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How does 5-HTP work and what is it used for?

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid that your body naturally produces.

Your body uses it to produce serotonin, a chemical messenger that sends signals between your nerve cells.

Low serotonin levels are associated with depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, weight gain and other health problems (1, 2).

Therefore, increasing your body’s production of serotonin may have various benefits.

For this reason, serotonin-producing 5-HTP supplements have become increasingly popular.

Often called the ‘happy hormone’, serotonin is mostly known for its role in wellbeing and regulating the sleep-wake cycles. Low serotonin stores have been linked to cases of anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. Increasing your intake of 5-HTP, therefore, could offer multiple health benefits.

Depression

Several small clinical trials have found that 5-HTP is as effective as antidepressants.2 For example, in a six-week clinical trial, 63 people were given either 5-HTP (100 mg three times a day) or an antidepressant (fluvoxamine, 50 mg three times a day). The 5-HTP was found to be as effective as the antidepressant, with fewer side effects.

However, a 2002 systematic review of studies published between 1966 to 2000 found that only one out of 108 studies met the quality standards.3

The small study that did meet the quality criteria found that 5-HTP worked better than placebo at alleviating depression.

Migraine

Some research indicates that 5-HTP may prevent migraines and reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, however large randomized controlled trials are needed.

In one study, 124 people were given 5-HTP (600 mg/day) or the drug methysergide.

After 6 months, 5-HTP was found to be as effective as methysergide in reducing the severity and duration of migraines.

Another study looked at 5-HTP or the drug propranolol for 4 months.5 Both treatments resulted in a statistically significant reduction in the frequency of migraines. However, the propranolol group fared better, with a reduction in the duration of episodes and the number of analgesics used for the treatment of episodes.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by fatigue, widespread pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and multiple tender points.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at 5-HTP or placebo in 50 people with fibromyalgia.6 After four weeks, there was improvement in pain, stiffness, anxiety, fatigue, and sleep. Side effects were mild and transient.

Insomnia

Serotonin is converted into melatonin, a hormone needed to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Because 5-HTP is thought to increase serotonin levels, it may increase melatonin and help normalize sleep patterns.

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