5-HTP – Effects, Side Effects, And Dosage

Those affected by depression, anxiety, and mood swings should use 5-HTP. We describe the advantages of L-tryptophan intake.

5-HTP – effects, side effects, and dosage

Those affected by depression, anxiety, and mood swings should use 5-HTP. We describe the advantages of L-tryptophan intake.

5-HTP for depression and mood swings

5-HTP is an amino acid and the direct precursor to serotonin. This means that serotonin is produced in the body from 5-HTP in just one step. Serotonin is considered the hormone that regulates mood, inhibits aggression, and drives away fears. In the case of depression, anxiety, and mood swings, a serotonin deficiency is therefore often suspected and it is therefore recommended to take measures to increase the serotonin level. 5-HTP is one such measure.

A summary of natural and holistic measures to increase serotonin levels can be found at the end of the article (under raising serotonin levels naturally). The following is exclusively about one of the measures presented there, namely the intake of 5-HTP.

5-HTP used to be a common antidepressant

The abbreviation 5-HTP stands for 5-hydroxy tryptophane. Caution: Serotonin is sometimes referred to as 5-hydroxytryptamine, then abbreviated to 5-HT. So 5-HT is not the same as 5-HTP. Another name for 5-HTP is oxitriptan.

In the 1970s and 1980s, 5-HTP was routinely prescribed for depression. But then the antidepressants of the serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) type, which are so widespread today, appeared on the market and displaced 5-HTP so massively that today it is no longer even considered a drug, but “only” as a dietary supplement on the market. Of course, this also has advantages, because you no longer have to ask for a prescription, but can try 5-HTP on your own.

The amino acid L-tryptophan was and is repeatedly touted to increase the serotonin level and thus improve mood or promote sleep. To promote sleep because a healthy serotonin level at night also results in a healthy melatonin level, which in turn is responsible for restful and undisturbed sleep – because melatonin is the sleep hormone. (How to increase your melatonin levels naturally and thus improve your sleep – apart from 5-HTP – we have explained here: How to increase melatonin levels naturally).

However, 5-HTP has some advantages over taking L-tryptophan:

The advantages of 5-HTP over L-tryptophan

While 5-HTP is the direct precursor of serotonin, L-tryptophan is the precursor of 5-HTP. This already shows the first advantage of taking 5-HTP compared to taking L-tryptophan: You skip a step, which massively simplifies and accelerates the production of serotonin because the first step in particular is associated with all sorts of complications:

Conversion of L-tryptophan into 5-HTP is subject to many influences

The conversion of L-tryptophan into 5-HTP can be blocked by many factors, e.g. B. from various vital substance deficiencies, from a high-stress hormone level, or from strong blood sugar fluctuations. By skipping this step, you bypass all of these possible risk factors that would stand in the way of serotonin production from L-tryptophan.

Transport of L-tryptophan to the brain is often a problem

In addition, in order for L-tryptophan to become serotonin in the brain, it first has to get to the brain – and that is often a problem. Because L-tryptophan is not the only amino acid that wants to get into the brain. The other amino acids are usually faster and occupy the transporters through the blood-brain barrier, so that L-tryptophan, which is often at the end of the queue, no longer has a place. How to steer the other amino acids away from the blood-brain barrier in order to increase the amount of L-tryptophan traveling to the brain is described in the article “Increasing Serotonin Levels Naturally”. You will find the corresponding link at the end of the text.

L-tryptophan has many other functions

The next problem is that L-tryptophan is not exclusively responsible for the production of serotonin. Amino acid has many other uses in the body. Yes, only 3 percent of the L-tryptophan ingested with food is said to be converted into serotonin.

Serotonin is not only needed in the brain but also in the rest of the body, e.g. B. for the regulation of the intestinal peristalsis, the vessels, and the appetite. All of these tasks require 95 percent of total serotonin. It is thus clear that most of the tiny amount of L-tryptophan that is available for the production of serotonin is also used to produce the body’s serotonin. There is often not much left for the formation of brain serotonin.

Unfortunately, the blood-brain barrier is also impenetrable for body serotonin. So the brain always has to make the serotonin it needs itself.

