Are you aware that 5-HTP – an amino acid supplement that supports serotonin levels – can raise cortisol levels and leave you feeling “wired-tired”? You may be able to relate to this if you’ve ever used 5-HTP to help with anxiety and insomnia and ended up feeling more anxious and more wide-awake despite your exhaustion and need for sleep. You feel “wired-tired” and it’s not pleasant at all.
Both 5-HTP and tryptophan, used as supplements, help to boost serotonin levels so you can feel happy, calm, sleep well and not crave carbs in the afternoon/evening. They also help with panic attacks and phobias, lack of confidence, depression, negativity, imposter syndrome, PMS, irritability, anger issues, pain/fibromyalgia, TMJ and anger. I typically have my clients with low serotonin symptoms start with a trial of tryptophan because I see such excellent results with this amino acid. That being said, some people simply do better on one versus the other and you may do better with 5-HTP.
However there is one big caveat with 5-HTP. I don’t recommend 5-HTP when a client has elevated cortisol levels because we know that it can raise cortisol levels in certain individuals. This can leave you feeling agitated, cranky, as well as wired and yet tired at the same time.
Salivary cortisol levels were measured in 24 panic disorder patients and 24 healthy volunteers, following ingestion of 200 mg L-5-hydroxytryptophan or placebo.
The experiment was carried out in the afternoon, “when basal cortisol secretion is more stable.” The first saliva sample was obtained at 1pm and the subjects ingested the 200mg 5-HTP at 2pm. Additional saliva samples were obtained at 2:30pm, 3:00pm and 3:30pm.
They report the following:
A significant rise in cortisol was observed in both patients and controls following ingestion of L-5-hydroxytryptophan. No such effects were seen in the placebo condition.
Here are a few additional comments and my thoughts:
- This study was done to find evidence for “serotonin receptor hypersensitivity in panic disorder” and not specifically to test for the effects of 5-HTP on cortisol levels but it serves this purpose rather nicely (and it’s one of many similar studies, some of which measure plasma cortisol levels)
- Keep in mind 200mg of 5-HTP is a large starting dose. It’s typical to start with 50mg so may be a factor to consider
- In this study they did not assess cortisol levels beyond the 1.5 hours from ingestion of the 5-HTP. It would have been useful to see when levels started to go down
- We would want to consider the ramifications of using 5-HTP for weeks (whether it’s 50 or 200mg). What impact would that have on cortisol and the adrenals? (I am not aware of a study like this having been done)
- I’m also not aware of a study being done with 50mg but if you feel worse and feel “wired-tired” with 5-HTP and switch to tryptophan (the equivalent starting dose is 500mg) and your anxiety and other low serotonin symptoms resolve then you have found your solution
- You may be wondering: “could I use 5-HTP to raise my low cortisol levels”? Theoretically yes and possibly very short-term. But I would question the timing since 5-HTP and tryptophan are best dosed mid-afternoon and later. This is when we would expect our cortisol levels to be on the downward slope as we end our day. I’d also want to nourish the adrenals with B vitamins and herbal adaptogen and remove the trigger/s that are leading to low cortisol.
If you suspect low serotonin symptoms and are new to using the amino acids and do not have my book I highly recommend getting it and reading it before jumping in to taking supplements: The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings.
There is a complete chapter on the amino acids and one for pyroluria, plus information on real whole food, sugar and blood sugar, gluten, digestion and much more. If you’re not a reader there is now also an audible version.
Here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution and additional information on Anxiety and targeted individual amino acid supplements: a summary
Please also read and follow these Amino Acid Precautions.
This lists The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
Have you used 5-HTP with success? Or have you used it and felt “wired-tired”? Have you correlated the success or failure of your 5-HTP use with your salivary cortisol levels?
If you switched from 5-HTP to tryptophan did you have success with that?
If you’re a practitioner is this something you see with your clients/patients and take into consideration?
Feel free to post your questions here too.