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5 HTP for Weight Loss

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Want to feel good, lose weight and sleep better? There is a supplement that has very good clinical research in weight loss and longevity, is safe and easy to obtain. The supplement in questions is 5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan.

In this article we will break down this supplement, the research and it's effectiveness for weight loss and longevity.

WHAT IT IS: 5-HTP is a precursor to 5-HT, or serotonin, made from the amino acid L-tryptophan. Serotonin is the ‘feel good” neurotransmitter in the brain, gut and other areas of the body. It is believed supplemental 5-HTP enhances the body’s ability to manufacture serotonin, which may lead to reduction in panic attacks, depression, and improved mood and weight loss.

HOW IT WORKS: After 5-HTP is absorbed by the small intestine, it is transported to the liver where vitamin B6 plus 5-HTP is required to create 5-HT (serotonin)1. From here, it can be transported through the blood-brain barrier and enter brain cells as serotonin.

PRIMARY EFFECTS: 5-HTP is primarily useful in treating those with depression. It appears this occurs by promoting the synthesis of serotonin, a neurotransmitter which produces euphoric effects. 5-HTP may also be indicated in weight loss. A study found a 5% reduction in weight with obese females consuming 8mg/kg body weight of 5-HTP for 5 weeks compared to controls2. Another study found similar results in weight loss1. Recently, research demonstrated improvement in those with tension headaches with consumption of 5-HTP. Finally, a mild analgesic effect has been demonstrated in those with fibromyalgia1. This may be due to the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin, which increases endorphin levels in the blood1.

EFFECTIVE DOSAGE LEVEL: 5-HTP is most effective between 50-100mg/day.

SUPPLEMENT CONFLICTS: Those on prescription medication may want to check with an allied health professional before using high doses of 5-HTP. Vitamin B6 deficiency may not allow the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin. It is advised against using 5-HTP if on SSRI medications.

SIDE EFFECTS: High doses may cause gastrointestinal upset or serotonin syndrome, which can be fatal.

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH IN LONGEVITY: Part of the normal aging process includes a natural decline in the suprachiasmic nucleus (SCN) function by the hypothalamus. This correlates with a reduction in melatonin production, thereby contributing to a reduction in sleep as we age. Serotonin is a key part of the SCN. Thus, supplemental 5-HTP (a precursor to serotonin) may be of benefit during the aging process3. Finally, a study providing aged rats with 5-HTP showed a reduction in age-dependent spatial learning deficits, since serotonin may modulate acetylcholine release4.


Physician’s Desk Reference for Nutritional Supplements, 2001. Medical Economics, Thompson Healthcare.

Cangiano C, Ceci F, Cascino A, et al. Eating behavior and adherence to dietary prescriptions in obese adult subjects treated with 5-hydroxytryptophan. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992;56:863-867.

Garau C, Age-related changes in circadian rhythm of serotonin synthesis in ring doves: effects of increased tryptophan ingestion. Exp Gerontol. 2006 Jan;41(1):40-8. Epub 2005 Nov 3.

Richter-Levin G. Serotonin, aging and cognitive functions of the hippocampus. Rev Neurosci. 1996 Apr-Jun;7(2):103-13.

Bell SJ, Goodrick GK. A functional food product for the management of weight.