Almost 100 percent of 5-HTP is converted to serotonin

In contrast to L-tryptophan, 5-HTP has only one task, namely to be converted into serotonin. This means: Almost 100 percent of the ingested 5-HTP is actually converted to serotonin. Also, 5-HTP has no problem crossing the blood-brain barrier.

Taking 5-HTP, then, seems like an enticingly simple way to boost serotonin levels and say goodbye to problems like depression, mood swings, and anxiety once and for all. But there are also factors that need to be considered:

Food contains almost no 5-HTP

For example, while you can easily control your L-tryptophan supply through diet (by eating more foods rich in L-tryptophan, such as nuts, grains, legumes, and peanuts), this is not the case with 5-HTP. Because 5-HTP is almost never contained in food.

Unripe bananas – but only in certain types of bananas – are said to contain certain unspecified amounts of 5-HTP. However, we do not know whether these are the bananas that are available in our supermarkets and what degree of immaturity they must have so a 5-HTP supply with bananas does not seem realistic.

The effects of 5-HTP

Exceptionally high levels of 5-HTP were discovered in the seeds of an African plant, the African black bean (Griffonia simplicifolia), and this plant has since been used as a raw material for the production of isolated 5-HTP preparations. These preparations are currently the only way to supply yourself with relevant amounts of 5-HTP in a targeted manner – not only to combat depression, by the way. There are other areas of application for 5-HTP, such as sleep disorders, obesity, hot flashes during menopause, fibromyalgia, or migraines.

Headaches and migraines

Since low serotonin levels were found in migraine patients or patients who often suffer from headaches and serotonin receptor agonists (means that act like serotonin in the brain and dock to the serotonin receptors) lead to a relief of migraine pain, studies investigated the effect of 5 -HTP in the prevention of migraines. A long-term healthy serotonin level – so the thought – should then prevent headaches and migraines.

In a 1986 study published in the journal European Neurology, 124 migraine sufferers were given either 5-HTP or methysergide (a drug used to prevent migraines but which is no longer on the market due to severe side effects).

All participants were the same age, and gender suffered from the same migraine type and severity, and had received the same therapy in the past. In the methysergide group, 75 percent of the patients reported a significant improvement in their symptoms; in the 5-HTP group, 71 percent reported less intense and much shorter migraine attacks thanks to 5-HTP. Side effects were more common in the methysergide group than in the 5-HTP group.


An important task of serotonin is u. the regulation of appetite. A lack of serotonin could therefore also lead to eating far too much and constantly having an appetite, even though you have long since eaten enough calories. For this reason, various studies examined the extent to which 5-HTP could help overweight people lose weight. 5-HTP has been shown to curb appetite and successfully help with weight loss in a number of cases.

The University of Rome, for example, conducted a double-blind study in which overweight women took 8 mg of 5-HTP per kilogram of body weight per day or a placebo preparation for five weeks. During this time, the women ate normally, i.e. they did not go on a diet. Although the mood of these women did not change, they ate fewer calories (38 percent fewer, compared to just 20 percent fewer in the placebo group) and lost weight accordingly.

Similar results were obtained in two other double-blind studies at this university. Taking 750 and 900 mg of 5-HTP per day (now considered too high a dose that could cause side effects) resulted in decreased appetite in overweight men and women for two and six weeks, respectively. They ate fewer carbohydrates, felt full earlier, and lost more weight than their placebo groups.

Sleep disorders

As explained above, the healthier the serotonin level, the healthier the melatonin level, which is a prerequisite for healthy sleep. Therefore, if it is possible to optimize the serotonin level with 5-HTP, then the melatonin level may also be regulated, which in turn helps to remedy sleep problems.

However, it must be taken into account that it can initially have the opposite effect and that 5-HTP initially wakes you up, but then “triggers a cascade of physiological processes that promote subsequent sleep” – according to a study by the University of Texas in 2000.

Of course, the effect of 5-HTP on sleep quality, sleep duration, and the phase of falling asleep is also dose-dependent and depends on the individual person and their metabolism, their neurotransmitter levels, their L-tryptophan supply, their vital substance status, and much more, so it is often best to carefully test the individually correct procedure with a lot of sensitivity and small initial doses.

In 2004, the European Journal of Pediatrics published the results of a study on children who had suffered from sleep disorders (night terrors). Although it is generally discouraged to give children 5-HTP, this study did just that.

