5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a by-product of the amino acid L-tryptophan, and a precursor to the neurotransmitter, serotonin (which is commonly associated with happiness). It is commonly used to increase the production of serotonin, reduce stress and suppress appetite.
In addition, 5-HTP helps to combat disorders that are associated with low serotonin levels such as insomnia, depression, weight gain, and anxiety – to name a few (1, 2).
1. Natrol 5-HTP Mood & Stress Tablets
Natrol Time Release 5-HTP 200mg tablet is designed to lighten your mood and reduce stress through a controlled-release effect. The primary ingredients in this tablet are 5-HTP directly from Griffonia simplicifolia, as well as 55 mg of calcium per serving.
There are no artificial flavorings, colorings or added sugars. Natrol is manufactured in the USA and is one of the leading brands for 5-HTP in the nation. Due to its purity and potency, it’s our #1 pick.
2. Arazo Nutrition 5-HTP Extra Strength
Arazo Nutrition designed their 5-HTP capsules to help you sleep more deeply and wake up refreshed with no groggy effects in the morning. It contains 200 mg of pure 5-HTP from the Griffonia simplicifolia, with some additional calcium.
Each bottle comes with 120 veggie capsules and provides 60 servings that are all third-party lab testing for purity.
3. Pure Encapsulations 5-HTP
Pure Encapsulations lives up to the “pure” in their title by providing a 100mg 5-HTP supplement with no other additives.
This capsule is unique in that it is designed to be hypoallergenic as well as vegan-friendly. Medical professionals frequently recommend this formula because the low dose per capsule is easily customizable to individuals’ specific needs.
4. Nature Bell 5-HTP
Nature’s Bell provides a natural 5-HTP solution to improve your sleep and moods. This formula contains 200 mg per serving and can be tailored to an individual’s needs. The compound is made with only 5-HTP from Griffonia simplicifolia and is packed inside a veggie capsule.
Nature’s Bell 5-HTP supplement is pharmaceutical grade and is manufactured in a USA-based facility. Each batch is third-party lab tested before being sent to the market.
5. NutraChamps 5-HTP
NutraChamps has another great 5-HTP supplement option worth checking out. This formula contains 200 mg of 5-HTP from Griffonia simplicifolia in a 2-capsule dosage. They have also added Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C for absorption purposes, to give you maximum results.
This compound is third-party tested and is manufactured at a GMP-registered facility located within the US. In addition, a certain percentage of all profits from NutraChamps products is donated to the non-profit charity, Vitamin Angels.
6. NOW 5-HTP 100mg
We specifically recommend only the 100 mg 5-HTP option, as their 200 mg does not meet our standards. This formula contains 100 mg of 5-HTP from Griffonia simplicifolia, allowing for simple individual customization. There are no other additives, and the capsule is vegetarian-friendly.
NOW foods also contributes to the non-profit charity, Vitamin Angels. All NOW foods products are manufactured in the USA in a GMP-certified facility that is also NPA A-rated.
7. Thorne Research 5-HTP
Thorne’s 5-HTP formula is highly rated and ideal for individuals between the ages of 30-50, although it can work well for any age group. This formula contains 100 mg of 5-HTP with a small amount of B6 for absorption purposes.
This supplement is manufactured in a USA-based facility that is third-party certified. All of their products go through multiple testing processes prior to distribution for quality purposes.
8. Dr. Emil Nutrition 5-HTP Plus Serotonin Supplement
Dr. Emil Nutrition’s 5-HTP Plus contains 200 mg 5-HTP, as well as Vitamin B6, L-Tryptophan, and S-Adenosyl Methionine.
This compound is allergen and hormone-free, as well as 100% natural. It is manufactured in a USA-based facility that is FDA and GMP-certified, and all products undergo third-party lab testing.
9. Toniiq Ultra-High Strength 5-HTP
Toniiq’s rendition of the 5-HTP supplement boasts an extremely pure formula that is a 12:1 ratio concentrated Griffonia seed extract. This formula is sourced from Ghana, where the Griffonia seed is locally harvested, and then crafted in the USA. The blend is made from all-natural seeds with no additives or fillers in the capsules.
This supplement is made and manufactured in a GMP and FDA-compliant facility located within the US.
