The Details

What Is 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)? 5-Hydroxytryptophan is usually referred to by its abbreviation 5-HTP, which is how it will be referred to herein. It is a naturally-occurring non-protein amino acid found in many foods, but in low amounts. Higher amounts of 5-HTP is found in the seeds of the plant Griffonia simplicifolia, which is used as an herbal supplement.

What Does 5-HTP Do? 5-HTP is an intermediate between the amino acid tryptophan, from which it is made, and serotonin, an important neurotransmitter in the nervous system, including the brain and gut. Conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) is by the enzyme aromatic-L-amino-acid decarboxylase, and requires the active vitamin B6 cofactor PLP.

What Does a 5-HTP Deficiency Appear as? 5-HTP is made by our bodies and not a required part of the diet.

What About 5-HTP’s Use in Disease? 5-HTP is sold over-the-counter in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and some other countries as a dietary supplement. Common uses are for anxiety, depression, insomnia, and appetite suppression. 5-HTP is sometimes used for a long list of other conditions, including attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), migraine, fibromyalgia, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), myoclonus, and cerebellar ataxia. It is also marketed as a drug under several trade names in many European countries for major depression.

What Are the Common and/or Important Side Effects of 5-HTP? Potential side effects of 5-HTP include heartburn, nausea, gas, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, and vivid dreams or nightmares. Side effects are rare at usual doses used in supplementation. However, the full dose of CalmNeeds® (2 capsules = 200 mg at one time) may cause side effects in some sensitive people, which is one reason for the recommendation to start at one capsule and increase as needed and tolerated.

Theoretically, 5–hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) could contribute towards serotonin syndrome, a very rare condition associated with confusion, restlessness, and shivering/tremor/twitching. This warning came about because high-doses of parenteral (injected into the abdomen) 5-HTP can cause acute serotonin syndrome in rats. However, in humans, 5-HTP has never been clinically associated with serotonin syndrome. Two capsules of CalmNeeds® contains 200 mg of 5-HTP, which is the dose in many over-the-counter products. According to the US National Institute of Health TOXNET, 5-HTP has not been associated with serotonin syndrome or, based on many studies, any serious adverse events in humans. Severe serotonin syndrome is rare in humans (but common in rodents), and almost exclusively caused by an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, e.g. citalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline) or an SNRI (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, e.g. duloxetine, venlafaxine) coupled with an MAOI (monoamine oxide inhibitor, e.g. isocarboxazid, phenelzine) [PMID: 27692695]. MAOI drugs are rarely prescribed today. Because serotonin syndrome may be more likely if one is also taking certain antidepressants, consult with your physician before taking CalmNeeds® if you are taking one of these classes of drugs, or if you are uncertain which class of drugs you are taking.

Is There Any Laboratory Testing for 5-HTP Deficiency? Laboratory testing is not likely to be of clinical utility.

Why is 5-HTP Used in CalmNeeds®

5-HTP is added to CalmNeeds® due to its potential effects against anxiety, depression, and irritability, and to promote sleep.

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