called Griffonia simplicifolia.

Although there are numerous studies looking at the impact of 5-HTP on the body, there are no specific recommended daily amounts and dosages can vary between 50mg and 300mg daily.


Risks and side effects associated with 5-HTP supplementation

Caution must be taken when considering 5-HTP supplementation. Some anti-depressant medications, known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), work in a similar way to 5-HTP, increasing the availability of serotonin levels in the brain. For those taking SSRIs, 5-HTP must be avoided completely due to major interactions between the two. It can also be extremely harmful to take 5-HTP alongside certain sleeping tablets.

In addition, 5-HTP has been shown to reduce other important neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, and low levels of these have been associated with depression.

It is advisable to avoid 5-HTP in pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, anyone with liver disease and those who are due to undergo any form of surgery, as there is not currently sufficient evidence to assess its safety in these situations.

Therefore, it is extremely important to seek advice from your GP before considering 5-HTP supplements, particularly if you think you may be at risk of an interaction, and to discuss whether they are appropriate for your specific needs. A registered Nutritional Therapist can also support you and provide helpful advice on supplementation and dosing – click here to book a consultation with one of our experts.

If you do decide to go ahead with 5-HTP supplementation, there are some side effects to be aware of. These are usually associated with higher doses, so it is best to start with a low dose and build up gradually until you notice some benefit. Due to serotonin’s influence on gut function, taking 5-HTP can sometimes cause digestive upset, such as stomach pains, diarrhoea, nausea or heartburn. Other symptoms may include drowsiness, muscle and sexual issues.


Summary

Taking 5-HTP supplements can provide a natural way to help to boost serotonin levels for some people, helping them to find calm, promote restful sleep and support appetite control. However, it’s not for everyone and the risks should always be discussed carefully with a GP or qualified Nutritional Therapist who can talk through your specific needs and the options available.

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