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5-HTP (5-hydroxytrptophan)

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is manufactured from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia.

5-HTP (5-hydroxytrptophan) is the precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin plays an important role in the regulation of mood, appetite, and body temperature. Deficiencies of serotonin in the brain have been linked to a number of conditions including: depression, anxiety, PMS, obesity, insomnia, carbohydrate craving, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and migraine headaches.

Tryptophan - 5-HTP - Serotonin Conversion
When neurons convert tryptophan into serotonin, they must first use a vitamin B3-dependent enzyme to convert tryptophan into 5-HTP. A vitamin B6-dependent enzyme is then used to convert 5-HTP into serotonin. There are several advantages of considering L-5-HTP, as opposed to L-tryptophan, as being the major determinant in elevating brain serotonin levels: L-5-HTP is not degraded by tryptophan pyrrolase to kynurenine, the major pathway for peripheral degradation of L-tryptophan (about 98 percent). Furthermore, L-5-HTP easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. Additionally, 5-HTP is NOT incorporated into proteins, as is tryptophan; nor is 5-HTP used to make vitamin B3, as is tryptophan. Thus, in comparison to tryptophan, 5-HTP is virtually a 'guided missile' that is directly targeted to increasing brain serotonin levels.

Serotonin plays an important role in the regulation of mood, appetite, and body temperature.

Tryptophan vs. 5-HTP
In the 1970s, the American health food industry began to provide an alternative method of getting more tryptophan to the brain - tryptophan supplements. Many people found that 500 to 3,000 mg of supplementary tryptophan daily provided practical relief from depression, PMS, insomnia and obsessive-compulsive disorders. In 1989, the FDA removed tryptophan from the American health food market due to a mysterious outbreak of a rare but serious ailment -- Eosinophilia Myalgia (EMS). This EMS 'epidemic' was later traced to a single batch of contaminated tryptophan from a Japanese producer. Thirteen years later, although tryptophan has been proven to be safe (and is currently available in baby food formulas, intravenous feeding solutions, and veterinary products) the FDA still shows no signs of allowing tryptophan back onto the market as a dietary supplement.

Fortunately, a safe, natural and effective alternative to tryptophan has been researched for over 30 years. This substance is L-5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). 5-HTP is not produced by bacterial fermentation (as was the tainted tryptophan) nor chemical synthesis, but is extracted from the seeds of the Griffonia plant.

Appetite Suppression:
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted by researchers at the University of Rome, 20 obese women were given 300 mg 5-HTP or placebo three times daily for six weeks of unrestricted diets followed by six weeks in which subjects were instructed to consume 1200 calories daily. The 5-HTP group experienced significant weight loss during both periods, and caloric intake was markedly reduced (1879 vs. 3220 calories during spontaneous eating, with a further reduction to 1268 calories during the second period).

The majority of the research on 5-HTP has focused on its possible use as a treatment for depression. In 2000, the clinical research was thoroughly reviewed by Meyers. Many studies were conducted by a group of European researchers in the 1970's and early 1980's. In one study 60% of depressed patients given 5-HTP (200-3000 mg/day) improved while there were no improvements in the placebo group. Another double-blind study with 200 mg/day of 5-HTP indicated that it was more effective than placebo.

5-HTP is commonly used for this purpose. An open study found that 600 mg 5-HTP increased REM sleep by 20 minutes in normal subjects, with a smaller effect with 200 mg. There are theoretical reasons for a benefit, as high amounts of serotonin can cause tiredness and 5-HTP also increases melatonin levels by increasing serotonin, an effect that is more pronounced in the dark. Preliminary human research and research with tryptophan indicates that 5-HTP may be of use in patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

Side effects and precautions:
The most commonly reported side effects are nausea and gastrointestinal distress, and less commonly headaches and sleepiness. The nausea problem may be resolved by starting with a low dose and moving up, and even when large doses are used (900 mg/day), the problem diminishes with time.

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