Anti-Aging Therapies: 5HTP or 5-hydroxy-tryptophan
5-HTP is the precise precursor of serotonin. This is often used in the place of SSRI drugs and L-Tryptophan and may help in serotonin deficiency related conditions such as severe depression, epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia, weight loss and addiction. Also studied for PMS, migraine and chronic tension headaches. 5-HTP comes from an extract of Griffonia simplicifolia . Used traditionally in African medicine to inhibit diarrhea, vomiting and constipation, and as an aphrodisiac. The extraction process uses alcohol and produces an oily solid. The oily extract is then purified into a dry solid. 5-HTP can also be made synthetically in the laboratory. The final product is the same as the one made by the body.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that must be taken in through protein containing foods since the body can not synthesize it. Of the eight essential amino acids, tryptophan is the least common, accounting for only about one percent of protein content, and it is used up rapidly by the body. About ninety-percent is used in protein synthesis. The rest is divided between serotonin production and niacin production, which requires 60mg for every 1mg of niacin produced. However, 5-HTP is only used in serotonin production. 5- hydroxytryptophan is also able to pass through the blood-brain barrier easily, unlike tryptophan, which can only pass through the barrier by using the same transport molecule that carries leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Considerable research has been conducted on the activity of 5-HTP which includes:
Mood enhancer: Dysregulation of serotonin metabolism in the central nervous system has been shown to affect mood. 5-HTP helps to normalize serotonin levels and thus positively affect mood. In a double-blind study using objective assessments of mood, researchers in Zurich reported significant improvements in mood with 5-HTP. (Psychopathology 24:53-81, 1991)
In a separate double-blind, multi-center study in Germany, researchers reported significant improvements in both objective and self-assessment indices of mood. (Arch Psychiat Nervenkr 224:175-186, 1977)
Sleep: Many studies have shown that depletion of serotonin results in insomnia, which is reversed by administration of 5-HTP. Soulairac and Lambient reported that 100 mg of 5-HTP resulted in significant improvement for people who complained of trouble sleeping (Ann Med Pychol 135:792-798, 1977). As serotonin is metabolized to the hormone melatonin, another way of increasing melatonin is through administering 5-HTP. Melatonin is known to help regulate the sleep cycle.
Appetite: Food intake is thought to suppress appetite through the production of serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan. Because it is an intermediary in the conversion process of tryptophan to serotonin, 5-HTP may reduce appetite in a similar manner as food intake, but without the calories. In a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study, subjects taking 5-HTP lost significant weight compared to control subjects. A reduction in carbohydrate intake and early satiety were seen in the 5-HTP group. (Am. Jrl. Clin. Nutr 56:863- 867, 1992)
Fibromyalgia: Studies show that 5-HTP enhances serotonin synthesis, which increases pain tolerance and sleep quality. Patients with fibromyalgia have reported an improvement in symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and somatic pain (number of painful areas and morning stiffness).
Seasonal Affective Disorder: Serotonin production increases with light, meaning the darker the day is, it is not utilizing seratonin into action. Some symptoms include depression, marathon napping, low self-esteem, obsessiveness over little things, irritability, shyness, and panic attacks. People with seasonal affective disorder may also sleep poorly (although for many hours), partly because they don't have enough serotonin to convert to the sleep substance melatonin.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and people generally recover completely around April or May - once the days become longer. I always recommend light therapy first and then supplementation. However, there are things you can do yourself that can help boost serotonin levels.
*Subject yourself to bright indoor light. This is the key to seasonal affective disorder treatment. A 300 watt bulb within three feet for 20 minutes three times a day can help, although the boost in serotonin may be temporary.
*Exercise. This is very hard to do when caught up in the seasonal affective disorder cycle. But if you can force yourself to start, 15 to 20 minutes of dancing to the radio or fast walking can reduce a sweet tooth and improve mood.
*Eat wisely. This means, pushing away the leftover cake and eating sensible carbs to stimulate serotonin. Sweets and simple carbs, like white rice and white bread, quickly raise blood sugar, flood you with insulin, and then drop you in a hole. Eating wisely also means watching the caffeine, which suppresses serotonin. If you must drink coffee, save it for after the meal.
*Protein should be eaten three times a day. Another good rule is to eat four cups of brightly colored veggies a day. Vegetables are carbs, but the kind that work into your system slowly.
*Vitamin B-6 helps convert 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5HTP) into the mood chemical serotonin, and it also helps in making dopamine. Aim for roughly 2 to 10 milligrams a day if you supplement. B-6-rich foods include bell peppers, cranberries, turnip greens, cauliflower, garlic, tuna, mustard greens, and kale. 5HTP standard dosage ranges between 50-100 mg.
Rare side effects are generally mild and include mild nausea, heartburn, flatulence, feelings of fullness, and rumbling sensations. These side effects are often reduced after extended treatment (four to six weeks).
A case of scleroderma-like (hardening of the skin) illness has been reported in a patient taking L-5-hydroxytryptophan and carbidopa (medication often used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease). An earlier case reported a similar interaction between carbidopa and 5-HTP. This interaction may be due to an alteration in tryptophan metabolism. More research is needed but it is advisable to avoid 5-Hydroxytryptophan if you are currently taking carbidopa.
Individuals taking antidepressant drugs, including MAOIs (such as Nardil or Parnate) and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (such as: Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft) should consult with their physician before taking 5-HTP.