5- HTP- MYTH OR MIRACLE?

Elizabeth Baird

 

 Table of Contents
How 5-HTP Works
Effectiveness of Treatment
Evidence Supporting Claims
Who Supplied the Information
Conclusion
                    The neurotransmitter, 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP)is a compound created in the body which is used to regulate serotonin levels in brain and central nervous system. (www.medquestpharmacy.com).  According to the web sites used,  a supplement of 5-HTP  is said to regulate moods, help treat  anxiety and aid in weight loss (www.biosynergy.com/5htp.htm). They  also stated that 5-HTP helps with insomnia and lower the risk of heart disease.  The risk of heart disease is supposed to be lowered as a result of less anxiety and a more peaceful state of mind (www.biosynergy.com/5htp.htm).

    However, according to medical journals and reviews it is only proven that 5- HTP  helps improve moods of depressed patients and  may aid in weight loss, improve sleep patterns and help panic attacks.  In the  medical articles which were read,  it was indicated that more research should be conducted on 5-HTP before any claims were made regarding  the effects on sleep patterns or weight loss.  Within these articles there was little to no mention of the effects of 5-HTP on heart disease.  However, in a clinical trial  Schwarcz, Young, and Brown (1989) performed, there was evidence to show that 5-HTP combined with a diet high in carbohydrates does lower blood pressure.

How  5-HTP Works:

 Serotonin is a "neurotransmitter which is responsible for mood, hunger sleep" (www.herbsnow.com/sotm.htm).  The website, medquest pharmacy claims that  5-HTP works by increasing the amount of serotonin produced in the brain.   And in fact, according to Gastpar and Wakelin (1998), 5-HTP is a known precursor to serotonin which has been proven in many studies. Serotonin levels are supposed to have a direct effect on a persons mood (www.medquwestpharmacy.com/5-htp.htm).  In fact antidepressant drugs approved by the FDA, such as Prozac, are said to work by increasing the amount of serotonin available to the brain(www.biosyenrgy.com/5htp.htm).
 

Effectiveness of Treatment:

         It is said on medquest pharmacy’s web site  that when 100mg of 5-HTP is taken three times a day for an extended period of time showed a 50 % improvement in depressed patients. In addition the patients are said to have had no side effects(www.medquwestpharmacy.com/5-htp.htm).  In all other areas of treatment associated with 5-HTP(i.e. weight loss) nonumbers are given on the web sites but clinical studies showed  "significant improvement" of the patient’s problem. The areas tested include panic attacks, insomnia, obesity, and anxiety (www.reach4life.com/1000a.html?pid=2756&cob=home).


         In a study done by Costa and Greengard in the medical journal, "Advances in Biochemical Psychopharmacolgy" (1984) showed a drop in depression of close to fifty percent in both unipolar and bipolar patients.   The dosage was 200 mg of 5-HTP ingested orally.  However, in a later study it was shown that when 5-HTP was combined with the prescription antidepressant, Anafranil, the most positive results were obtained. In regards to the ability for 5-HTP to aid in weight loss, there was a study conducted by Schwarz, Young, and Brown (1989) and written up in the medical journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology which showed  200 mg of 5-HTP increases  the meletonin levels in the body nearly two hundred percent.  However, the article does not claim that 5-HTP will actually help with sleeping disorders even though increased meletonin levels are proven to help induce sleep.


          In another study   done by the same experts on weight loss indicated positive results.  But again the authors would not claim that 5-HTP would help with weight loss.  In the study 300 mg of 5-HTP was given before each meal and over a six week period an average of six lbs was lost.  After another six weeks an additional average of about eight pounds was lost.  It was also realized though this study that decrease in appetite was the most likely reason for the weight loss.   The side effect to the 300 mg dosage was that seventy percent of the patients felt nausea during the first six weeks.  However, by the second six weeks no patient reported feeling nausea.


         As it was stated earlier, there are reports that indicate 50 mg of 5-HTP taken for six weeks has the ability to lower blood pressure especially when on a high carbohydrate .  In fact in the study done by Schwarcz, Young, and Brown the average amount by which blood pressure was lowered was 6%.  5-HTP when combined with a healthy diet and an exercise program can have dramatic effects on blood pressure.  This may ultimately lead to lowering the risk of heart disease however, there is no known study which proves consumption of 5-HTP lowers the cases of heart disease.

   The final benefit which is being questioned is panic attacks and whether 5-HTP has any effect on the  frequency and duration of them. And although the web sites claimed 5-HTP would help with panic disorders, there is no evidence to support these claims.  However, there has been study which was included in the journal by Costa and Greengard (1984) on the effect 5-HT has on panic disorders which shows promising evidence.  5-HT is what the body converts 5-HTP into therefore, if 5-HT has beneficial  results it is likely that 5-HTP will also prove beneficial.  In medical articles, it was stated that 5-HT was effective in reducing symptoms by reducing the occurrence of Panic Disorder.  However, in the initial stage of the test actually showed an increase of anxiety in 40% of the patients.  These level of anxiety decreased after the first section of the test.
 
