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Taking 5-HTP For Depression?
from Ask Dr Weil
original url:,3008,1250,00.html - Unavailable Dec 2001
1998, 1999

Taking 5-HTP for Depression?

Q. What do you know about 5-HTP in the treatment of depression and any other illnesses due to deficient serotonin reuptake? Is it safe? -- Anonymous


Scientists at the FDA have confirmed that some 5-HTP products on the market contain potentially dangerous impurities. One of these impurities, known as "peak X," is similar to the contaminants found in a batch of L-tryptophan produced in Japan that caused an outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) in 1989. As a result, the FDA banned the sale of L-tryptophan supplements in 1990. At this time, the FDA is working with the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to monitor the situation. Consumers should report any serious adverse effects of this supplement to the FDA's MedWatch program by calling 1-800-FDA-1088.

(Published 4/24/98) 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a natural compound produced by the body from tryptophan, an amino acid found in many foods. It is the immediate precursor of serotonin -- a neurotransmitter that carries vital signals between certain brain cells. Poor diet, lack of exercise, use of harmful substances such as caffeine or alcohol, and ongoing physical and emotional stress can depress the levels of serotonin your body makes, resulting in a range of serious problems: depression, obesity, insomnia, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, or what is collectively known as serotonin deficiency syndrome. The idea is you can correct these maladies by talking supplemental 5-HTP and raise serotonin to preferable levels.

In Europe, 5-HTP has been used for decades as an approved treatment for depression, sleep problems and other medical complaints. It is just now starting to sweep America. There is substantial scientific evidence to support the contention that 5-HTP is a safe, natural way to boost brain serotonin levels. Detailed clinical trials have shown 5-HTP to produce results equal to or better than standard synthetic drugs used in the treatment of problems arising from serotonin deficiency syndrome, including depression.

If you want to give 5-HTP a try, naturopath Michael T. Murray, author of "5-Htp: The Natural Way to Overcome Depression, Obesity, & Insomnia" (Bantam, 1998), recommends that you begin by taking 50 mg of 5-HTP about 20 minutes before meals for two weeks and then doubling dosage if necessary. While higher dosages of 5-HTP (e.g., 300 mg) are associated with nausea, these lower dosages seem to be just as effective without the nuisance of mild nausea during the first few weeks of use. Be sure to use products that are "enteric coated" so that they do not dissolve in the stomach. This will also help prevent nausea. Also, if you are taking any of the newer antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft or Paxil, be sure to notify your doctor before taking 5-HTP.