Natural remedies played a key part in my depression recovery, and 5-HTP in particular is a supplement I often use with my clients.
I know that this whole world of supplements and herbs can be pretty confusing with just so many options to choose from. But 5-HTP is one of the most popular ones and one that I use in my practice as well. So here’s an overview of what 5-HTP is and why it might be useful. I also cover how much to take, and circumstances in which its use should be avoided.
As always with any remedy recommendations, use your own judgement to decide whether this is a good thing for you to try. If in doubt, discuss it with your primary healthcare practitioner.
So what is 5-HTP and how can it help to lower depression?
5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a natural precursor to the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin.
What are neurotransmitters again? Put simply, they are chemical messengers in your brain that allow your nerve cells to communicate with one another. And these messages that they send are believed to play a big role in your mood regulation.
Serotonin, in particular, has received a lot of attention with regards to depression. Many believe that low levels of this neurotransmitters are at least partly to blame for symptoms of depression.
One of the functional tests I run, the OAT, actually indicates serotonin production in your body which is super useful to know.
Your body makes serotonin
So your body makes serotonin itself, but it needs certain building blocks to be able to do that. And these buildings blocks are amino acids.
If you haven’t read my post on amino acids then I’d encourage you to do so. But in a nutshell, your body breaks down the protein from your foods into amino acids. And then it uses these amino acids to make various things including neurotransmitters such as serotonin. The particular type of amino acid used for serotonin production is called L-tryptophan (the TP of 5-HTP).
So if you eat foods rich in protein, your body will break it down into amino acids including tryptophan. The tryptophan will then be converted into 5-HTP, and your body will then use this 5-HTP to convert it into serotonin.
Tryptophan -> 5-HTP -> Serotonin.
So if you’re supplementing with 5-HTP, you’re ensuring a higher availability of this nutrient, which again is needed for the body to make serotonin.
Interestingly, your body can also then use serotonin to convert it into melatonin, the neurotransmitter that helps us sleep well!
important things to consider before 5-HTP for depression
Before I talk about the dosage, I just to point out that 5-HTP should not be used if you are taking antidepressants, are pregnant or are breastfeeding. If you’ve got cardiovascular disease, you should avoid it as well.
As always, check with your primary healthcare provider.
how much and how long for should you take 5-HTP?
So if you’d like to give this remedy a go, I’d suggest starting with 50mg-100mg of 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) a day. And then see how you feel and whether it’s making any difference yet.
It can also be useful to take certain other nutrients alongside it. Why? Because the conversion of 5-HTP into serotonin depends on certain other nutrients including: vitamin B6 and magnesium.
In general, I think the best approach regarding supplements is to take them for as short as is needed.
If you haven’t noticed a difference after a month, you could either consider upping the dose (ideally in agreement with a practitioner) or choosing an alternative.
Just one last point I want to make is that while supplements or herbs can make a big difference to how you’re feeling, they shouldn’t become your one-fix solution. Overcoming depression depends not just on one solution but one a variety of things. Make natural remedies an aid and take steps to support your mental health in other ways too.