What Is 5-HTP and What's It Used For?

5-HTP supplements are recommended for raising serotonin levels. However, although they're available over-the-counter, there are risks associated with taking them.
What Is 5-HTP and What's It Used For?

Last update: 08 November, 2021

5-HTP, also known as 5-hydroxytryptophan, is an amino acid. This compound turns into serotonin once it’s assimilated. Although it’s produced naturally by the body, it can also be consumed in drugs and supplements.

5-HTP acts directly on the brain and nervous system, increasing the production of serotonin. This neurotransmitter affects the regulation of body temperature, sleep, appetite, sexual desire, and even pain perception.

For this reason, 5-HTP is used to treat depression, insomnia, and anxiety, among other disorders. However, it can carry some risks, as we’ll see below.

What is 5-HTP and what is it used for?

5-Hydroxytryptophan or 5-HTP can be known by a variety of names: amino propanoic acid, oxytryptophan, or any variety of combinations with hydroxytryptophan.

Basically, it’s an amino acid by-product of the protein building block L-tryptophan. It’s naturally produced by the body, which uses it to process serotonin.

We need to clarify that this compound isn’t found in any food, although there is L-tryptophan in foods rich in protein (dairy, meats, and grains). 5-HTP is obtained from the seeds of a plant known as Griffonia simplicifolia, native to Africa. Once synthesized, it’s consumed through drugs or supplements.

It’s believed that it can help restore serotonin, raising it to optimal levels. As such, 5-HTP supplements are recommended and used to treat a variety of conditions in which 5-HTP is thought to play a role.

This includes anxiety, depression, sleep and eating disorders, chronic pain, migraines and even fibromyalgia. It’s also thought to improve cognitive and even sexual functioning.

Keep reading about this topic: Nine Signs of Low Serotonin Levels

Dosage and usage recommendations

5-hydroxytryptophan is consumed orally in capsules. The manufacturers of some multivitamins may also add a certain amount of 5-HTP.

In particular, 5-HTP supplements may come in 25, 50, or 100-milligram capsules. The general recommendation is to start with the lowest dose and increase gradually.

It all depends on the reason for taking it. In this regard, the following guidelines can be considered:

  • Weight control: 250-300 mg, half an hour before eating.
  • Mood: 50-100 mg, 3 times a day.
  • Sleep: 100-200 mg, half an hour before going to bed.
  • Fibromyalgia 100 mg, 3 to 4 times a day.
  • Migraines: 100-200 mg, 2 to 3 times a day.

It’s relatively safe to take on average 400 mg daily of 5-HTP for up to one year. Higher doses can cause side effects.

And, although it’s sold over the counter, it’s advisable to talk to your doctor before you start taking it. It’s also worth noting that neither the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the European Medicines Agency (EMA) regulates these types of supplements.

5-HTP in supplements.
Many supplements are not regulated by government institutions. This is the case with 5-HTP.

You may also be interested in: 5 Habits that Can Trigger Migraine Attacks

Potential benefits of 5-HTP

According to studies, low levels of serotonin are associated with anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. Therefore, it’s thought that increasing production of this substance may help treat such problems.

Losing weight

Serotonin affects melanocortin and other hormones that induce hunger or satiety. Thus, by producing a feeling of fullness, it regulates a person’s appetite, so that he or she won’t feel as hungry.

Therefore, 5-HTP supplements are used to help with weight loss. In a clinical study of 19 patients showing signs of obesity, it was confirmed that this compound helped them feel satiety and less desire to eat.

Other studies confirm the role of serotonin in reducing intake. In particular, they suggest that by helping to reduce carbohydrate intake, 5-HTP may help to meet dietary requirements in non-insulin dependent diabetic patients.


The most widely-accepted understanding is that depression, both exogenous and endogenous, is related to serotonin imbalance. Therefore, it’s assumed that raising serotonin levels will improve a person’s mood.

In this sense, 5-HTP supplementation is thought to help treat depression. However, some studies also suggest that this compound works best when used in combination with other substances, such as creatine.

The results have been replicated in further research. However, these are small samples, so work still needs to be done with larger populations and over a longer period of time.

In fact, a meta-analysis reviewed the results of more than 100 studies on the use of 5-HTP to relieve symptoms of depression. And it was found that few studies used high-quality methods, so there still isn’t enough evidence.


Low serotonin is probably associated with anxiety and panic. For this reason, hydroxytryptophan is touted as an option to help to reduce these feelings.

Some research with small groups of volunteers appears to have shown this supplement to be effective in this regard.

Sleep disorders

It’s thought that 5-HTP supplementation might increase melatonin production, thereby helping to promote sleep. However, some of the research supporting this has been carried out in animal models.

Another review found that, among the various treatments used for sleep problems, benzodiazepines, antidepressant drugs, and L-5-hydroxytryptophan may be beneficial.

Migraine headaches

In a clinical trial conducted over several months with a group of 124 people, 600 mg of 5-HTP daily was as effective as more conventional treatments for migraine headaches. In addition, hydroxytryptophan appeared to work better at reducing the intensity and duration of migraines.

However, other studies don’t confirm these findings. They gave different results, with 5-HTP being less effective than propranolol. Therefore, more research is needed in the future.


The causes of fibromyalgia aren’t clearly identified. It’s often associated with low serotonin levels. Consequently, serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants are used.

Studies suggest that 5-HTP may be beneficial in improving symptoms in fibromyalgia patients, such as pain, stiffness, fatigue, anxiety, and sleep problems.

5-HTP contraindications and interactions

Hydroxytryptophan isn’t recommended for everyone. In particular, its use isn’t recommended in the following situations:

  • Pregnant women
  • Breast-feeding women
  • Children under 12 years old
  • Recently operated people

5-HTP may interact with various medications. Therefore, precautions should be taken when taking any of the following:

  • Antidepressants
  • Serotonergic drugs
  • Decarboxylase inhibitors
  • Drugs containing dextromethorphan
  • Sedatives
5-HTP interacts with medication.
Although it’s a supplement, drug interactions should be considered when taking it.

Risks and side effects of 5-HTP

Research suggests that consumption of hydroxytryptophan increases serotonin, but may deplete or reduce levels of other neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine.

The potential for effects increases when such supplements are taken on a long-term basis or if taken with other supplements or drugs. Such effects include the following:

  • Heart problems
  • Seizures
  • Heartburn
  • Muscle spasms
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Respiratory distress
  • Anxiety and aggression

They’re supplements, but not to be taken lightly

The fact that supplements don’t require a prescription may make many people consider them to be harmless, but no medication is harmless and shouldn’t be taken just on the off-chance.

So, when considering the use of 5-HTP or other supplements, always seek medical advice. Especially if you suffer from any illness.

On the other hand, you should follow the directions to the letter, and never take more than the recommended. If you forget to take the supplement at the usual time, you should wait until it’s time for the next intake.

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