5-Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is a chemical precursor to serotonin that has shown promising benefits towards the alleviation of depression, binge eating and obesity. These benefits hinge on the increased production of serotonin following 5-HTP consumption. However, depression has a multitude of causes and related combordities, such as obesity and gastrointestinal health. It’s important to understand how 5-HTP works and how your depression might be alleviated through 5-HTP supplementation.
What Role does Serotonin Play in Depression?
Investigations into depression’s causative agents have often centered on serotonin’s ability to promote feelings of happiness, relaxation and euphoria. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is created endogenously in the intestines before it is transported to the brain for usage and reuptake. When the body fails to create sufficient serotonin or serotonin reuptake is increased due to an outside stimulus, the brain can no longer induce feelings of enjoyment and depression can set in.
Contemporary medicinal approaches to depression involve the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These treatments take aim at reducing the brain’s ability to lower serotonin concentrations in the interneuronal space, which is where neurotransmitter activity occurs.
How is 5-HTP Unique?
Whereas SSRIs artificially limit serotonin reuptake and bolster serotonin activity, 5-HTP increases natural production of serotonin within the intestines. This activity allows the body’s own methods of neurotransmitter homeostasis to occur without compromising serotonin availability.
Allowing the brain to self regulate the effects of serotonin and other neurotransmitters is often the best choice for those seeking depression relief. SSRI discontinuation syndrome is a common hallmark of prolonged SSRI use. Although many doctors and medical professionals choose not to identify SSRI discontinuation syndrome as an addiction response, the withdrawal symptoms that are associated are classical addictive descriptors.
5-HTP is non-habit forming due to its natural occurrence. Any food rich in the amino acid tryptophan will also be a source of 5-HTP. Tryptophan and 5-HTP consumption is a normal part of human life. The body has evolved multiple feedback mechanisms with their own fail-safes to prevent the possibility of 5-HTP-induced withdrawal. For example, 5-HTP supplementation that yields additional serotonin in the gut will still be limited by the brain’s natural regulation of serotonin uptake.
However, supplemental dosages of 5-HTP do not elicit the selective absorption of preferential amino acids that are common in patients with depression. This somewhat-exclusive uptake of particular amino acids has been implicated as one of depression’s possibly-causative factors, which makes 5-HTP supplementation a good first-line treatment option.
What Other Benefits Does 5-HTP Offer?
As noted earlier, decreased serotonin levels and depression have a number of comorbidities. Insomnia, obesity, binge eating and anxiety are among the most common interrelated disease states associated with serotonin disruption. 5-HTP has been shown to exert significant influence on these issues through many of the same metabolic pathways used to treat depression. Of particular difference, however, is the beneficial effect that 5-HTP has on insomnia. 5-HTP is required to produce melatonin, which is commonly known for its effects on sleep regulation. Insomnia relief associated with 5-HTP supplementation is believed to stem from this relationship with melatonin.