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.
Therefore, increasing your body’s production of serotonin may have various benefits.
For this reason, serotonin-producing 5-HTP supplements have become increasingly popular.
Here are 5 potential health benefits of 5-HTP, based on science.
1. It Can Aid Weight Loss by Increasing Feelings of Fullness
5-HTP may increase feelings of fullness, causing you to eat less and lose weight.
5-HTP may counteract these hunger-inducing hormones, working to suppress appetite and help you lose weight (6).
In one study, 20 people with diabetes were randomly assigned to receive either 5-HTP or a placebo for two weeks. The results showed that those who received 5-HTP consumed approximately 435 fewer calories per day, compared to the placebo group (7).
What’s more, 5-HTP primarily inhibited the intake of calories from carbohydrates, which was associated with better blood sugar control (7).
5-HTP is likely effective at increasing feelings of fullness, which may help you eat less and lose weight.
2. Helps With Depression by Increasing Serotonin Levels
The effects of 5-HTP on symptoms of depression have been well studied.
5-HTP supplements are thought to treat depression by increasing serotonin levels.
In fact, several small studies have found that 5-HTP reduced symptoms of depression. However, two of them did not use placebos for comparison, limiting the strength of their findings (16, 17, 18, 19).
Similarly, another analysis concluded that 5-HTP may help treat depression (20).
However, much of the research suggests that the potential antidepressive effects of 5-HTP are stronger when combined with other substances or antidepressant medications, compared to when they are used alone (17, 21, 22, 23).
5-HTP supplements increase serotonin levels in your body, which may improve symptoms of depression, especially when used in combination with other antidepressant substances or medications. Nonetheless, more research is needed.
3. Improved Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Supplementing with 5-HTP may improve symptoms of fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by muscle and bone pain, as well as general weakness. There is currently no known cause of fibromyalgia, but low serotonin levels have been associated with the condition (26).
This has led researchers to believe that increasing serotonin levels through 5-HTP supplements may benefit people with fibromyalgia (27).
In one study, people with fibromyalgia who were given 5-HTP in combination with a type of antidepressant medication called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) reported significantly reduced pain (31).
However, not enough research has been conducted to draw any clear conclusions about the effectiveness of 5-HTP at improving fibromyalgia symptoms.
5-HTP can boost serotonin levels in your body, which may help relieve some symptoms of fibromyalgia. Nonetheless, more research is needed.
4. Could Help Reduce Migraine Frequency
5-HTP is said to help with migraines, which are throbbing headaches that are often accompanied by nausea or disturbed vision. While their exact cause is debated, some researchers believe they are triggered by low serotonin levels (32, 33).
One study in 124 people compared the ability of 5-HTP and methysergide, a common migraine medication, to prevent migraines (34).
It found that supplementing with 5-HTP daily for six months prevented or significantly decreased the number of migraine attacks in 71% of participants (34).
In another study in 48 students, 5-HTP produced a 70% decrease in headache frequency, compared to an 11% decrease in the placebo group (35).
5-HTP may help you have fewer migraines by increasing your serotonin levels.
5. Can Promote Sleep by Increasing Your Melatonin Production
5-HTP produces serotonin, which can be converted into the hormone melatonin.
Melatonin plays an important role in regulating sleep. Its levels begin to rise in the evening to promote sleep and fall in the morning to help wake you up. Therefore, supplementing with 5-HTP may promote sleep by increasing melatonin production in your body.
One human-based study showed that a combination of 5-HTP and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) significantly reduced the time it took to fall asleep, increased sleep duration and improved sleep quality (38).
GABA is a chemical messenger that promotes relaxation. Combining it with 5-HTP likely has a synergistic effect (38).
While these results are promising, the lack of human-based studies makes it difficult to recommend 5-HTP for improving sleep quality, especially when it is used in isolation.
5-HTP may promote sleep by increasing melatonin production, an important sleep-regulating hormone.
Possible Side Effects of 5-HTP
Some people may experience nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain when taking 5-HTP supplements. These side effects are dose-dependent, meaning they get worse when increasing your dose (34).
To minimize these side effects, start with a dose of 50–100 mg two times per day and increase to the appropriate dose over a two-week period (41).
Some medications increase serotonin production. Combining these medications with 5-HTP may cause dangerous serotonin levels in your body. This is called serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition (42).
Medications that may increase your body’s serotonin levels include certain antidepressants, cough medicines or prescription pain relievers.
Since 5-HTP may also promote sleep, taking it with prescription sedative medications, such as Klonopin, Ativan or Ambien, may cause too much sleepiness.
Due to the potential for negative interactions with other medications, consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking 5-HTP supplements.
When buying supplements, look for the NSF or USP seals, which indicate high quality. These are third-party companies that ensure supplements contain what they claim on the label, without impurities.
Some people may experience side effects when taking 5-HTP supplements. Talk to your doctor before supplementing with 5-HTP to ensure it’s safe for you.
5-HTP Dosage and Supplement Instructions
As a supplement, 5-HTP comes from the seeds of an African shrub known as Griffonia simplicifolia. These supplements are not the same as L-tryptophan supplements, which may also increase serotonin levels (43).
L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in protein-rich foods, such as dairy products, poultry, meat, chickpeas and soybeans.
On the other hand, 5-HTP is not present in foods and can only be added to your diet through a supplement (44).
The recommended dose for 5-HTP depends on your reason for taking it.
Here are some general guidelines to get you started:
Weight management: 200–300 mg, 30 minutes prior to a meal (7).
Mood enhancement: 50–100 mg, 3 times per day with meals. Use for at least one week to notice a beneficial effect (20).
Fibromyalgia symptom relief: 100 mg, 3–4 times per day with meals. Use for at least two weeks to notice a beneficial effect (28).
Migraines: 100–200 mg, 2–3 times per day with meals. Use for two to three weeks to notice a beneficial effect (34).
Sleep aid: 100–300 mg, 30–45 minutes before bed. Stack with GABA to increase effectiveness (38).
How much 5-HTP you should take depends on your reason for using it.
The Bottom Line
Your body converts 5-HTP into serotonin, a substance that regulates appetite, pain sensations and sleep.
Supplementing with it is an effective way to boost your serotonin levels.
Higher serotonin levels may provide many benefits, such as promoting weight loss, improving the symptoms of depression and fibromyalgia, decreasing the frequency of migraine attacks and helping you sleep better.
Minor side effects have been linked to 5-HTP, but they can be minimized by starting with smaller doses and increasing the dosage gradually.
Given that 5-HTP may negatively interact with several medications, talk to your doctor to ensure it’s safe for you to use.