5-HTP is the abbreviation for the chemical 5-hydroxytryptophan. 5-HTP is made by the body from an essential amino acid called tryptophan. Essential amino acids are chemicals that are necessary for the body but which are not made by the body. They must be consumed in the foods we eat. 5-HTP is not found in the foods we eat, but tryptophan is. The body uses tryptophan to make 5-HTP. It then uses the 5-HTP to make another chemical called serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which helps relay signals between cells in the brain. Serotonin is sometimes called the “feel good” chemical because it helps regulate mood. Because of this, 5-HTP is believed to help with mood, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, appetite, and pain.
Tryptophan supplements were tied to a 1989 outbreak of eosinophilic myalgia syndrome (EMS) which is a potentially fatal condition. Researchers believe the tryptophan was contaminated with a substance known as Peak X. Due to this contamination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled all tryptophan supplements from the market. Since that time, Peak X has also been found in some 5-HTP supplements, although few cases of EMS have been reported as a result. The National Institutes of Health Medline Plus still states that 5-HTP supplements may not be safe and advises against taking them.
Why 5-HTP is used
5-HTP is sometimes used to treat sleep disorders, depression, headaches, PMS, and ADHD. 5-HTP may work as well as some prescription medications for depression. It also appears to help people with fibromyalgia by reducing symptoms.
Studies do not show that 5-HTP is effective against headaches, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, PMS, ADHD, or a number of other conditions.
How 5-HTP is used
5-HTP is not found in any of the foods we eat. Tryptophan, which the body uses to make 5-HTP, is found in a variety of foods including turkey, chicken, milk, potatoes, some greens, and sunflower seeds. However, eating foods that contain tryptophan has little effect on the level of 5-HTP in the body.
5-HTP supplements are made from the seeds of the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia.