Boosting Your Happy Brain Chemistry with 5-HTP

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© Marnie Burkhart

© Marnie Burkhart

Many of us suffer from a variety of symptoms that we disregard as part of our personality or karma. You might think that it is just how things are, so you may as well accept it and deal with it as best as you can. Or perhaps it gets so tough, that you just can’t deal with it!

For instance, do you often…

  • Have problems falling asleep or staying asleep?
  • Find yourself edgy, irritable or angry?
  • Lack motivation or feel depressed most of the time?
  • Prefer to be left alone?
  • Have ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) in your head?
  • Worry, get anxious and find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions?
  • Have feelings of low self-esteem and lack of confidence?
  • Feel self-critical and guilty?
  • Tend to be shy or fearful?
  • Tend to be obsessive, inflexible, a control freak, or a work addict?
  • Particularly dislike the dark weather?
  • Have PMS or menopausal moodiness?
  • Have a sweet tooth or crave carbs and starchy snacks or alcohol?
  • Are all achy and/or have jaw pain?
  • Find some relief of all of these symptoms when you exercise…if you happen to get around it?
  • Do you have a family history of fibromyalgia and/or treatment with SSRIs (serotonin boosting antidepressants)?

These are all manifestations of serotonin deficiency. If you felt identified with some or all of them, then 5-HTP—an over the counter and natural supplement—can change your life forever.

5-HTP stands for 5-hydroxytryptophan, a form of the amino acid tryptophan which is found in foods like red meat, turkey, fish, or seeds. 5-HTP comes from the seeds of the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia and when taken correctly, it turns into serotonin—a brain chemical which regulates our sleep, raises our pain threshold, and elevates our mood.

We all have a right to healthy levels of serotonin, but we live in a highly stressful world where we are exposed to all kinds of toxins and pollutants, where our modern foods are often nutritionally deficient and toxic, and where people often have to turn to stimulants or anti-depressants in order to cope with life’s demands and stressful situations. We live in a world where life can be quite hard and nothing is certain except death. All of this takes a high toll on our serotonin levels, and thus on our bodies and our psychological well-being. In addition, genetic predispositions might leave you vulnerable to low levels of serotonin.  Helping the body to top up the serotonin tank when you are faced with a stressful situation is exactly what you might need.

5-HTP administration has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia, binge eating, pain, and chronic headaches including migraines. Studies have revealed that it can work better than prescription medications at treating depression, and without the negative side effects!

We have more serotonin receptors in our intestinal tract than we do in our brain, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that low serotonin can also interfere with proper intestinal function. This is also the reason why 5-HTP can be beneficial in the treatment of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

In order for our bodies to convert 5-HTP into serotonin, we need calcium, magnesium and B vitamins. Unfortunately, our dietary intake often doesn’t meet our body’s needs, so it is important to supplement ourselves with a good multivitamin containing at least 50-100mg of vitamin B6, and at least 700mg of magnesium chelate, citrate, or taurate.  5-HTP will turn itself into serotonin and then into melatonin, a natural sleep hormone and powerful anti-oxidant. In fact, 5-HTP can increase the body’s production of melatonin by 200%.

In general, an average of 300mg of 5-HTP per day is the recommended dose to restore your levels of serotonin, although quite often, some end up needing around 500mg per day. Start with 50 mg at lunch and dinner and increase your dose every 2 days by 50mg until you reach 300mg of 5-HTP per day.  If you are unable to have a restorative sleep after two weeks, then you can also consider increasing the dose or supplementing yourself with melatonin at night.

Potential side effects of 5-HTP include nausea, diarrhea, and sleepiness. Also, in very rare cases, there might be insomnia and headaches, which usually happen when 5-HTP is taken on an empty stomach and when a person has “sluggish” liver issues.  The good news is that when you take 5-HTP with meals and gradually increase the dose, these side effects should be eliminated.

If you don’t respond to 5-HTP, do more research and consult a doctor. 5-HTP is not a panacea, but it can help with the misery caused by stress-induced serotonin deficiency!

Note: It is practically impossible to reach a serotonin overdose, but a combination of 5-HTP and drugs like SSRIs (serotonin boosting antidepressants) and especially MAOI (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors) can result in an overdose. Please, do not take 5-HTP and these prescription drugs without consulting your physician first.

Addendum

A frequently asked question is when to stop 5-HTP?  The important thing is that when you see that the 5-HTP is giving you (or you are having) symptoms that it is supposed to cure while you are taking it, you should stop the 5-HTP immediately. It means you don’t need it or you filled up your tank. Also, if you are getting too groggy or oversleepy, it is time to decrease the dose. Usually it just takes a few months – sometimes more depending on the individual – but you don’t have to take 5-HTP forever.

Further reading:

Michael Murray, N.D.  5-HTP: The Natural Way to Overcome Depression, Obesity, and Insomnia. New York: Bantam Books, 1998.

Dr. Rodger H. Murphree, Treating and Beating Anxiety and Depression with Orthomolecular Medicine. Birmingham: Harrison and Hamptom Publishing Inc., 2005.

Julia Ross, M.A. The Mood Cure. New York: Viking Penguin, 2002.

Dr. Rodger H. Murphree, Treating and Beating Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Birmingham: Harrison and Hamptom Publishing Inc., 2008.

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Comments

  1. Eliza  February 20, 2016

    Hi Gabriela,

    I enjoyed reading your post! About a year ago I began on a low dose of 50 mg and then ended up taking 200mg daily. My mood was great- no anxiety. But then I went to the gp because of neck pain issues. He prescribed me an antidepressant and so I stopped 5htp and started on the med. A week later after taking the med my body went into shock… Heart pounding, body numbness, etc. Apparently I was experiencing serotonin syndrome. The 5htp must have stayed in my system. Im feeling anger towards the doctor for knowing I took 5htp and still prescribed me the med. I’m now currently experiencing brain fog, panic attacks (in which I never experienced before). It has been 6 months since the incident so I have decided to start on 5htp again. Good idea?
    Also are there certain brands you recommend of 5htp? I take 5htp enteric coated since I have ibs.

    Thank you!

    reply
  2. Joey  May 12, 2016

    I have been taken 5 htp for like 2 weeks. 2 100 mg a day. Morning and. Night. At the same time like 9 am and then 9 pm. But I think I am getting angry real easy now. Should I cut back on the amount I’m taking? Or due I need just more time taking it to start helping me. I’m taking it for depression and anxiety. Thanks Joey.

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  May 13, 2016

      That sounds like a reasonable dose, however, I would approach the depression and anxiety holistically. Diet is the pillar, see “Primal Body, Primal Mind” by Nora Gedgaudas. Also breathing exercises, see eebreathe.com. That for starters. I would look into L-tyrosine supplementation if the 5 HTP doesn’t help you out. Best!

      reply
  3. Kathy  May 18, 2016

    I take 5-HTP before dinner only, can I take it everyday is it safe.

    reply
  4. Melanie Fredrickson  May 25, 2016

    I’m confused as when to take 5-HTP. The bottle I got from a local health food store said “best taken on an empty stomach” but some articles I’ve read say to take with a meal. Also, when is the best time to take it? I’ve read that it also helps with melotonin production? So seems like it would be best taken at night, but I’ve read some that say they take it morning and night. Thanks for your help!

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  May 25, 2016

      If you take it on an empty stomach, there could be digestive side effects if you take a high dose. Taken after eating, it could take a couple of weeks to see the real effects, but it is very well tolerated.

      You could try it before dinner and before going to bed. If there are digestive issues, then try it after eating.

      Best!

      reply
  5. Julian  June 24, 2016

    Hi been taking 5-HTP for three days now, two capsules a night as instructed on the bottle. It’s the “New Mood” variant. I’ve been on zolof for over a year, and stopped them a month back.. As I felt it wasn’t right for me on the long term. I’ve found 5-HTP to be great especially the day after.. But the problem is that taking them before bed as advised is giving me awful stomach ache.. I feel really relaxed but can’t dose of because of the stomach ache. Any thoughts? I’m convinced this is right for me and I’m know it’s not a placebo. Tia

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  June 24, 2016

      When this happens, it is best to have it after a meal. The effect will not be as pronounced, but eventually it will have good results. Alternatively, take one capsule before bed and build up the dose only after a few days and if there is no stomachache.

      reply
      • Julian  June 25, 2016

        Ok I shall try that, thanks. What about one after a meal and one before sleep? Would that work, you think?

      • Gabriela Segura, MD  June 25, 2016

        Sure, that is another option.

  6. Julian  June 25, 2016

    Thanks for the reply. All the best :)

    reply
  7. Jesse  July 8, 2016

    I was a heavy abuser of stimulants for many years, I quit using them almost four years ago, despite eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly I often feel many of the symptoms of serotonin starvation. Being that I used stimulants daily for many years I imagine that both my serotonin and dopamine levels would be depleted. Could 5 htp be a safe effective treatment for me?

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  July 8, 2016

      You can try it, Jesse. At least one bottle. After 3-4 weeks, you can see about adding L-tyrosine.

      I don’t know what you refer to a healthy diet, but “The Mood Cure” and “Primal Body, Primal Mind” are both excellent resources for dietary tips and supplemental support. The Mood Cure addresses stimulant abuse.

      reply
      • Jesse  July 9, 2016

        Thank you for the response, I will be sure to check out the mood cure and the primal body primal mind as well

        As for the healthy diet I eat mostly lean proteins and plant based fats, no processed foods, only sugars from whole fruit lots of water, greens and living foods.

  8. natasha  September 18, 2016

    i have a 5htp supplement thats says to take one a day just before a meal. will thia actually help me sleep as i really struffle sleepinf which then atruggle with energy the next day

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  September 18, 2016

      It helps, although you might need to adjust the dose and make necessary dietary changes to see better results.

      reply
  9. Elaine Stocks  September 26, 2016

    I take 1 200mg in the morning I’d it safe to take one also later in the day ?
    I suffer really badly with anxiety and insomnia

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  September 29, 2016

      More can be taken, provided the dose is raised gradually as to monitor effects. 300mg is a good dose.

      reply
  10. Sonia  October 6, 2016

    Hi I started taking 5htp 100mg one before bed each night for the last 2 weeks. I feel like my brain is numb and I can’t communicate well with others as I’m not feeling like myself. It’s making me a bit paranoid and anti social which I’m not usually. How long should I start to feel better and will the numb brain feeling go away? Please help!

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  October 6, 2016

      If you don’t feel good with them, you can just stop taking them or reduce the dose.

      reply
  11. Freddy  October 10, 2016

    Hello I started taken 5 htp last Tuesday going on a week on 5 htp I take 100mg in the morning because I was suffering from panic attacks anxiety and some depression I’ve felt good after started taken 5 htp but yesterday and 2day I’ve taken on empty stomach and I a really bad headache does 5 htp effect blood prrssue? And how long can I take 5 htp for? I also take omga 3 potassium n magnesium is that ok to mix with 5 htp

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  October 10, 2016

      Take it after a meal, it is better tolerated like that. You can mix it with potassium and magnesium.

      reply
      • Freddy  October 10, 2016

        Ok can I mix with ashwagandha? Or other Supplements?

      • Gabriela Segura, MD  October 11, 2016

        Pretty much.

      • Drew  April 3, 2017

        is two in the morning and two before bed too much

      • Gabriela Segura, MD  April 3, 2017

        Best to start with the lowest possible dose and build up from there if necessary.

  12. Joseph Arsanis  October 25, 2016

    Dr. Son raised low serotonin after taking tryptophan 3,000 mg daily for 2 months (they work slooooowly) I know tryptophan is safe and can take forever. I stop tryptophan and started 100mg 5htp in evening for several days. Now I give son 100mg in afternoon & evening. I know 5htp shouldn’t be taken longer than ??? 2 or 3 months? But once I stop and take a break how long is the break before restarting? 2 months? He has schizophrenia 9 yrs ago and now has contracted OCD. No antipsychotic poisons, just orthomolecular medicine . Tried INOSITOL, didn’t work, tried CBD HEMP OIL, didn’t help, he got diarrhea from both. Am thinking of CBD PASTE, what say you? Thanks for your reply. Joseph Arsanis

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  October 25, 2016

      For OCD symptoms, GABA calm can also be a good thing to keep in mind. As for continuing with supplements or not, let the clinical symptoms be your guide.

      Remember that he has to be gluten and dairy free for optimal results. Best!

      reply
  13. Naturally Combating SMI  November 4, 2016

    I took 100mg of 5htp last night 30 minutes before bed at 9:15 pm and I happen to be the rare case where it gave ne insomnia- I finally fell asleep at 1 a.m. (I was so tired and know I’d have fallen fast asleep if I hadn’t taken it as I felt like it wouldnt let my mind relax enough to to pass out) I didn’t experience any high anxiety like I might have when I get my periodic spots of insomnia. I read many people take it in the mornings? Would that be better do you think? I was just worried about when to take it. My doctor is off on Fridays and I can’t consult her now. She wants me to do 100mg a day for a week and do a phone consultation to see how it’s addressing my depression and anxiety. Any thoughts or suggestions?

    reply
  14. Ashley  November 11, 2016

    I only take 50mg each night before bed. I took it for about 2 weeks and felt much better so I stopped taking it. After about 4 days I felt exhausted and angry. I took a pill that night and felt great the next day. Were those withdrawal symptoms? How do I stop taking it without experiencing that again?

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  November 11, 2016

      I would take it until at least the month of January. When day light comes again, you should feel better. 5HTP shouldn’t cause withdrawal symptoms. When you have those symptoms while taking it, you know it is time to stop.

      reply
  15. Jinnie Yeo  November 15, 2016

    Hello, my husband is suffering recently with anxiety. I bought him some Higher Nature 50mg 5HTP tablets and Higher Nature Balance for Nerves tablets with B vitamins and magnesium. Can he mix these? They both contain Niacin and folic acid and B6, I don’t know if taking too much of this can cause issues? I can’t find the answer anywhere. Please help. Thanks

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  November 19, 2016

      It is pretty safe, don’t worry. If you take excess magnesium, you’ll have a laxative effect. The B vitamins should ideally be metilated, but whatever you have right now will do.

      reply
  16. Llanira  December 7, 2016

    Hello,

    I purchased 100mg to help aid with sleep. Prior to taking these, I only get about 4 out of 8 hours sleep, disrupted throughout the night. I began taking 100mg in the morning and another 100mg before bed. The results: gained an hour to two of uninterrupted sleep at the beginning of my sleep cycle. This has still left me with about 4.5 total hours of sleep, 1.5 of which are interrupted and the rest broken up throughout the night.

    What dosage would you suggest I try to help gain more uninterrupted sleep? I seem to get a bit sleepy in the day after taking my morning dose.

    The only reason I know my sleep cycle is because I have a Fitbit that allows me to keep track of it.

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  December 7, 2016

      If you already did some lifestyle modifications such as sleeping in total darkness, avoiding technology a couple of hours before going to bed, etc; then I would take 100mg in the late afternoon and another 100mg before going to bed. You can increase the dose to 200mg before going to bed. If the insomnia persists, I would add a time-released melatonin before going to bed. During winter, you can also get exposed to far infrared light, 20 minutes per day, in the early hours of the day.

      reply
    • Llanira  December 7, 2016

      Thank you, I will try your suggestions!

      reply
  17. Jill  December 18, 2016

    My husbad is depressed and will not go see a doctor, so I was thinking of having him try the 5-HTP, the only thing is he has siezers. Is it safe for hime to take?

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  December 18, 2016

      Seizures? In that case, you might want to look into low carb, gluten free diet. That can be very healing for the brain.

      Nevertheless, 5 HTP should be no contraindication.

      reply
  18. Steve  December 26, 2016

    Took venlafaxzine 37.5mg 1 a day for only 5 day stope for 3 weeks now I suffer from depression anxiety panic attacks obsession I’m going crazy do to the anxiety I feel is it OK to take 5HTP 50 mg now and I also have insonima

    reply
  19. Erick Tjiong  January 8, 2017

    Hello, i’ve been suffering from anxiety and depression. I took 200 miligram of 5htp for 4 months and then i feel a lot better. After that i try to cut down into 100 miligrams of 5htp for the past 2 months and now my anxiety and depression is back. Is it safe for me to take 5htp for long term? Will 5htp become less effective for me in long term since my body gets used to it? Cause i assume taking 5htp is better than taking antidepressants. Thanks

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  January 9, 2017

      It is much better than taking anti-depressants. And if you respond positively to 5HTP, then your body must need it now. Anyhow, I would add magnesium and methylated B vitamins to your daily supplementation. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet, i.e. see “Primal Body, Primal Mind” by Nora Gedgaudas and try to wind down from 5 HTP again in a couple of months. Usually, when the supplement gives the opposite effect it intends to give, then it is time to stop it. Hope this helps.

      reply
  20. Simon  January 10, 2017

    I have been suffering from severe major depression and insomnia for 5 years now… I’ve been on and off anti-depressants (Bupropion) and tried many many other things…

    I followed your recipe of magnesium, 5-htp and fully biologically active B-complex and I have to say I am super impressed. It took about a week taking this every day, but I finally got deep restorative sleep without using any sleeping aids. I’ve never felt better. Just wanted to say thank you!

    For any other comment readers this is what worked for me. Hopefully it works for you!!

    330mg Magnesium Glycinate (2x 165mg capsules)
    200mg 5-HTP (2x100mg)
    0.5-1 capsule of Advanced B-Complex.
    1000 IU Vitamin D
    (Repeat every morning for two weeks)
    See links below for the exact brands.

    http://www.noahsnaturalfoods.ca/pure-lab-vitamins-magnesium-glycinate-200-g/
    http://www.noahsnaturalfoods.ca/aor-advanced-b-complex-90-veg-caps/
    http://www.noahsnaturalfoods.ca/aor-tryfonia-max-60-veg-caps/

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  January 10, 2017

      Thank you for sharing, Simon! Best of health for you and your loved ones.

      reply
  21. Michelle Rosewell  March 7, 2017

    Hi I’ve been taking 5htp for over a year now. I was advised to take it as i was having opticalmigraines every 2/3 days i was also suffering from mild depression. The migraines have now disappeared and i feel great. I did decrease the dose towards the end of last year and my depression and anxiety where worse than ever. In now worried as i take between 299/400mg every night.

    reply
  22. Dheeru  April 6, 2017

    I have bought 200mg 5HTP supplement. Taking a 200mg capsule is too strong for a starter? I work in night shifts so what is the best time to take this pill in a day..
    BTW, I am suffering from anxiety, depression & insomnia

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  April 6, 2017

      If you have problems with it, you can take it after eating.

      reply
      • Dheeru  April 6, 2017

        As I am working in night shift forever, Which is best time to take this 200mg capsule , morning or night?

      • Gabriela Segura, MD  April 6, 2017

        Morning, you don’t want to fall asleep in your night shift.

  23. Tracy  April 20, 2017

    Can u take Buspar 20 mg along with 5htp and l-the anime with rholoa

    reply
  24. Tracy  April 20, 2017

    Thankyou for answering, but can U take all three together? Buspar, 5HTP and L-theanine serene with Relora or would it cause more anxiety. Not sure is Buspar is causing anxiety and would like to ake these other supplements. Been taking Buspar and still feel extreme anxiety.

    reply
  25. Tracy  April 20, 2017

    And you say a bridge. Could you please explain. Thank you for your time.

    reply
    • Gabriela Segura, MD  April 20, 2017

      Buspar is related to benzodiazepines which is the one drug group that can really screw your brain chemistry, along with anti-psychotics. It is prescribed like candy, when in reality, it should be reserved for extreme cases (i.e. hospital setting). Benzos can cause permanent and persistent anxiety. See “Mad in America” by Robert Whitaker. If you are able to wean down off it with the help of a health care provider, that would be ideal.

      reply

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