The neurotransmitter, serotonin, plays an important role in the quality of our mood, sleep and emotional health. Stress, addictive behaviour, depression, fibromyalgia and weight gain are complex health issues and although there may be many reasons relating to their cause, they are all associated with low serotonin levels. Serotonin is produced in the body from the essential amino acid L-Tryptophan which is first converted in 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP, 5HTP, 5-Hydroxy L-Tryptophan) and then into serotonin. While increasing levels of L-Tryptophan in the diet does not substantially increase levels of serotonin, the use of its immediate precursor 5-HTP does.
As 5-HTP is able to cross the blood brain barrier, it is an effective and natural way to raise serotonin levels. Supplemental use of 5-HTP can be an alternative to the use of SSRIs, helping to lower depression without the side effects. 5-HTP can balance mood swings in bipolar depression, reducing the aggression potential. 5-HTP should not be used if you are already taking any SSRIs and you should speak to your doctor first before discontinuing.
Melatonin is produced in the body by serotonin and is responsible for regulating the circadian rhythm. Increasing the level of melatonin can improve quality of sleep, sleep latency and daytime alertness. Raising levels of serotonin with 5-HTP can have a positive effect on sleep. Not only does it appear to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep but it also increases REM, so you sleep deeper and wake up less during the night.
From an athletic perspective 5-HTP's ability to promote deep, restful sleep may prove to be the most important benefit. Sleep is an essential factor in the recovery process of the body after physical exercise. The regulation and production of several important growth compounds occurs during sleep. During intense periods of training and competition athletes may also find that 5-HTP allows them to relax and reduce stress; a result of the increased serotonin levels.
5-HTP may also aid with weight loss. One specific study showed the use of 5-HTP helped lower calorie intake encouraging weight loss in women who were making no conscious effort to lose weight. 5-HTP may also provide a feeling of early satiety when eating. This means you may not need to eat at as much food to feel satisfied, again resulting in an increased potential to lose weight.
5-HTP should be taken with a carbohydrate-rich snack or fluid such as orange juice. Avoid taking after a protein-rich meal to maximise absorption in the blood stream. To achieve the optimal effect of 5-HTP, vitamin B3, vitamin B6 and magnesium should be taken.