The study participants were 45 children between the ages of 3 and 10 years. 31 received 2 mg of 5-HTP per kilogram of body weight for 20 days at bedtime. 29 children reacted extremely positively to the remedy and were able to sleep much better. In the placebo group, this was the case for just under a third of the children. Even after six months, most children in the 5-HTP group were symptom-free, while more than 70 percent in the placebo group continued to suffer from their night terrors.

Testimonials with 5-HTP

“I started noticing the effects of 5-HTP after about a week. But I thought my mood would have improved on its own since I didn’t believe in 5-HTP. I stopped taking the drug and my mood plummeted to the basement. So I took it again and I’m doing very well on 400 mg (which I take in the evening).”

“I’m suffering from painkiller withdrawal (opioids) and therefore have anxiety. After two weeks of 5-HTP, I felt such relief, the anxiety decreased so much that I regained courage.”

“5-HTP has changed my life! After trying so many different antidepressants, all of which didn’t work, I gave 5-HTP a try. It helps me sleep well, it helps me deal with stress and overall I feel wonderful .”

“5-HTP is the only remedy that helped me with my depression. My anxiety also decreased. However, if I take it on an empty stomach, it makes me nauseous. So I have to be careful to take it after meals (5th ).”

“For years I suffered from a severe generalized anxiety disorder, including social anxiety disorder with occasional panic attacks and insomnia. I tried different antidepressants, such as citalopram, venlafaxine, and sertraline. They all helped somewhat, which means that the problems improved by about 40 to 50 percent. But they never completely went away. Then I tried 5-HTP. It’s hard to believe, but my symptoms are completely gone. I feel completely normal. I don’t dwell on things like, how I used to do it and what has been tormenting me for so long. Of course, it could be a placebo reaction, but with all the drugs that have been tried so far, it should have happened, which wasn’t the case.”

“I’ve only been on 5-HTP for five days and I’m at 300 mg per day – divided into three doses each with meals and one at night before bed. I combine 5-HTP with my multivitamin, with a B vitamin complex and vitamin C. I have kept my meds to a minimum. I sleep better and feel better during the day. Big Pharma products only mask the problem when it feels so normal now!”

“I used non-drug strategies regularly (behavioral therapy, etc.) to deal with anxiety and depression. But it became increasingly difficult, especially after my father died. I didn’t want to take drugs because I feared they would only make me foggy or even addictive. 5-HTP helped me with no side effects. I take it in the evening so I can sleep and wake up in the morning with no problems. Am I happy now? No, but I’ve become more optimistic, don’t sink anymore, eh so often before, in gloomy thoughts, and slowly my interest in life is awakening again.

Combinations with L-tryptophan, St. John’s wort, passion flower

It often makes sense to combine different (mutually reinforcing) measures in order to achieve a better effect. Whatever combination you want to try, start with one of the remedies. Only after a few days do you add the second, and after another 3 to 4 days the third (if a third is included in the chosen combination). If the first remedy is sufficient, the others are not required.

Combination of 5-HTP with Rhodiola rosea

  • 200 to 600 mg of Rhodiola Rosea in two divided doses, the first dose to be taken in the morning before breakfast and the second before lunch.
  • 200 mg 5-HTP in the evening

Combination of 5-HTP with L-tryptophan and/or melatonin

Note that taking 5-HTP and L-tryptophan together is generally discouraged due to concerns about excess serotonin, so dosing should be considered carefully. All three remedies are taken just before bedtime.

  • 500 to 1,500 mg of L-Tryprophan
  • 50 to 100 mg of 5-HTP
  • 0.5 to 1 mg melatonin

Combination of 5-HTP with St. John’s Wort

  • 300 to 350 mg St. John’s wort extract 3 times a day (standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin and 2 to 3 percent hyperforin)
  • 50-100 mg 5-HTP 3 times daily

Combination of 5-HTP with Passiflora (passion flower)

  • 5-HTP once or twice a day (morning and noon) – if twice a day then 100-200 mg each, if once a day then 200-400 mg
  • Once a day passion flower extract (in the evening before going to bed) 500 – 1000 mg
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Written by Micah Stanley

Hi, I'm Micah. I am a creative Expert Freelance Dietitian Nutritionist with years of experience in counseling, recipe creation, nutrition, and content writing, product development.

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