 

Evidence Supporting Claims:

         The claim by the website that 5-HTP showed a 50% improvement in depressed patients is supported by a double blind study done by Dr. W. Poldinger in Switzerland.  The study used patients diagnosed with depression who then took 100 mg of 5-HTP for six weeks (www.biosynergy.com/5htp.htm). In the articles which I found on the web, all claimed 5-HTP showed a great improvement in depressed patients however, only this one article gave a substantial amount of detail.  As for the other benefits of 5-HTP, no specific details were given on the web sites.  It was said in a study on obesity that in a six week study patients receiving a 5-HTP supplement reduced their carbohydrate intake (www.medquwestpharmacy.com/5-htp.htm).  It is also said that in the treatment of  panic attacks researcher R.S Kahn observed significant improvement when 5-HTP was taken (www.reach4life.com/1000a.html?pid=2756&cob=home).  However, in the study of both obesity and panic attacks, no other information was included in the articles I read.  No evidence was given concerning the claims about heart disease, insomnia, or treatment of anxiety.


         The medical articles which I read provided considerably more insight to the benefits of (and disadvantages) of 5-HTP. However, again with some of the studies very little detail was given.  It is safe to say that 5-HTP has very good results when treating depression.   The study by Costa and Greengard (1984) provided specific data which corresponded to the data read on the web site.  The only change was amount of 5-HTP taken.  The evidence supporting that 5-HTP aids in weight loss was only the one study .  However, the study provided details which showed a loss of fourteen pound in twelve weeks.  Since details as to how much and for long the supplement was taken and was written about in a medical journal; it seems there is enough evidence to claim 5-HTP may aid a little in weight loss.


          Also with the effects of 5-HTP on blood pressure exact number were given. In the study by Shwracz, Young, and Brown (1989) blood pressure was lowered by six percent. [NOTE: This is when combined with a high-carbohydrate diet.] Since this study was also written up in a medical journal it seems safe to assume 5-HTP has positive effects on blood pressure. But this does not necessarily mean it will lower the risk of heart disease and the consumer should be wary of distributors who claim it does. 

     The evidence supporting 5-HTP aiding insomnia is more general and does not deal directly with sleep disorders.  The increase in meletonin levels however are a good indication that 5-HTP may help induce regular sleep patterns.  In the same fashion evidence seems to indirectly support the use of 5-HTP for a decrease in panic disorders but there is NO evidence showing that 5-HTP actually does lower the occurrence or duration of panic attacks

Who This Information Was Supplied By:

     The articles I found on the web about 5-HTP were all written by distributors of the herb. This means the information could be biased.  The fact that all but one article failed to include specific details about the claims, should also alert the reader to the fact that the claims may not be true.


            T he articles I later found in the library were medical journals and reviews.  These sources are reliable and informative. However,  there were few journals and reviews to be found.  This leads me to think little research has been done on the supplement, 5-HTP and thus little is known about the herb.  The sources seem consistent with the scientific evidence given hence, making the sources even more reliable. 

 

Conclusion:

     Although I believe that 5-HTP may have positive benefits, the articles I read provided too little detail to convince me that they are not just trying to sell the herb.  My impression is that 5-HTP does help depression and most likely has other beneficial properties however, very little research has been done to prove this and even less evidence is to be found on the webs. Fortunately, the medical journals and reviews provide further insight into the benefits of 5-HTP.  I can confidently say 5-HTP will provide benefits with regard to depression, blood pressure and minimal weight loss.  However, with regards to  sleeping disorders and panic attacks, I feel the research is inconclusive.  I feel it may have benefits but to what extent is not know.  It should also be realized that little was said as to the side effects of 5-HTP and any drawbacks.  The only negative side effect was that there was an increase in anxiety in almost half the patients in the study by Costa and Greengard (1984). The fact that there have been so few studies on 5-HTP leads me to think there are side effects which are unknown to us still.  Still, the consumer should consider 5-HTP for the stated ailments but should be wary to the possibility of averse reactions.
 

Bibliography:

Costa and Greengard (1984) Frontiers in Biochemical and Pharmacological Research in Depression. Advances in Biochemical Psychopharmacology Vol. 39 pg. 301-313

Gastpar and Wakelin (1988) Selective 5-HT Reuptake Inhibitors: Novel or Commonplace Agents? Advances in Biological PsychiatryVol. 19 pg. 18-30 and 52-57

Schwarcz, Young, and Brown (1989) Kynurenine and Seretonin Pathways Progress in Trytophan research Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Vol. 294 pg. 301-313

 


 

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