Mental Health & 5-HTP
You have probably never heard of 5-HTP, but it’s a chemical that works wonders on brain and mental health. Its full name is 5-Hydroxytryptophan and is a by-product of L-tryptophan. It increases the production of serotonin, which is important for the health of the nervous system and for mental health. Serotonin plays a role in sleep, appetite, mood, sexual behaviour, pain sensation, and mood so 5-HTP is vital for optimum health. This article will discuss how 5-HTP could be helpful in the treatment of certain mental health conditions.
Most of us feel low at least once in our lives, but prolonged low mood could suggest that you have depression. Sometimes, depression is caused by lifestyle factors, such as stress, grief, abuse, illness and other factors that impact on your way of life. If people in your family have a history of depression, then you are more likely to develop it. Major depression is characterised by an episode of apathy or sadness that goes on for 2 weeks, and affects your ability to perform daily tasks.
Just as it’s normal to experience sadness occasionally, it is normal to sometimes feel anxious about certain things going on in your life. However, if you are experiencing intense anxiety for an extended period of time, you may be one of the 1 in 25 UK people living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Like depression, a family history of anxiety disorder heightens your chances of being susceptible to it. However, it can be triggered by stressful life events, financial stresses, changes of lifestyle or illicit drug use.
This was previously commonly called ‘manic depression’ and is characterised by extreme mood swings. Those with bipolar disorder often experience extreme moods such as crippling lows and overactive highs for weeks on end. The disorder affects about 1 out of every 100 adults in the UK. There are no known causes for the disorder, although some events may trigger bipolar episodes. Again, family history of the disorder is considered a risk factor, and some studies are suggesting that genetics and brain structure impact on the risk of developing the disorder.
Eating disorders come in many different forms, but they are all characterised by unhealthy attitudes towards food. This attitude then affects their eating patterns and they change their diet and behaviour. They most commonly affect young people, and societal pressures to have a particular body are often cited as the main causes for the development of an eating disorder. Likewise, biological and environmental factors play a part in the development of an eating disorder, as does abuse.
This is a long-term mental health condition that is most often characterised by psychosis, when people are not always able to distinguish their thoughts and ideas from reality. Schizophrenia can often cause hallucinations or delusions, while also impacting on behaviour. It can be caused or triggered by certain situations, but there is no known cause of developing the disorder.
If you feel that you or a loved one is living with one of these conditions, it is recommended that you go to a professional for help and guidance. It can often help just to talk to someone.
Treatments for mental health conditions
The conditions mentioned above all require treatment, and depending on the underlying cause of the condition, the recommended treatment may be therapy, medication or a combination of both. If you are currently undergoing treatment for a mental health condition, you could discuss with your GP or psychiatrist about introducing 5-HTP into your treatment plan.
If your mental health condition is caused by depleted levels of serotonin, you may be given Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). These are types of medication most commonly used for the treatment of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. They are often used in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It is believed that they work by increasing the serotonin levels in the brain. This neurotransmitter is needed to transmit messages from the brain to the body and increasing the serotonin levels can help with this process.
As such, 5-HTP, which is the direct precursor to serotonin could help with raising serotonin levels in the brain. Because serotonin is so important for brain and mental health, 5-HTP and its production of serotonin could be hugely beneficial for people with mental health conditions. However, before taking a 5-HTP supplement, seek professional advice.
5-HTP helps aid in the production of serotonin, but it is difficult for serotonin produced in the intestine to make its way to the brain. This is because it’s difficult for it to cross the blood-brain barrier. However, 5-HTP and Vitamin B6 can cross this barrier and therefore aid the brain in its production of serotonin. Not only that, but Vitamin B6 is integral to the process which converts L-tryptophan to serotonin, so when both 5-HTP and B6 are taken together, the serotonin levels are given an added boost.
While this article outlined the important role serotonin and 5-HTP plays in mental health, it is important to remember that everyone is different. Therefore, your mental health will be affected by, and respond to, different things to those which others with similar symptoms, conditions or situations do. Before adding a 5-HTP supplement to your diet, it is important that you speak to a GP, particularly if you are undergoing medical treatment for any illnesses or conditions you may have.
If you think that you may be living with, or developing any symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating disorders or anything else that may be impacting on your mental health and ability to function, it is worthwhile to visit your GP or clinic and discussing your concerns with them.
The NHS website has a wide variety of information, and if you are unsure what services are available to you locally, check out the ‘Services Near Me’ section of the NHS website.
If you are living with depression, and want anonymous information, then check out the Samaritans, who have a 24/7 helpline and can be contacted online or on the phone.
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