5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan): Health Benefits, Dose & Side Effects

Updated in December 2023

5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a supplement obtained from the seeds of the medicinal plant Griffonia simplicifolia. It acts by increasing serotonin production in the body, which is why it can be indicated for the treatment of health conditions like depression, anxiety or sleeping problems.

5-HTP works by transforming L-tryptophan into serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that is important for facilitating the transmission of electrical signals between neurons. It is involved with many bodily functions, including regulating mood, sleep, appetite and other cognitive functions.

5-HTP supplementation can be recommended when serotonin levels are low. It should only be taken as directed by a doctor, after a thorough assessment with with individualized doses.

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How is 5HTP made?

5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid that is naturally produced by the body. It transforms L-tryptophan into serotonin.

Researchers have discovered, however, that 5-HTP is also naturally present in a type of African plant called the Griffonia simplicifolia. The seeds of this plant are used to make the supplement 5-HTP supplements, which are sold as capsules in pharmacies in natural health stores.

Health benefits

The full effects of 5-HTP on the body are not yet fully known, however, several studies indicate that it may be useful in helping to treat various conditions, such as:

1. Depression

Studies have been completed on treating symptoms of depression with doses of 5-HTP supplements  between 150 and 3000 mg per day. These have shown a positive effect on the symptoms of depression, which seem to improve after 3 or 4 weeks of continuous treatment with this supplement.

2. Anxiety

There aren't many results available yet on the use of 5-HTP to treat anxiety. However, some research claims that low doses of 50 to 150 mg a day can help keep anxiety under control.

3. Obesity

Recent studies have shown that regular supplementation with 5-HTP can also help people who are overweight or obese, as the substance seems to regulate appetite by increasing the feeling of satiety.

4. Sleep problems

Although there are few human studies available, animal research has shown that 5-HTP can help you to sleep more easily and even achieve better sleep quality. This could possibly be explained by the fact that, by increasing serotonin levels, 5-HTP also contributes to greater production of melatonin, which is the main hormone responsible for regulating sleep.

5. Fibromyalgia

Several studies have been carried out to try to understand the relationship between 5-HTP levels in the body and chronic pain. Most of these studies were carried out on people with fibromyalgia, who seemed to have a slight improvement in their symptoms. However, these studies are very old and need to be better supported.

Recommended dose

5-HTP use should always be directed by a doctor or other health professional with knowledge of supplementation. Doses can vary according to the problem being treated as well as the patient's health history.

In addition, there is no single recommended dose of 5-HTP. Most professionals will doses of 50 to 300 mg a day, starting with doses of 25 mg which can be gradually increased.

Possible side effects

Although it is considered to be a natural supplement, continuous and misguided use of 5-HTP can aggravate the symptoms of some conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder or Parkinson's disease.

This can occur because, while this supplement increases the production of serotonin, 5-HTP can also reduce the concentration of other important neurotransmitters.

Other more immediate effects can include nausea, vomiting, acidity, stomach pain, diarrhea and dizziness. If these occur, supplementation should be discontinued and you should follow-up with the prescriber. 

Contraindications for use

5-HTP should not be used in patients with chronic kidney failure, in patients who are pregnant women or in children under 18, especially without any medical advice..

In addition, 5-HTP should not be used in people taking antidepressants, as they can excessively increase serotonin levels and cause serious side effects. You should avoid taking 5-HTP if you are already taking citalopram, duloxetine, venlafaxine, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, tramadol, sertraline, trazodone, amitriptyline, buspirone, cyclobenzaprine, and fentanyl, among others. If you are taking any medication, it is important to consult your doctor before starting to use 5-HTP supplements.