Tryptophan / 5HTP

Tryptophan / 5HTP: Overview

Alternative names: 5-HTP, 5 HTP.

An essential amino acid, tryptophan is the least abundant amino acid found in foods.  It is used by the brain to produce serotonin; it is a natural relaxer, helps alleviate insomnia, reduces anxiety and depression and helps treat migraine headaches.  5-HTP is safer than Tryptophan, yet equally as effective.  It doesn't require a prescription.

Diagnose your symptoms now!
  • let The Analyst™ find what's wrong
  • understand what's happening to your body
  • have a doctor review your case (optional)


The richest dietary sources include fish, meat, dairy, eggs, nuts and wheat germ, but tryptophan tends to be deficient in most dietary proteins.  High corn diets have been associated with outright deficiency symptoms.

5-HTP is a naturally-occurring substance derived from the seed pods of Griffonia simplicifolia, a West African medicinal plant.  5-HTP comes in 25, 50 and 100mg capsules.

Function; Why it is Recommended

Tryptophan is metabolized into niacin, melatonin and serotonin and has relaxing and calming effects.

Chromium picolinate helps to promote conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.  It accomplishes this by facilitating absorption into muscle tissue of the amino acids that compete with tryptophan for access to the brain.

In humans, 5-HTP is the immediate nutrient precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin.  This means that 5-HTP converts directly into serotonin in the brain.  Serotonin has many profoundly important functions, including a role in sleep, appetite, memory, learning, temperature regulation, mood, sexual behavior, cardiovascular function, muscle contraction, and endocrine regulation.

Serotonin production declines with age, and at any age its abundance can be compromised further by stress.  Low levels of serotonin are most commonly manifested by depressed mood, anxiety, and insomnia.  They can also lead to various other complaints and disorders, diminishing one's quality of life.  But now something can be done: supplementing with 5-HTP.  It can restore serotonin levels and help improve general mood, insomnia, chronic headaches, depression, weight loss, migraines, anxiety, PMS, and Fibromyalgia.

Tryptophan has an antidepressant effect and is particularly effective against manic depression and depression associated with menopause.  Many depressed patients have low levels of tryptophan.

For depression, 1000-1500mg bid raises serotonin levels but it may take 2 weeks to produce results.  If a patient has insomnia along with depression then tryptophan would appear to be even more effective, possibly because both conditions may be due to this deficiency.  Care must be taken when using more that one anti-depressant at the same time; a doctor's supervision should be sought when considering switching or combining depression medications.

Tryptophan can be a useful and safe pain reliever.  It has been shown most helpful for dental pain, headaches (migraines in particular), and cancer pain, often in conjunction with aspirin or acetaminophen.  Tryptophan appears to increase the pain threshold.

Tryptophan works better for acute insomnia than for chronic sleep problems.  Tryptophan may help treat anorexia by increasing the appetite.  Since it is the precursor of niacin, tryptophan supplementation may help to lower cholesterol and blood fat levels.  Other possible uses for L-tryptophan include parkinsonism, epilepsy, and schizophrenia, and with further research, we may find this important amino acid may provide help in other medical conditions.


The RDA for tryptophan is 0.2gm per day, while the average daily intake is 1-1.5gm per day.  The therapeutic range is up to 4gm per day, and medical supervision of treatment can be helpful.

Tryptophan is often given with vitamin B6 and magnesium in between meals with a small amount of carbohydrate to facilitate uptake by the brain.  To aid in sleep, much of the dose is given before going to bed.  If more of a daytime action is being sought, the bulk can be given in the morning.

5HTP (5-hydroxy tryptophan) is considered by many to be more effective than tryptophan for depression.  L-Tryptophan (which is the desired form) is converted to 5HTP before becoming serotonin; taking 5HTP bypasses this first step of the process.  The effectiveness of 5HTP may be increased with gingko biloba, St. John's Wort, B-complex vitamins with magnesium, tyrosine, flax seed oil, and ginger.  Vitamin B6 and folic acid may assist in the conversion to serotonin.  An equivalent dose of 5HTP (compared to 1gm of tryptophan) is about 100mg.  Doses of 100mg tid have been used, but it may be best to start at a lower dose and slowly increase as the side-effect of nausea can occur at higher doses.  Starting at a lower dose reduces the likelihood of nausea, which usually disappears in less than 2 weeks.

Take 100mg of 5-HTP 3 times per day.

Side-Effects; Counter-Indicators and Warnings

Generally, side-effects of tryptophan are negligible, and tryptophan does not distort sleep patterns until more than 10gm are taken.  Occasionally, some morning sluggishness may occur.

