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Last modified on January 4th, 2023
What does 5-HTP do for you, and who should take it? 5-HTP can affect your serotonin levels when you take it as a supplement. Serotonin is a brain chemical playing a role in mood and behavior. As a result, taking 5-HTP could positively affect mood, anxiety, appetite, sleep, and pain.
We cover this supplement below, and if you’re interested in trying a 5-HTP supplement after reading our guide, some of our recommended brands include:
What Is 5HTP?
5-HTP is also written as 5HTP, and the complete name is 5-hydroxytryptohan. It’s a chemical your body makes from tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid you can get from food or supplements.
Once tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, it’s then changed into serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that sends signals between brain cells. A 5-HTP supplement can help raise serotonin levels.
Along with being a serotonin precursor, 5-HTP is also a melatonin precursor.
5-HTP supplements come from the seeds of an African plant. These supplements have grown increasingly popular because of their ability to boost serotonin and make more serotonin available to your brain for use.
If you’re asking what does 5-HTP do for you, it’s worthwhile to understand serotonin. Serotonin carries messages between your brain cells and then throughout your body. Having too low or too high serotonin levels can lead to physical and mental health symptoms and problems.
Along with being a neurotransmitter, serotonin is also a hormone.
The messages carried by serotonin tell your body how to work, and serotonin plays essential roles in your body, including influencing or regulating:
- Body temperature
- Sexual behavior
A lack of serotonin is thought to play a role in anxiety, depression, and mania.
Most of your body’s serotonin is in your intestines. About 90% of all of your serotonin is in your gastrointestinal tract. It’s released into your blood and absorbed by platelets, and only around 10% of your serotonin is produced in your brain.
The specific things that serotonin plays a role in include:
- Mood: Serotonin regulates how you feel. You feel more focused, emotionally stable, calmer, and happier if you have normal serotonin levels. Serotonin is often referred to as a feel-good chemical. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression, and many prescription medicines used to treat mood disorders and depression target serotonin levels in the brain.
- Digestion: The serotonin in your GI tract helps protect your gut and controls bowel function. Your gut can increase the serotonin release to speed up digestion, which can help your body get rid of toxins or irritating foods. Serotonin is also part of reducing your appetite when you’re eating.
- Nausea: You may experience nausea when serotonin gets released into your gut faster than your body can digest. The message received by your brain is perceived as nausea.
- Sleep: Serotonin and dopamine, other neurotransmitters, play a role in your sleep quality. Your brain needs serotonin to make melatonin, and melatonin regulates your sleep-wake cycle.
- Wound healing: Your platelets release serotonin to heal wounds. Serotonin also helps clots form, which is part of wound healing.
- Bone health: Your levels of serotonin might impact your bone density. If you have high serotonin levels in the gut, it could lead to bone weakness.
- Sexual health: Serotonin and dopamine play a major role in sexual desire.
Conditions associated with low serotonin levels include:
- Mood problems
- Sleep problems
- Digestive disorders
- Suicidal behavior
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorders
Low serotonin levels can occur because your body isn’t producing enough or using serotonin effectively. This happens if your receptors aren’t working as they should or you don’t have enough receptors for serotonin.
You can increase serotonin levels by getting more sunlight, exercising, eating foods containing tryptophan, and taking supplements. Foods with tryptophan include eggs, turkey, cheese, and salmon.
Supplements that can help raise your serotonin levels include tryptophan, SAMe, and probiotics. 5-HTP is also, as mentioned, a supplement that can boost serotonin.
Can Your Serotonin Levels Be Too High?
While serotonin is essential and low levels can harm your well-being, you can also have too much.
Serotonin syndrome occurs when your levels are too high, and it’s usually something stemming from taking multiple medications or supplements that raise levels simultaneously.
The milder symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:
- High blood pressure
- Muscle twitches
Severe symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:
- Changes in heartbeat
If someone has severe serotonin syndrome, it can be fatal.
Dopamine vs. Serotonin
Dopamine and serotonin share in common that they’re both neurotransmitters. Both are happy hormones with key roles in your emotions and mood.
Serotonin is more associated with focus, calmness, and happiness. Dopamine is associated with motivation and reward.
Dopamine helps regulate your bodily movements and coordination, whereas serotonin regulates your digestive functions. Dopamine is primarily stored in the brain, and serotonin is in the gut.
