5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a natural derivative of the amino acid L-tryptophan and has nootropic properties in the body and brain as it is readily converted to serotonin.
Nootropics are a class chemicals that alter brain chemistry to produce a desirable psychological and/or physiological effect (such as improved mood and sense of wellbeing).
5-HTP is extracted from the African plant species Griffonia simplicifolia and is sometimes referred to as Griffonia simlplicifolia seed extract on supplement labels.
This nootropic presents a promising natural treatment for a variety of mood and sleep disorders, weight loss, and even for just general anxiety and stress management.
That being said, humans generally obtain minimal amounts of 5-HTP from dietary sources (via L-tryptophan metabolism), thus supplementation is the most practical way to increase 5-HTP levels in your brain.
- 5-HTP is a proven serotonin boosting ingredient that helps naturally lower stress and anxiety!
- Try taking it about an hour before going to bed for improved sleep and regulation of circadian rhythms.
- Using 5-HTP in higher doses may help with your sense of well-being and reduce your appetite (making it useful for ‘stress overeating’)
- It is best to use 5-HTP intermittently to avoid overproduction of serotonin. Start by using it for four to six weeks followed by two to three weeks off.
- 5-HTP is just one of many over the counter supplements that can help your anxiety, to find out about others get our free Anxiety Supplement Guide by clicking the button below!
How 5-HTP Works
5-HTP readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and is converted into serotonin – a neurotransmitter that promotes calmness and relaxation. There are several possible metabolic fates of 5-HTP (see the diagram below for reference).
Thus, most of 5-HTP’s effects are mediated by increased serotonin production, which may then be converted into melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain that is used by the body to help regulate its internal body clock and induce sleep.
Exposure to light environments (such as your smart phone screen) suppresses melatonin synthesis while being in dark environments does the opposite.
This is why normal circadian rhythms are imperative for proper melatonin production and a healthy sleep cycle.
Therefore, 5-HTP should not be used in conjunction with any prescription medications that alter serotonin and/or melatonin levels, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Furthermore, 5-HTP’s effects on body weight appear to be largely related to serotonin production.
Serotonin is one of the two major the two major neurotransmitters involved in feeding patterns/regulation and seems to play a unique role.
In fact, one study precisely characterized the brain sites and receptors involved, as well as the possible physiological role of serotonin, in controlling natural patterns of eating and food selection.
In particular, serotonin’s action is believed to influence both the energy balance and the circadian patterns of eating by activating satiety neurons localized in the hypothalamus.
In other words, serotonin helps relay the signal to your brain that you’re getting full.
In this process, serotonin seems to counteract norepinephrine/adrenaline and its receptors, which typically induce feelings of hunger.
While serotonin appears to regulate appetite signaling, research suggests that it also plays an important role in macronutrient selection (especially in obese people consuming large amounts of carbohydrate-rich food).
Thus, it’s not surprising that supplementation with 5-HTP has been reported to control food intake and reduce body weight in obese patients.4
Benefits of 5-HTP Supplementation
5-HTP differs from L-tryptophan in that doesn’t necessarily make you drowsy but instead works to calm your brain and help you relax while still being alert.
That being said, 5-HTP in high quantities may be useful for better sleep quality since some of it will be converted to melatonin.
5-HTP can help treat a variety of conditions, such as anxiety, by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Below are some of the most relevant research-backed benefits derived from 5-HTP use:,,6
- Promotes relaxation and calmness
- Natural anxiolytic and stress-reducing properties
- Stimulates deeper sleep
- Enhances mood
- Appears to promote weight loss (in higher doses)
- Slows down neurodegeneration
- May treat migraine headaches
- May alleviate pains associated with fibromyalgia
Notably, scientific research suggests that 5-HTP may be as effective as several pharmaceutical antidepressants, such as SSRIs, although without the harsh side effects and possible development of dependency that may come from use of such drugs.
Also, individuals with excessive amounts of body inflammation may benefit from 5-HTP supplementation as their serotonin levels are typically low.
However, 5-HTP, like many nootropics, should be used intermittently as opposed to indefinitely as it can cause neurotransmitter imbalances (serotonin syndrome) in the brain and body if used chronically.
While serotonin is generally touted as the neurotransmitter responsible for happiness, too much serotonin can have the inverse effect.
It’s also advised not to use 5-HTP before operating a motor vehicle or performing any other activity that requires you to be alert and wakeful.
