5-HTP and Increased Well-Being


The importance of serotonin to emotional equilibrium is reflected in the popularity of Prozac(TM), Zoloft(TM) and Paxil(TM). This new class of antidepressant drugs was developed after the tryptophan ban. Collectively, they are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. They provide the brain with additional serotonin by inhibiting the breakdown and reuptake of existing serotonin stores. Although this action frequently has the desired emotional effect, it is not surprising to learn that their use results in a number of undesirable side effects. On the other hand, rather than interrupting normal metabolic pathways, 5-HTP furnishes the brain with additional material for the natural synthesis of serotonin.

Why do we feed the brain 5-HTP instead of giving it serotonin? Oddly enough, serotonin cannot penetrate the blood brain barrier. Although produced throughout the body, only 1-2% of all serotonin is found in the brain and this is produced in situ. The tryptophan needed for its synthesis is provided by the proteins we eat. Decreases of dietary tryptophan can profoundly lower brain serotonin levels. It follows that the effectiveness of SSRIs is dependent on the availability of tryptophan (or its derivatives like 5-HTP). Studies show that when tryptophan is restricted from the diets of patients taking SSRIs, they relapse into depression. Only tryptophan supplementation restores the effect of the drugs.

However, even tryptophan is not a sure thing. When protein foods are broken down to their component amino acids, these substances compete for receptor sites. Due to this competition, brain levels of tryptophan fluctuate. Although 5-HTP can be converted to serotonin outside the brain, it is not an amino acid and, therefore, not subject to competition. Supplementation insures that some 5-HTP does cross the blood brain barrier to raise serotonin levels.

Over the last thirty years, researchers have investigated the effects of 5-HTP on depression, anxiety, obesity, insomnia, migraine, fibromyalgia, and several neurological disorders. A number of studies show that it can elevate brain serotonin levels naturally and alleviate serotonin deficiency induced symptoms (called "serotonin deficiency syndrome") without the use of SSRIs. In one study, researchers grave 50-300 mg to 107 patients diagnosed with depression. Seventy-four of the patients (69 percent) were either totally relieved of symptoms or showed marked improvement.

Further, 5-HTP can deliver results equal to those of SSRIs. In one double-blind study, clinically depressed patients were dosed three times daily with either 100 mg of 5-HTP or 150 mg of fluvoxamine (an SSRI). During the six week study, the participants were evaluated four times. From the beginning, both groups experienced a significant and nearly equal reduction in depression. At the end of the study, the percentage of improvement from baseline was greater for the participants taking 5-HTP.

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