5-HTP is an amino acid, made from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia, and used as a supplement to ease low serotonin symptoms. With low levels of serotonin you’ll experience the worry-type of anxiety with ruminations, obsessing, panic attacks, insomnia (often lying awake worrying). This type of anxiety is different from the low GABA physical/tension type anxiety. Other low serotonin symptoms include low mood/depression, late afternoon and evening carbohydrate cravings, pain, digestive/IBS symptoms, PMS, irritability, rage and anger, TMJ, low confidence, imposter syndrome and perfectionism.
When I share my low serotonin blogs on Facebook I receive so many great questions about 5-HTP. Today I’m going to share some of these questions and my answers so you can get the benefits too.
Gail asks why 5-HTP stopped working for her when it had been working so amazingly well:
I took 5-HTP and it worked amazingly….for about 6 months. Then it did nothing. Any idea why?
I took 100 mg per day. It’s hard to explain, but it calmed my brain down. I wasn’t so quick to blurt things out during the day and at night I was able to sleep because my mind wasn’t racing. Nothing else changed at that time. That was a few years ago, I think I’ll buy more and try again
I would guess that something did shift around the 6 month mark and would try and identify what it was so you know for the future. It could have been accidental gluten exposure (from the diet or even cosmetics), hormonal shifts (perimenopause or menopause), adding collagen or gelatin on a regular basis (this can lower serotonin in susceptible folks) and/or changes in thyroid health.
If you have pyroluria and were exposed to major stresses (life stresses or toxic mold etc.) you’d lose vitamin B6 and this could affect serotonin production. The addition of the birth control pill and antidepressants can also deplete vitamin B6. I share some possible reasons for low serotonin on this blog on imposter syndrome (as mentioned above, imposter syndrome is a common sign of low serotonin).
With these wonderful benefits Gail experienced, trialing 5-HTP again is worth considering. Because 5-HTP works so quickly she’ll feel that sense of calm right away and she won’t blurt things out during the day (possibly caused by lack of confidence and/or irritability and/or anger?). Also, her mind won’t race at night, she’ll fall asleep quickly and will stay asleep, waking rested, calm, happy, confident and optimistic.
And in future if something like this happens again, I’d try to identify the cause and bump up 5-HTP temporarily.
Wendy asks about headaches as an adverse effect:
What do you recommend if 5-HTP gives you headaches?
Headaches are not a common adverse effect with 5-HTP (compared to the amino acid tyrosine which is recognized to cause headaches and migraines in susceptible folks).
Even if you are seeing benefits – for the worry-type anxiety and other low serotonin symptoms – with 5-HTP you don’t ever want to push through with something like headaches and continue to take it. I have clients use less 5-HTP and observe if they still see the benefits with no headaches.
We also make sure low serotonin is the issue. If it’s not then any amount of 5-HTP will either do nothing or cause adverse effects. If the issue is low serotonin then I have clients do a trial of tryptophan.
If the 5-HTP is being used to ease low mood/depression caused by low catecholamine or low endorphins depression then neither 5-HTP or tryptophan is going to help and may cause adverse effects. And tyrosine and/or DPA are better choices.
Gerry asks this question after my interview on Your Best Sleep Ever Summit:
Great talk Trudy. When you want to increase serotonin, do you take both 5-HTP & tryptophan or just one or the other?
They can be used alone or both can be used together. I like to have clients add one new amino acid supplement at a time so we know what is working before confounding things with another one. I typically start with tryptophan for low serotonin support simply because I have such good results with it and because 5-HTP can raise cortisol in some folks.
We start with tryptophan mid-afternoon and evening (after doing a trial earlier in the day to make sure it helps). If tryptophan causes adverse effects or doesn’t work then we do a trial of 5-HTP and then use it afternoon and evening (when serotonin levels tend to drop).
If tryptophan is working in the afternoon and evening, and additional support for worry or ruminations or panic or anxiety is needed earlier in the day, we may consider 5-HTP which can often also help improve focus. We may also consider tryptophan earlier in the day too.
It’s very individualized and we may mix and match to find the ideal combination and dosing based on trials and symptom resolution. It’s important to be aware that some folks do better on 5-HTP and some do better on tryptophan.
Here are some useful blogs related to low serotonin and the amino acids:
- You can see all the low serotonin symptoms here.
- Fibromyalgia: tryptophan or 5-HTP for anxiety, depression, pain and insomnia
- You can see the 5-HTP and tryptophan products I use with my clients here on the supplements blog.
- You may find this helpful too – GABA for easing physical anxiety and tension: some questions and answers.
As always, it’s not only the low serotonin we need to address. 5-HTP offers quick relief but we must always do a full functional workup looking at diet, nutritional deficiencies, digestion, all hormones, toxins and infections (and so on) so we can address all possible root causes – and why serotonin is low in the first place.
Thanks to these folks for asking good questions and for allowing me to share here.
What questions do you have about 5-HTP?
Which low serotonin symptoms can you relate to and has 5-HTP or tryptophan helped? Or have you found success with a combination.
Feel free to post your questions and feedback in the comments below.