5-HTP For Weight Loss:Is it right for you?

5-htp What Is 5-HTP ?

5-HTP or 5-hydroxytryptophan is an amino acid made by the body from L-tryptophan found in high protein foods we eat. 5-HTP is then converted by the body to the hormone serotonin, which regulates the mood and melatonin which regulates our sleep cycles. There are no foods high in 5-HTP. 5-HTP is made from tryptophan. Foods rich in L-tryptophan are: dairy products, meat, fish, seeds such as flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, seaweed, legumes, soybean, chocolate, fruits like banana, cantaloupe, oranges, peas, and green leafy vegetables, as well as broccoli.

What causes our body to be deficient in 5-HTP?

The conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP is limited because of the availability of the enzyme called tryptophan hydroxylase which is the catalyst in the conversion. When you are deficient in vitamin B6 or magnesium, or experience factors such stress or insulin resistance, it is difficult for our body to convert tryptophan to 5-HTP.

How does taking a 5-HTP help weight loss?

Some researchers say, that people who are overweight are deficient in the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase which is needed to convert tryptophan to 5-HTP. As a result, they have decreased seratonin levels. Due to low seratonin levels, your brain will not get the message that you are full and you will overeat, which will result in weight gain. Taking a 5-HTP supplement eliminates the need for conversion.

What is the benefit of taking 5-HTP supplements instead of eating tryptophan rich foods?

Most 5-HTP that is converted to serotonin from tryptophan is what you get from your diet. However, only about 1 to 2% of your total serotonin crosses the blood-brain barrier and enters brain cells. The rest ends up in your blood and peripheral tissues. This is because of the size of the serotonin molecule, which cannot cross the blood brain barrier. This makes taking a 5-HTP supplement important, as studies have shown that taking this supplement helps the conversion of serotonin after it reaches the brain. The blood-brain barrier serves as protection against toxins that enter the brain.

Other 5-HTP Benefits:

What to look for in a  5-HTP supplement?

Just because a supplement is labelled natural or is available over the counter does not mean it is safe. Always look for pure 5-HTP supplement that says griffonia simplicifolia extract on the bottle, because of possible impurities and contamination. 5-HTP supplements are made from seeds of an African plant called Griffonia simplicifolia.. 5-HTP is also found in many herbal remedies and multi-vitamins. Talk to your health care provider or naturopathic physician to know what dose is right for you. Most supplements are found in the range of 50 mg to 200 mg.

 Who should not take 5-HTP supplements?

5-HTP reacts with other prescription drugs, especially SSRIs, because taken together, they increase serotonin levels in the brain, leading to a dangerous condition called serotonin syndrome, which can cause serious side-effects such as anxiety, rapid heart beat, high blood pressure, shivering, and aggression. People with other medical conditions, who should not take 5-HTP are:

  • Children
  • Pregnant women
  • People on SSRI or MAOI
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • People diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease
  • People diagnosed with any form of cancer
  • People diagnosed with Lupus
  • People who have Allergies
Is 5-HTP safe?

Some studies done at the NIH show that the use of 5-HTP is linked to a serious condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), which is a serious condition involving extreme muscle tenderness and blood abnormalities. The NIH advises against the use of 5-HTP until more research is done. If you are considering taking a 5-HTP supplement for weight-loss, it is very important to consult your physician before starting with this supplement regimen.

Nothing can beat keeping your brain and body healthy by eating the right foods. Remember, what is good for your brain is good for your body. Proper diet and exercise cannot be substituted for a pill for weight loss.



5-HTP research




Image: Jack Hynes via Compfight

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