Patients with asthma or systemic lupus erythematosus should not take tryptophan.

On This Page

Tryptophan / 5HTP:

Tryptophan / 5HTP can help with the following:


Night Eating Syndrome

Taking Tryptophan or 5-HTP orally causes an increase of serotonin in the brain.


Low Serotonin Level

Tryptophan is the dietary amino acid precursor for production of serotonin in the body.  First it is converted into 5HTP, and then into serotonin.  Both supplements are available, but tryptophan may require a doctor's prescription.  It is recommended that these be taken under a doctor's supervision.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD may be related to a central disturbance in serotonin metabolism, a hypothesis which appears to explain the efficacy of serotonin reuptake-blocking drugs.  L- tryptophan and 5-HTP are serotonin precursors.

Side effects were mainly drowsiness and headaches in those whose daily doses of L- tryptophan exceeded 6,000mg. [Clinical Psychiatry News, September, 1981]  Supplementation may be contraindicated in OCD patients with a history of aggressive behavior since it may increase


Tryptophan (or 5-HTP), the precursor of the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin, also has relaxing and calming effects.  Serotonin levels are often low among people with anxiety disorders.  A recent study found that 44% of alcoholics suffer from anxiety.  You can be pretty sure that you are low on tryptophan if you have ever blacked out from drinking.  It has been established that low tryptophan stores trigger blackouts.


Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is frequently imbalanced in cases of depression.  Conventional antidepressants work to increase neurotransmitter levels by blocking their breakdown.  Depression associated with menstrual cycles and postpartum depression sometimes respond very well to tryptophan supplementation.  Postpartum women usually have high estrogen levels and it has been found that high estrogen levels increase the conversion of tryptophan to niacinProgesterone and hydrocortisone decrease its conversion.  Women on birth control pills, when given vitamin B6 and tryptophan, generally tend to metabolize tryptophan more normally.

Tendency Toward Postpartum Depression

Depression associated with menstrual cycles and postpartum depression sometimes respond very well to tryptophan supplementation.  Postpartum women usually have high estrogen levels and it has been found that high estrogens increase the conversion of tryptophan to niacinProgesterone and hydrocortisone decrease its conversion.  Women on birth control pills, when given vitamin B-6 and tryptophan, generally tend to metabolize tryptophan more normally.


Problems Caused By Being Overweight

Although used chiefly as an antidepressant, preliminary evidence from three small double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials suggests that 5-HTP may also help people lose weight.  It is thought to work by raising levels of serotonin, which in turn may influence eating behavior.  A typical therapeutic dosage of 5-HTP is 100 to 300mg 3 times daily.

Nervous System

Tourette's Syndrome

The low blood serotonin and tryptophan levels seen in Tourette's syndrome (TS) are consistent with the wide range of behavioral disorders expected in such cases [ Am J Med Genet, Aug 1990;36(4): pp.418-30].  As far as we know, tryptophan therapy for Tourette's syndrome has not yet been explored.  However, TS is quite similar in many respects to obsessive/compulsive disorders which do respond to tryptophan supplementation.  This observation provides a ray of hope for individuals trying to cope with the symptoms of TS.




Due to the fact that the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin within the brain is dependent on the availability of the amino acid tryptophan, supplementing the diet with tryptophan before going to bed may produce good results in relieving insomnia.  Tryptophan tends to work better for acute insomnia (sleep-onset insomnia) than for chronic sleep problems since its greatest effect is to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep after going to bed.

Some 1000 to 2000mg of L-tryptophan are needed in order to increase blood levels sufficiently to induce sleep.  However, the lowest dose (often as little as 500mg) that works as a sleep aid should be maintained to continue benefits.  The dose may be repeated if one wakes during the night.  Doctors often recommend starting with 1gm of L-tryptophan 30-45 minutes before bed, which will reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.  If 1000mg is insufficient, the dose may be increased by 500mg each night until either the desired effects are achieved or a total of 3000mg is reached.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Tryptophan, a serotonin precursor, has been shown to help a small percentage of RLS sufferers. [Am J Psychiatry 143(4): pp.554-5, 1986]

Concerned or curious about your health?  Try The Analyst™
Symptom Entry
Symptom Entry
Full Explanations
Optional Doctor Review
Review (optional)


May be useful: may help with
May be useful:
may help with
Moderately useful: often helps with
Moderately useful:
often helps with
Very useful: is highly recommended for
Very useful:
is highly recommended for
We use cookies for traffic analysis, advertising, and to provide the best user experience