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5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan)

5-HTP is an amino acid. Amino acids are substances that build proteins in your body. 5-HTP is related to serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, sleep, and pain. It is available as a supplement and is generally considered safe, although some contaminated supplements have caused dangerous side effects.  

Why do people take 5-HTP?

5-HTP supplements may raise levels of serotonin in the brain. Some studies have found that 5-HTP supplements help relieve depression. Some research showed that 5-HTP worked as well as some antidepressants.

5-HTP supplements also seem to help with fibromyalgia symptoms. In some studies, it's eased pain, morning stiffness, and sleep problems.

People take 5-HTP for other conditions, including insomnia, anxiety, and obesity. There's not enough evidence to know whether it works for these conditions.

There's no standard dose for 5-HTP. For depression, dosages range from 150 to 300 milligrams a day. Ask your doctor for advice.

Can you get 5-HTP naturally from foods?

5-HTP is not in food. Your body makes 5-HTP from tryptophan, another amino acid. While tryptophan is in many foods, eating more of these foods doesn't seem to have much effect on 5-HTP levels.

What are the risks?

Tell your doctor about any supplements you’re taking, even if they’re natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with medications.

  • Side effects. 5-HTP supplements may cause cramping, heartburn, gas, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
  • Risks. Contaminated 5-HTP supplements led to dangerous side effects in the past. Some people have developed a life-threatening neurological condition after taking 5-HTP supplements. These supplements may have been contaminated. 5-HTP may cause seizures in people with Down syndrome. Children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take these supplements.
  • Interactions. Don't use 5-HTP supplements if you take antidepressants. It could cause a serious interaction. Check with a doctor first if you take any other drugs, especially cough medicines, painkillers, or treatments for Parkinson's disease.

Supplements are not regulated by the FDA.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on January 07, 2013

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