Serotonin, 5-HTP and Fibromyalgia

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Fibromyalgia (FM), pronounced “Fi-Bro-Mal-Gia”, is a fairly unknown disorder that is seen in approximately 5 million adults in the UK alone. It is much more common in women than it is in men, it’s thought that for every 1 male who has Fibromyalgia there are 7 women with the disorder [1].

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is technically a disorder which fits under the “Arthritis” disease category. It is categorised by a wide array of symptoms, including:

  • Pain and stiffness. Particularly across the neck, back and shoulders.
  • Sensitivity to pain and pressure.
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue, often described as similar to flu-like symptoms, drained and ‘achey’.
  • Poor sleep routine. Sleep can be disturbed due to pain and discomfort. Furthermore people with Fibromyalgia spend very little time in REM sleep, the restorative phase.
  • Cognitive disturbances, poor concentration and forgetfulness.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Depression [2]

The causes are as varied as the symptoms, yet no one answer can be given. One answer suggests that Fibromyalgia patients have poor messaging within their central nervous system. This alters the way in which pain messages are processed and received by the person. Another theory is that it is all predetermined by genetics, with thought that a certain gene carries the potential to produce onset of symptoms. One theory in particular are life events that have been documented to trigger Fibromyalgia, such as an injury (secondary Fibromyalgia), virus, birth, bereavement or an operation. Furthermore, it’s thought to be caused by poor sleep routines, as this causes increased fatigue and prevents from time spent in restorative sleep. Sleep is hugely replenishing to the body. It aids recovery, rests and restores the body to a “well” state. Due to an inability to sleep, the body is not fully rested, which opens the door to further symptoms. Lastly, chemical imbalances and low levels of Serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline have been found in people with FM [3]. These hormones are used in the nervous systems as “Chemical messengers” without them or low levels of them the body struggles to regulate messages. This is thought to be the reason why pain and sensitivity is a symptom in people with Fibromyalgia.

How to manage symptoms?

Due to the varied symptoms of Fibromyalgia there is no one answer to treatment. Frequently, medications and strong pain killers are prescribed to make pain more manageable. Also prescribed are anti-convulsants, anti-psychotics and Muscle Relaxants. One of the most prevalent treatments for FM is the use of anti-depressants that alter the brain chemistry and vastly improve symptoms by increasing Serotonin.

Another natural source of Serotonin that has the same effect as Tryptophan and Serotonin is the precursor 5-HTP.

What is Tryptophan and 5,HTP Serotonin? How do they help?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is also commonly known as the “Happy Hormone”, it can only be made inside of the body via a cascade of steps. Firstly, Tryptophan, an essential amino acid is taken in via the diet. Tryptophan can be consumed from foods eggs, tofu, turkey, nuts, seeds and many more. This is then converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) with the aid of cofactors Iron, Magnesium, Calcium, Vitamin B6 and Folic Acid. 5-HTP is the precursor molecule to Serotonin. Serotonin can then go on to aid many symptoms, one of which is Fibromyalgia [4].

5-HTP supplementation and Fibromyalgia

As previously discussed, Serotonin in FM patients is low, naturally boosting this can only be beneficial in raising Serotonin levels and reducing symptoms. 5-HTP is extracted from the Griffonia Simplicifolia, a plant native to the western and central regions of Africa. The seeds are harvested and processed to create the herbal compound 5-HTP [5]. One study using 50 patients found that a 90 day administration of 5-HTP significantly improved symptoms such as tender points, anxiety, pain intensity and sleep quality [6].

How to take 5-HTP if you have Fibromyalgia?

The best dose to take is between 50mg-200mg of 5-HTP however some studies have shown no adverse effects to as high as 1000mg of 5-HTP daily [7,8]. Vitamin B6 is hugely beneficial to the 5-HTP supplement as it aids the conversion of 5-HTP to Serotonin [8]. Oxford Vitality produces 5-HTP and Vitamin B6 tablets to make this easy.

  1. CDC. (2015). Fibromyalgia. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/fibromyalgia.htm.
  2. NHS. (2016). Fibromyalgia-Symptoms. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Fibromyalgia/Pages/Symptoms.aspx.
  3. Escott-Stump.S. (2015). 11:Muscloskeletal and collagen disorders, Myofascial Pain Syndromes: Fibromyalgia and Polymyalgia Rheumatica. In: Joyce, J and Malakoff-Klein, E Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care. 8th ed. Philadelphia: Walters-Kluwer. Pg. 671-673.
  4. Alban.D. (2016). Blog About Contact Search 5-HTP Benefits for Anxiety, Depression, Sleep. Available: http://bebrainfit.com/5-htp-benefits-side-effects/.
  5. NES. (2013). What is Griffonia Seed Extract and how does it Work?. Available: http://nootriment.com/griffonia-seed-extract/.
  6. Sarzi-Puttini,P. Caruso,I. (1992). Primary fibromyalgia syndrome and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan: a 90-day open study.. The Journal of International Medical Research. 20 (2), Pg. 182-189.
  7. Murray.M. (2014). Fibromyalgia. Available: https://doctormurray.com/health-conditions/fibromyalgia/.
  8. UHN. (2014). One of the Best Fibromyalgia Supplements, 5-HTP Benefits Pain, Sleep Quality, and More. Available: http://universityhealthnews.com/daily/nutrition/one-of-the-best-fibromyalgia-supplements-5-htp-benefits-pain-sleep-quality-and-more/.

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