5-HTP is derived from the amino acid tryptophan and is the immediate precursor to serotonin, an important neurotransmitter. When adequate vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is available 5-HTP is converted to serotonin and as a result 5-HTP supplements are often used in efforts to increase serotonin levels and treat conditions in which serotonin deficiency may play a role.
Conditions which may benefit from 5-HTP supplementation include:
Depression - Serotonin is a major mood regulating chemical in the brain. A lack of serotonin in the brain is associated with the melancholic form of depression where feelings of worthlessness, sadness, and despair predominate. 5-HTP is often suggested as an alternative or adjunctive therapy for people suffering from such depression. A number of studies have found 5-HTP supplements to be effective in this role, even outperforming antidepressant medications in a number of instances.
Anxiety - The mechanisms behind depression and anxiety are closely linked and serotonin is thought to play a role in both. 5-HTP therefore may help to induce relaxation and relieve the symptoms of anxiety. This is also backed by research. One study found that 5-HTP reduced anxiety symptoms by 58% compared to Luvox (an SSRI antidepressant medication like Prozac) which produced a 48% reduction.
Insomnia - Once 5-HTP has been converted into serotonin, this itself can then be converted into a hormone called melatonin in the body. Melatonin is a hormone which acts in the brain to induce sleep. In healthy individuals levels naturally increase in the evening. Taking 5-HTP a few hours before bedtime may therefore help to raise melatonin levels and relieve insomnia.
Fibromyalgia - Sleep disorders such as insomnia, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and sleep apnea are common in fibromyalgia so 5-HTP may help in the way described above. Since 5-HTP may help to increase serotonin levels it may also help to relieve the pain of fibromyalgia. Serotonin, as well as helping to mantain mood also helps us cope with pain.