5-HTP: Is This Right for You?

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5-HTP is a chemical compound that is naturally produced in your body as it makes serotonin, an important hormone for regulating your mood. Some doctors consider 5-HTP to be the best natural appetite suppressant. 5-HTP is also naturally produced in various plants, including the seeds of griffonia simplicifolia, a West African shrub. In addition to suppressing your appetite, there is some research that suggests that 5-HTP can also help treating headaches, insomnia, depression and fibromyalgia – but is it right for everybody?

How Does HTP Work?
The body makes 5-HTP naturally from tryptophan and, then, converts it into serotonin. This neurotransmitter has many powerful effects on the brain. Not only does it improve mood, it also suppresses hunger and helps to curb weight gain.

Physicians suggest taking a 5-HTP supplement instead of a serotonin supplement because 5-HTP can access the brain from the bloodstream, while serotonin cannot. In order to access the brain, chemicals and compounds will have to access the blood brain barrier, which grants access to the brain. Therefore, you would need to take a supplement that can cross that barrier, like 5-HTP, in order to increase serotonin levels in the brain.

As serotonin levels increase your hunger diminishes and you feel satiated faster without feeling the need to restrict your food intake. One study found that women ate less carbs without even trying.

Would It Work for Me?
5-HTP has been studied for over 30 years. Several clinical trials have shown that it works to lower the number of calories eaten and aids in weight loss. One study compared overweight women who took 200 mg of 5-HTP before each meal to those who took a placebo. The women who took the supplement ate 1,084 fewer calories per day and felt less hungry during the day. In another study, women who took 5-HTP lost 10.3 pounds over 12 weeks, compared to 2.2 pounds in the placebo group.

Experts and researchers agree that 5-HTP works best for those who constantly crave food around the clock – especially carbs.

Is 5-HTP Safe?
Because it’s a naturally occurring compound in the body, 5-HTP is mostly safe for short-term use (up to 12 weeks). However, those with existing gastrointestinal problems should be cautious and speak to a physician, as there are reports of gastrointestinal side effects, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Also, avoid taking this supplement if you’re already taking antidepressants (such as an SSRI or MAOI) or are seeing a mental health specialist for severe depression or bipolar disorder. 5-HTP has been known in increase suicidal ideation.

If you are pregnant of breastfeeding, you should not use 5-HTP.

So What Should I Look For?
5-HTP is found in drug stores, health food stores and online for about $10-20 a bottle. Make sure to look for pure 5-HTP or griffonia simplicifolia extract on the bottle. Try to avoid additives, fillers, or binders. Before taking it, make sure to check with your physician to make sure there aren’t other things that you might be taking that may increase your serotonin levels in a negative way.

Also, make sure you’re taking good quality 5-HTP supplements. There have been reports of impurities and contaminants causing eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS), which can be deadly. It is an acute illness that causes intense muscle soreness. The condition comes from impurities in some L-tryptophan or 5-HTP supplements, but not the L-tryptophan or the 5-HTP themselves. Ask a naturopathic physician, integrative physician or health food specialist for trusted brands of 5-HTP.

When starting, try to ease your body into taking 5-HTP by taking a small dose. Start with 50mg doses, three times per day. Take it 20-30 minutes before meals. If you don’t think 50 mg is working, speak with your doctor about potentially increasing the dose.

While it may take a few weeks to really feel a difference, you should not take the supplement longer than 12 weeks.

Most importantly, The Doctor Oz Show will not and does not promote any particular brand. If you see any ads or receive any e-mails that claim Dr. Oz is promoting or recommending a specific brand, ignore it and let The Dr. Oz Show know about it.

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