10. Nature Wise 5-HTP Veggie Capsules
Nature Wise contains 100 mg of 5-HTP from Griffonia simplicifolia and a small amount of Vitamin B6 for better absorption. It comes in a veggie capsule with no binders or fillers.
This supplement is manufactured in the US, and the company also supports the non-profit, Vitamin Angels. While this product is quality-tested, it is unclear whether it is produced in a GMP-certified facility.
How We Rank
While it’s possible to see the benefits in low dosages, it is recommended you take 100-300 mg for the best results (with 100mg being the absolute lowest recommended dose). For this reason, we did not include any brand whose primary option came in 50 mg doses, like Designs for Health and Solaray.
Next, we looked at the ingredients. We wanted to ensure that 5-HTP was the primary ingredient focus, and we eliminated many recommended options solely for not meeting these expectations. For example, we recommended NOW 100 mg but made it clear that NOW 200 mg did not meet our criteria. The 200 mg NOW supplement contained unnecessary additives – not just one, but several. This is why the label is essential. These are made by the same company, but one option was better than the other. The Onnit brand was cut from our list because we felt that they claimed to be experts in the field with no evidence to back up that assertion. Their supplement contained a multitude of blends that had various ingredients and skipped around 5-HTP, so it didn’t meet our criteria.
You will notice that many of the supplements in our ranks, like Nutra Champs and Thorne Research, contained B6 or calcium in small doses. These were allowable additives as they are used to deliver maximum potency and absorbability. We rarely recommend a product that is a blend or, more specifically, a “proprietary blend.” This is because we can’t review what is in the blend, and often, it only contains trace amounts of the supplement we are focusing on.
Trio Nutrition is a well-known brand whose 5-HTP was a proprietary blend, and therefore, it did not make our list, despite its high ratings. Another well-known brand is Doctor’s Best , and we eliminated this one from our list because, while it was advertised as 5-HTP, it only contained a small amount of 5-HTP. The calcium dosage was nearly double the 5-HTP, making it, ultimately, a calcium supplement.
1. 5-HTP can reduce depression. Since serotonin is associated with feelings of happiness and 5-HTP leads to serotonin production, the 5-HTP supplementation could potentially have some benefits for people who are depressed (3, 4, 5).
In a small clinical trial involving 52 healthy male subjects, either oral 5-HTP or antidepressant enhanced serotonin levels by 35% and 100%, but a combination between antidepressant and 5-HTP by 500% (6).
However, the research is not conclusive as some studies showed that 5-HTP supplementation was not shown to significantly reduce depression (7, 8).
There is certainly potential for 5-HTP to be an effective means to be a part of a depression treatment program. The current research hasn’t shown that 5-HTP supplementation alone is enough to treat depression. However, it has shown preliminary signs of efficacy (9).
2. 5-HTP can improve sleep. Quality and duration of sleep have been shown to increase with 5-HTP supplementation in normal patients and those with diagnosed sleep disorders (10).
One reason being that 5-HTP produces serotonin, which can be converted into the hormone melatonin. Moreover, since melatonin regulates your sleep cycle and quality, increasing melatonin availability via 5-HTP supplementation works wonders on sleep.
A 2010 human study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics showed that a combination of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and 5-HTP increased sleep duration, improved sleep quality and significantly reduced the time it took individuals to fall asleep (11).
3. 5-HTP can help with weight loss. One study showed that 5-HTP may increase feelings of fullness (via serotonin secretion), causing you to eat less and lose weight (12).
Another study was done in 1998 and involved 20 people with diabetes who were randomly assigned to receive either 5-HTP or a placebo for two weeks. The results showed that the patients who received 5-HTP consumed approximately 435 fewer calories per day (mainly carbohydrates and fat) and reduced their body weight, compared to the placebo group (13).
Interestingly, 5-HTP has been shown to lead to a lower intake of carbohydrates, thereby increasing compliance with dietary restrictions (14).
In small clinical trials, 5-HTP supplementation in obese women resulted in no mood changes but decreased food intake and weight loss (15, 16).
Moreover, animal studies have shown that 5-HTP may reduce excessive food intake due to stress or depression (17, 18). There is no human research yet to confirm this yet, however.
It is important to note that 5-HTP does not directly lead to weight loss, but rather, leads to a change in eating behavior which then results in weight loss (19).
