5-HTP - A Supplement for the American Lifestyle?

5-HTP is short for 5-Hydroxytryptophan and is the metabolite that the body uses to directly create serotonin. Serotonin is, perhaps, the single greatest culprit in many of today's “most popular” illnesses. There is actually a massive amount of evidence to suggest that modern living practices (i.e. an American diet and lifestyle) lead to low serotonin levels. Stress, insulin resistance (early-stage type II diabetes), magnesium deficiency, and B-vitamin deficiency, four very common attributes of this modern world, are known to directly inhibit serotonin production. As a result, many people are overweight, crave sugar or carbohydrates, experience bouts of depression, get frequent headaches, and have multiple muscle aches and pains. All of these conditions are correctable by raising brain levels of serotonin. Some conditions commonly associated with low serotonin levels are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Obesity
  • Carbohydrate craving
  • Bulimia
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches - Migraines and otherwise
  • Premenstrual Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic Pain Disorders

For many of these conditions, MDs might prescribe one of a variety of SSRIs such as Prozac or Paxil. SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. Translated into English, this means that these drugs function to take the serotonin that you have and “supercharge” it by allowing it to have a longer lasting effect. However, the drugs are only able to use the existing serotonin that you have in your body, they do not in any way encourage the production of more serotonin by the body. Therefore, I have encountered many people who these drugs have either not worked for, or have only worked for a short while and then they stop working. I believe that this is because the individual has too low of a level of serotonin to begin with and even “supercharging” this low level is not enough to bring about the relief that the patient is seeking. Furthermore, these drugs are associated with a variety of nasty side effects ranging from altered bowel habits to sexual dysfunction. Is there a better way? Well, I’m glad you asked.

In these situation, as described above, I like to use 5-HTP instead of one of the SSRI drugs. 5-HTP is associated with NO long term side effects and is usually effective within the first week of supplementation. Some people experience some mild nausea during the first week, but this always passes. Also, 5-HTP will actually correct low serotonin levels by enabling the body to produce much more serotonin than it would otherwise be able to. Once serotonin levels are back up to par, people on 5-HTP are usually able to wean off of it without losing any of the beneficial effects that they experienced on it. However, if their diet and lifestyle habits don’t change, they will probably need to use 5-HTP again in the future.

It is very important to point out that 5-HTP SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN with an SSRI, unless you are under the care of a physician. This could lead to a condition known as serotonin syndrome characterized by agitation, confusion, delirium, racing heart rate, sweating, and abnormal blood pressure. If you are on an SSRI and would like to try 5-HTP instead, you must talk to your doctor first about how to come off of your medication safely.

The amount of 5-HTP considered to be effective can vary widely from person to person. I only ever use 5-HTP produced by a company that sells only to professional physicians so that I know the quality and purity are the best they can be.

I must point out that serotonin deficiency is one only aspect of the conditions listed above, and that taking 5-HTP is not the be all/end all answer to them. I always recommend that before starting any supplement that alters your brain chemistry, such as 5-HTP, you seek the guidance of a trained professional who knows how to evaluate your need for that substance and who knows how to address other issues associated with the above conditions.

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