All this being said, given the importance of proper rest and recovery for health and longevity, many individuals stand to benefit by supplementing with 5-HTP (especially if you are prone to anxiety and mood disorders).
5-HTP Dosage Recommendations
The amount of 5-HTP you should supplement with will depend on the purpose for which you want to use it.
For example, research suggests that more 5-HTP is needed to treat things like obesity and migraine headaches as opposed to conditions like fibromyalgia.
Therefore, the dosage suggestions are as follows:4,5,6
Migraine Headaches – 200 to 600mg daily
Pain Associated with Fibromyalgia – 100mg three times per day
General Relaxation and Anxiety – 200-300mg daily
Better Sleep – 400-500mg roughly one hour before bed
Weight Loss – 600 to 900mg daily for no more than 12 weeks
It is recommended that you cycle off of 5-HTP every five to six weeks for at least one week (unless otherwise noted above).
When to Take 5-HTP
If you are taking more than 500mg of 5-HTP, it is ideal to split the doses up throughout the day. However, if you’re using 5-HTP for better sleep, it is preferable to take it about one hour before bed.
Possible Side Effects and Cautions
Most users will tolerate 5-HTP well with minimal side effects. As with most nootropics, some users may experience various side effects, including:
- Abdominal pain/gastrointestinal distress/diarrhea
- Absence of menstrual bleeding
- Increased blood cortisol or kynurenine
- Hypotension and/or hypocholesterolemia
- Psychic hyperkinetic syndrome
- Eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS)
5-HTP should be used cautiously or avoided by individuals with any of the following:
- History of mental disorders (e.g. schizophrenia, psychosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.)
- Currently taking antidepressant medications (such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors [MAOIs], selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs], etc.) or any other medications that may affect serotonin, due to increased risk of serotonin toxicity syndrome.
- HIV/AIDS, particularly HIV-1 infection
- Seizure disorders or those using drugs that may lower the seizure threshold, due to increased risk of seizures
- Currently using CNS depressants
- Currently using decarboxylase inhibitors
- Taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that lower blood pressure
- Eosinophilia syndromes, due to cases of eosinophilia and eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS)
- Suicidal thoughts/tendencies
- Currently using “party pills” and other recreational amphetamines
- Women who are pregnant or lactating
- Those allergic to 5-HTP
5-HTP is certainly a potent nootropic supplement that has a multitude of benefits stemming from its ability to raise serotonin (and melatonin) levels.
Examples of 5-HTP’s benefits include reduction of anxiety, weight loss, and better sleep.
In fact, research suggests 5-HTP could potentially replace the use of SSRIs and similar drugs for fighting mood disorders, making it particularly useful if you are prone to high anxiety.
However, some individuals will need to experiment with their dose of 5-HTP to find out what works best for anxiety reduction.
When comparing 5-HTP to other nootropics, its major advantages are that it’s affordable, well-tolerated, and effective when used cyclically.
The main thing to remember is to take periodic breaks from 5-HTP supplementation to avoid overproduction of serotonin.
On the same token, if you take medication that alters serotonin and/or melatonin levels, be sure to consult with your healthcare practitioner before adding/substituting 5-HTP into your regimen.
 Perez-Cruet I, Tagliamonte A, Tagliamonte P, Gessa GL. Changes in brain serotonin metabolism associated with fasting and satiation in rats. Life Sci 1972;1 1:31-9.
 Cangiano, C., Ceci, F., Cascino, A., Del Ben, M., Laviano, A., Muscaritoli, M., … & Rossi-Fanelli, F. (1992). Eating behavior and adherence to dietary prescriptions in obese adult subjects treated with 5-hydroxytryptophan. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 56(5), 863-867.
 Shuqin, L., Ransom, T., & Li, E. T. (1990). Selective increase in carbohydrate intake by rats treated with 8-hydroxy-2-(di-n-propylamino)-tetraline or buspirone. Life sciences, 46(23), 1643-1648.
 Ceci, F., Cangiano, C., Cairella, M., Cascino, A., Del Ben, M., Muscaritoli, M., … & Fanelli, F. R. (1989). The effects of oral 5-hydroxytryptophan administration on feeding behavior in obese adult female subjects. Journal of neural transmission, 76(2), 109-117.
 Caruso, I., Puttini, P. S., Cazzola, M., & Azzolini, V. (1990). Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome. Journal of International Medical Research, 18(3), 201-209.
 Birdsall, T. C. (1998). 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic, 3(4), 271-280.