4. 5-HTP can help combat migraines and headaches. Low serotonin levels are believed to be one of the causes of migraines and headaches (20, 21).
One 1986 study involving 124 people compared the ability of 5-HTP and methysergide, a common migraine medication, to prevent migraines. The study concluded that 71% of participants had a decrease in migraine attacks after supplementing with 5-HTP every day for six months prior (22).
The following year (1987) another study involving 48 students showed that a 70% decrease in headache frequency, was noted with 5-HTP supplementation versus a mere 11% decrease in the placebo group (23).
5. 5-HTP helps with night terrors in children. A 2004 study published in the European Journal of Pediatrics showed that a 93.5% reduction in sleep terrors in children aged 3-10 after taking 2 mg of 5-HTP/kg every night before bed for a month (24).
6. 5-HTP can help with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals. There is currently no known cause of fibromyalgia, but low serotonin levels have been associated with the condition (25).
Research indicates since 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, it can help improve daytime fatigue, pain, tenderness, anxiety, and sleep quality – all which are fibromyalgia symptoms (26, 27, 28).
A 1996 study showed that people with fibromyalgia who were given monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) (a type of antidepressant medication) in combination with 5-HTP reported significantly reduced pain (29).
In patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia, the use of 5-HTP has been preliminarily shown to improve symptoms within a 3 month period (30).
7. 5-HTP can help reduce the likelihood of panic attacks. Low levels of serotonin alone have not been shown to lead to increased panic or anxiety (31).
However, the reduced serotonin may lead to increased susceptibility to panic or anxiety attacks (32).
Interestingly, 5-HTP seems to be more effective at reducing panic attacks in those who have been diagnosed with a panic disorder, as opposed to healthy people (33, 34).
8. 5-HTP may lesson withdrawal symptoms from alcohol. A 2011 study involving 20 subjects going through alcohol withdrawal showed that 5 HTP in combination with glutamine, D-phenylalanine and some trace minerals decreased withdrawal symptoms over 40 days (35)
9. 5-HTP can lower cortisol and stress responses. A 2010 study found that 5-HTP supplementation helped to reduce stress induced by a break-up for up to 3 weeks post break-up. The study looked at non-depressed youth who went through a recent break-up. After being given 12.8mg of 5-HTP for 6 weeks, twice per day, patients noted less romantic stress measured at the 3-week mark (36).
This is only preliminary research, but it suggests that 5-HTP may play a role in reducing the stressors of everyday life.
10. 5-HTP can help combat anxiety. In young adults who suffer stress or anxiety from unreciprocated romanticism, a 6-week supplementation of 5-HTP decreased anxiety in 3 weeks by increasing blood BDNF levels and serotonin levels (37).
In human clinical trials, herbal extracts of 5-HTP were shown to activate GABA receptors or increase GABA levels, promoting a sense of relaxation and decreased anxiety (38).
11. 5-HTP is easily made into serotonin. The amino acid tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP before it is converted to serotonin. TPH1 and TPH2, the enzymes responsible for converting tryptophan to 5-HTP, are the slowest (rate-limiting) enzymes in serotonin production (39).
5-HTP is readily and freely converted to serotonin without biochemical inhibition.
12. 5-HTP effortlessly crosses the blood-brain barrier. Tryptophan competes with leucine, valine, tyrosine, and isoleucine to cross the blood-brain barrier (40).
5-HTP, however, does not compete with other amino acids to enter the brain. 5-HTP readily crosses the blood-brain barrier without receptors or channels. Serotonin does not cross the blood-brain barrier, so serotonin outside of the brain (in the gut, platelets, heart, and liver) stays separate from serotonin in the brain.
5-HTP gets converted into serotonin both inside and outside of the brain.
13. 5-HTP is only converted into serotonin. While tryptophan can be used for protein synthesis and turning into niacin, 5-HTP can only be used for converting into serotonin (41).
This makes 5-HTP a super effective supplement at resolving serotonin-related body and brain issues.
1. 5-HTP supplementation can cause nausea. Since serotonin in the digestive system controls gut movement, all interventions that increase serotonin levels, including 5-HTP supplementation and SSRI antidepressants, can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The most commonly reported side effects of 5-HTP in all clinical trials in humans are nausea and vomiting as the quick surge of serotonin throughout the body is not well tolerated (42, 43).