What Does 5-HTP Do for You?
Back to our original question—what does 5-HTP do for you?
Some of the things 5-HTP can do for you and the benefits of supplementing might include:
- Depression: There have been several clinical trials that find 5-HTP is as effective as antidepressants, with fewer side effects. In one study, a combination of 5-HTP and creatine was an effective augmentation in women taking an SSRI or SRNI and still experiencing treatment-resistant depression.
- Migraine: Research shows that taking a 5-HTP supplement may help reduce the severity and frequency of migraines or prevent them.
- Fibromyalgia: This chronic condition includes symptoms like widespread pain and fatigue, and in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, after four weeks of taking 5-HTP compared to a placebo, there was an improvement in symptoms with mild side effects.
- Insomnia: Since 5-HTP is thought to increase serotonin and convert serotonin to melatonin, supplementing may help with more regular sleep patterns.
- Weight loss: Taking a 5-HTP supplement may help them maintain a healthy weight or lose weight. It could do this by reducing cravings for unhealthy foods and promoting feelings of fullness.
- Anxiety: There is evidence that taking a 5-HTP supplement can help with anxiety and panic.
5-HTP Side Effects
Most people don’t experience 5-HTP side effects, but if they do, they’re usually mild and might include nausea, upset stomach, or diarrhea. If you are currently taking an antidepressant or have liver disease, you should probably avoid 5-HTP or talk to your doctor first.
Some of the drugs that could interact with a 5-HTP supplement include:
- Antidepressants, including SSRIs like Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft
- Tricyclic medications
- Triptans, used for the treatment of migraines
The above medications can interact with 5-HTP because they raise serotonin, increasing the risk of serotonin syndrome.
How to Take 5-HTP
If you take a 5-HTP supplement, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
In studies, a dose of 150 to 800 mg daily is usually what’s used. In less common scenarios, higher doses might be used. You should speak to your healthcare provider about any questions you have.
There may be more benefits from stacking tryptophan and 5-HTP because they can more easily cross the blood-brain barrier.
- If taking 5-HTP for weight management, consider using 250-300 mg 30 minutes before a meal.
- Take 50 to 100 mg of 5-HTP daily with meals for mood enhancement. Try this for at least a week to see if you notice benefits.
- For fibromyalgia symptoms, consider 100 mg taken 3-4 times daily with meals. Give it at least two weeks to start to see the beneficial effects.
- If you’re dealing with migraines, try 100 to 200 mg of 5-HTP, taken 2-3 times a day with meals. It may be two to three weeks before you notice benefits.
- Take 100 to 300 mg for a sleep aid around 30 to 45 minutes before bed. Some people find that stacking it with a GABA supplement is helpful for sleep support.
What Does 5-HTP Do For You—Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some of the questions people commonly have about 5-HTP and what it does for you.
What happens if you take 5-HTP every day?
You can take 5-HTP every day, and most people find that doing so is most beneficial for them.
It appears safe for most adults when taken orally every day for up to a year. We say up to a year because that’s what research has focused on, but it could be potentially okay to take longer.
Should I take 5-HTP every day?
It does appear that taking 5-HTP every day is okay, but you shouldn’t take very large doses. You should also consult with a healthcare provider.
Does 5-HTP give you energy?
If your serotonin levels are low or out of balance, and you start to improve your levels, it could help you feel more energy. Low energy levels can be a symptom of low serotonin, and it will not necessarily be an immediate infusion of energy. Still, if you give it time, you might notice an increased energy level over a few weeks of consistent 5-HTP use.
Does 5-HTP keep you awake?
While 5-HTP can give you energy, it’s not a supplement that should keep you awake. When your serotonin is balanced, it can help your melatonin levels and regulate your sleep-wake cycle. That means you feel more energetic during the day when you need to be, but it can also help you get better sleep at night.
Final Thoughts—What Does 5-HTP Do For You?
5-HTP can have a lot of benefits for people who struggle with low serotonin. Taking a 5-HTP supplement could improve your mood and symptoms of depression, reduce pain and even help with weight loss since it influences feelings of fullness. Other things 5-HTP can do for you include reducing or preventing migraines and helping you get better quality sleep.
The reason that 5-HTP has so many potential benefits is that your body converts it to serotonin.
Please remember this isn’t medical advice, and you should speak to your healthcare provider whenever you have questions or concerns.