The Precursor of Happiness

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5-HTP is an aromatic amino  acid that is naturally produced in the body. Commercially it is made from extractions from the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia plant which is native to Africa. The benefits of 5-HTP stem from its ability to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. As a precursor of Serotonin, 5-HTP is vital to the body. Serotonin is formed from the conversion of 5-HTP which is only formed in the body when enough L-tryptophan is present as L-tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP by certain enzymes. Serotonin is involved in many homeostatic functions of the body including our sleep-wake cycle. It is also widely known that insufficient levels of serotonin is connected to depression.

L-Tryptophan

L-tryptophan is a precursor of 5-HTP that is not made by the human body and therefore it is essential to eat foods that contain this amino-acid. Foods that are known sources of L-tryptophan include: bananas, dried prunes, peanuts, oats, milk, cheese, bread, chicken, turkey, tuna fish and chocolate (what a good excuse to indulge). Tryptophan can also be taken in supplement form. This amino acid is capable of crossing the blood brain barrier with the help of a transport molecule. If insufficient amounts of tryptophan are present in the body, 5-HTP (and serotonin) cannot be formed.

Functions of Serotonin

Serotonin is a widespread neurotransmitter that is synthesized in certain neurons in the central nervous system and by cells that reside in the gastrointestinal tract. It is interesting to know that only about 2% of the complete amount of serotonin in the body is found in the brain. [1]

It is believed that serotonin is involved in the biochemistry of anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. It may also affect sexual drive. Furthermore serotonin is connected to the regulation of cognition, mood, sleep, appetite, pain sensation, memory, anxiety and aggression. Additionally, it is believed that serotonin may have an effect on cardiovascular function, muscle contraction, endocrine function and temperature regulation. [4]

Reasons for Low Levels of Serotonin

Many factors may contribute to Serotonin deficiency. These factors include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Stress
  • Tryptophan deficiency
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Too little exposure to sunlight
  • Compromised blood flow to the brain
  • Exposure to plastic chemicals
  • Exposure to pesticides
  • Iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, B3, B6, folate & vitamin C deficiency
  • Chronic infections
  • Food allergies
  • Growth hormone imbalances
  • Insulin imbalances
  • Progesterone imbalances
  • Serotonin receptor defects (genetic)
  • Chronic use of alcohol, amphetamine, opioids and marijuana

It is clear to see that serotonin deficiency can be caused in many ways. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the prevalence of conditions caused by such a deficit is on the rise.

5-HTP Supplements

Serotonin, taken orally, cannot affect serotonin levels in the brain as it cannot pass through the blood brain barrier. Unlike serotonin, 5-HTP does have the ability to cross the blood brain barrier. It has been speculated that most of the 5-HTP we take in is converted into serotonin. It is now thought that 5-HTP may also increase other neurotransmitters and chemicals like nor-adrenaline, dopamine and melatonin. This is means that 5-HTP can possibly elicit some unique actions in the brain.

5-HTP supplements are widely distributed. These supplements are seemingly well tolerated, absorbed easily and 5-HTP has the added potential of being directly converted into serotonin. Supplementation through tablets or with 5-HTP powder may promise to be effective in the management of a broad spectrum of condiitions like depression, insomnia, fibromyalgia, chronic headaches and binge eating. [3][4][5]

Depression

Many theories exist about the mechanisms by which depression is caused. One such theory involves L-tryptophan depletion. It has been reported that levels of L-tryptophan seem to be lower in people suffering from major depression. [5]

Insomnia

Many promising trials have shown that 5-HTP may be beneficial in the treatment of insomnia and that it can possibly improve the quality of a good night’s rest. [4]

5 HTP and Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that involves fatigue, body aching, tender points on the body, morning stiffness and disturbances in sleeping patterns. It is thought that 5-HTP might be effective in the management of fibromyalgia and its symptoms seeing as deficiencies in tryptophan and low serotonin levels are usually found in these patients. [4]

Chronic Headaches

Low serotonin levels have been implicated as a possible reason for chronic headaches, including migraines. There is a possibility that serotonin is broken down in the body be an enzyme called monoamine oxidase. Researchers have indicated that low levels of serotonin possibly lowers the pain threshold of sufferers and this in turn make the person more susceptible to other triggers of headaches. 5-HTP May therefore be an effective precautionary measure for chronic headaches. [4][6]

Binge Eating

Tryptophan and serotonin levels decline drastically when we diet. Connections have been made between low serotonin levels in the central nervous system and carbohydrate cravings and this is very likely to result in binge eating. It has been speculated that 5-HTP can aid in the prevention of this drop in serotonin and for this reason it may be beneficial for weight loss. [4]

Hop in your step

5-HTP has many benefits for the body and it is especially recommendable for mood regulation. It may just be what you need to get that hop in your step. So go on, consider 5-HTP and live your life, happily!

  1. Goetz CG. Textbook of Clinical Neurology, Vol. 355. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2007. p. 43.
  2. Richard DM, Dawes MA, Mathias CW, Acheson A, Hill-Kapturczak N, Dougherty DM. L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications. Int J Tryptophan Res. March 2009; 2: 45–60.
  3. Pizzorno JE Jr., Murray MT, Joiner-Bey H. The Clinician's Handbook of Natural Medicine. 2nd ed. Missouri: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2008.
  4. Birdsall TC. 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Altern Med Rev. August 1998; vol. 3(4): 271–280.
  5. Laddha GP, Vidyasagar G, Bavaskar SR, Baile SB, Suralkar SS. Serotonin: A dive of pleasure and misery. Der Pharmacia Lettre. 2012; vol. 4(2): 443-455.
  6. Ribeiro CA. L-5-Hydroxytryptophan in the prophylaxis of chronic tension-type headache: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Headache. June 2000; vol. 40(6): 451-6.

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