Slow-released 5-HTP may be better tolerated and less likely to cause side effects (44).
Other common side effects include headaches, fatigue, drowsiness and muscular pain (45).
2. Serotonin Syndrome (an overdose of serotonin in the body) has been noted at higher doses using lab rats. However at the same dose (relative to body weight), this side effect has not been shown in humans; it is, however, worth noting (46).
With normal dosages of 5-HTP (typically around 300mg a day), however, side effects and the serotonin syndrome have not been observed in humans even with congestion of anti-depressants such as MAOIs (47).
3. Long-term supplementation with 5-HTP can deplete dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Serotonin shares the same conversion and breakdown enzyme (MAO) with other neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine). Long-term supplementation of 5-HTP can cause imbalances of these neurotransmitters, which can worsen neurological and psychiatric diseases. It is therefore recommended that 5-HTP supplementation is supervised by qualified clinicians and balanced with neurotransmitter precursors (48).
In cases where there is too much 5-HTP, it will reduce dopamine synthesis as a result of overwhelming the AAAD enzyme through competitive inhibition, leading to depletion of dopamine, norepinephrine and other neurotransmitters (49).
With increasing doses of 5-HTP, MAO activity increases. When this happens, MAO can then break down dopamine and cause it to decrease (50).
4. 5-HTP can cause serotonin specific side effects. Because 5-HTP converts to serotonin in your system, it is expected that you could experience serotonin-related side effects. These side effects include changes in appetite, body temperature, sexual behavior, and pain sensation.
While 5-HTP is typically used to improve your sleep quality, it is possible that the serotonin will negatively affect your sleep, although this is a rare side effect.
5. 5-HTP may cause EMS. While 5-HTP is considered primarily safe to take as a supplement there have been cases in which individuals who have regularly taken high doses of this supplement might develop EMS (eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, which is a condition that mimics fibromyalgia with extreme muscle tenderness with additional blood abnormalities.
Studies also suggest that pure 5-HTP supplements do not typically pose this threat but supplements that contain other additives can contaminate the supplement and lead to this effect. This is a factor that leaves remaining unknown information as to what truly causes these effects within a 5-HTP supplement.
6. 5-HTP may not be safe for children. 5-HTP is only recommended for children in extremely small doses of up to 5 mg per day if they are under 12 years of age. It is a challenge, however, to find a dosage this small.
While there are benefits for some children, it is important to be mindful of the dosage and they should not take it for more than 3 years continually. Some studies show that children who take high doses for extended periods of time are more likely to develop EMS.
7. High doses of 5-HTP taken orally can potentially be unsafe. This is primarily true of doses that are taken in excess for extended periods. For example, the daily recommended dose of 5-HTP is between 100-300 mg (for adults).
Studies show that adults who have taken daily doses of 6-10 grams suffer from serious side effects. This is 6,000 or more mg, which dramatically exceeds the recommended daily dose. The intended effects of 5-HTP are then negated, and the consumer could also experience muscle spasms as well as severe stomach disorders.
How much 5-HTP you should take depends on your reason for using it. As a sleep aid, you should use 100-300mg 45 min before bed (51).
For appetite suppression to help with weight loss, take 250mg about 30 min before a meal (52).
For combating depression and elevating mood, take 50-100mg, 3 times per day with food. You need at least 7 days for it to saturate in your system before you will start to experience the full benefits (53).
To help deal with headaches, take 100-200mg, 3 times per day with food. You’ll need at least 21 days to feel the full effect (54).
Is 5-HTP dangerous? Generally no, 5-HTP is a safe supplement. However, too much 5-HTP in your system can cause a spike in serotonin levels, resulting in side effects such as anxiety, shivering, and serious heart problems.
Does 5-HTP help with anxiety? Evidence on the effects of 5-HTP for anxiety is unclear.
How do I know if I am a good candidate for taking 5-HTP? 5-HTP is considered probably safe for all individuals when taken in recommended dosage levels and not as a lifetime supplement. You should periodically allow your body to rest from the supplement.
It is not recommended to take 5-HTP if you have Down Syndrome or if you suffer from various seizure-related disorders. Additionally, you should be cautious about taking this supplement if you are pregnant or breastfeeding as limited study information is available. It is also not recommended to take 5-HTP within 2 weeks of a scheduled surgery as the serotonin production could interfere with various drugs that are used in accordance with surgical procedures.
Does 5-HTP help with sleep? 5-HTP has been shown in scientific studies to promote relaxation and alleviate stress which are often the main culprits that fight against good sleep.
Does 5 HTP help with weight loss? Yes, 5-HTP can help increase satiety and thus help with weight loss.
When is the best time to take 5-HTP? It doesn’t matter as long as it is with food.
How much 5-HTP do you take for depression? 50–100 mg, 3 times per day with meals.
Can 5-HTP be taken daily? There is insufficient information about the extended use of 5-HTP within the recommended dosage levels. Most studies show that taking 5-HTP for up to one year daily is safe.
However, with the limited information available, it is recommended that once a year you take a cyclical break from the supplement to allow your body time to adapt without it. You may find that you no longer need the supplement after this time off. But if you determine you do still need the supplement you can take it again after a short break.
Does 5-HTP suppress appetite? 5-HTP dietary supplements raise the serotonin levels in the brain, which helps support mood and appetite balance. Low levels of serotonin can contribute to the development of depression and increased appetite.
Is it better to take 5-HTP or L-tryptophan? 5-HTP is a better choice for many reasons. It is only made into serotonin, crosses the brain blood-barrier with ease and doesn’t have the chance to turn into toxic metabolites, like it’s counterpart L-tryptophan.
Does 5-HTP make you sleep? While it’s not the main effect, 5-HTP can make some individuals tired and sleepy.
Does 5-HTP raise blood pressure? No, in fact, 5-HTP may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised for patients taking drugs that lower blood pressure already.
Is there any time you should never take 5-HTP? You should not take 5-HTP at the same time as taking any type of medicine (including over-the-counter) that contains Dextromethorphan as this can also lead to too much serotonin in the brain.
Does 5-HTP negatively interact with medications? There is limited research information available as to how 5-HTP supplements work with other medications. However, it is recommended that if you take any type of medication for depression, you should not mix that with 5-HTP supplements as it could lead to serotonin overdoses. This includes both anti-depressants and MAOIs.
Additionally, you should not take 5-HTP at the same time as taking any type of medicine (including over-the-counter) that contains Dextromethorphan as this can also lead to too much serotonin in the brain. Demerol, Talwin, Tramadol, and various sedatives have been shown to have similar reactions as well.
Each of the aforementioned medicines can cause brain reactions such as shivering, confusion, muscle soreness, grogginess, excessive sleepiness, anxiety, rapid speech, or aggressiveness. It has also been shown to cause heart problems. We recommend talking to your health professional before beginning use of this supplement.
How long does 5-HTP take to work? In one to two weeks, the person should feel a difference and see some results. If nothing is noticed a dosage increase might be necessary. Always be sure to titrate slowly, jumping no more than 100mg upwards at a time.
How quickly is 5-HTP absorbed in the intestine? 5-HTP is rapidly absorbed in the upper intestine, with 50% of 5-HTP absorbed in 1.5 hours. Elimination of 5-HTP is also rapid, with 50% absorbed in 2 hours
Is it possible to test serotonin brain levels? Currently, it is not possible to measure serotonin levels in a human brain without a brain biopsy. Indirect markers that are good indicators of serotonin levels in the brain are cortisol levels and blood or urinary HIAA levels (55, 56).
What is the best way to take serotonin? 5-HTP is rapidly absorbed in the upper intestine, with 50% of 5-HTP absorbed in 1.5 hours. Elimination of 5-HTP is also rapid, with 50% absorbed in 2 hours. Due to the rapid pharmacokinetics of 5-HTP, slow-release supplementation of 5-HTP may be more beneficial to maintain serotonin levels in the brain (57).
5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter strongly associated with feelings of happiness. It acts to increase serotonin production which may lead to euphoric feelings, decreased appetite, increased satiety, increased quality of sleep and improvements in depression.
5-HTP appears to be safe and effective at moderate dosages of between 100 – 300mg but has not been properly evaluated for its safety in conjunction with prescription drugs. However, too much 5-HTP in your system can cause a spike in serotonin levels, resulting in side effects such as anxiety, shivering, and serious heart problems.
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