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|Article: NEUROTRANSMITTERS,AMINO ACIDS & MENTAL HEALTH-II : THE ROLE OF 5-HYDROXYTRYPTOPHAN (5HTP) - by David Puchol Esparza Psychologist and Naturopath|
& Mental Health
psychiatric disorders are ‘caused’ by problems with
neurotransmitters,and many psychoactive drugs act on these specific chemical
substances and their receptors.A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger
used by neurons to communicate with other neurons.Inside the brain are
billions of neurons, that are connected by these messengers that transmit
electrical impulses from one cell to another, allowing communication and
thought to occur in the brain.Certain neurotransmitters,when depleted, may
cause you to be easily agitated or angered, experience mild to severe
anxiety (or depression) and have sleep problems. Neurotransmitters are
‘manufactured’ in the brain from the amino acids we extract from foods,
and their supply is entirely dependent on the presence of these precursor
example,can result if certain neurotransmitters are in short supply.
Synthetic antidepressants (e.g.SSRI) work by raising neurotransmitter levels
in the brain.Amino acids,the building blocks of protein,are the precursors
(raw materials) for neurotransmitters and other mood-regulating compounds.It
is possible to reverse depression by ‘loading up’ on these specific
amino acid precursors.
with humans and animals over the past three decades have shown that
Serotonin nerve circuits promote feelings of well-being,personal
security,confidence,relaxation, calm and concentration.Serotonin neural
circuits also help counterbalance the tendency of overactive (e.g. due to
stress or genetics) Dopamine and Noradrenalin circuits to encourage
impulses,obsessive compulsive actions and thoughts,anxiety and sleep
Serotonin levels are essentially involved in many specific behaviors
and key issues...
Disorders (e.g. major depression and dysthimia) are effectively treated with
psychoactive drugs which specifically block the reuptake of Serotonin (SSRI)
into the presynaptic axon terminal, for example Prozac (Fluoxetine).The
resultant enhanced Serotonin activation brings about a cascade of events
ultimately resulting in a reduced sensitivity of presynaptic autoreceptors
for Serotonin and reduced Serotonin synthesis.This suggests that
neurotransmitter dysregulation may be involved in depressive disorders (the
brain amine theory of depression).
or appetite is reduced by synthetic drugs which elevate Serotonin levels in
the brain (e.g. Fenfluramine/Pondimin)
making these drugs very ‘popular’ in the treatment of obesity and
overweight.Drugs which have the opposite effect,that is they reduce
Serotonin levels, produce an increase in carbohydrate craving and
intake.While the relationship is a very complex one, scientifics believe
that Serotonin is involved in regulating hunger and appetite.
onset latency is reduced with Tryptophan which is the amino acid needed by
the brain for the synthesis of Serotonin.This research finding suggests that
Serotonin may play an important role in sleep induction and healthy sleep
research have linked low levels of Serotonin in the brain to abnormal
behaviors, such as impulsive aggression,sexual deviance,addiction and
explosive rage. Too little Serotonin is also associated with depression and
some anxiety disorders, especially obsessive-compulsive disorder.
5.-Suicides behaviors,agressions and violent crimes are closely associated with specific deficiencies of Serotonin.Additionally,the sometimes fatal obsessions and self-hate thoughts observed in individuals with eating disorders (e.g.anorectics and bulimics) are clearly linked to low Serotonin levels according to several studies.
perhaps the most well known of the brain's key mood regulators, is made from
the amino acid L-tryptophan (one of the building blocks of protein).Recent
studies show that Serotonin levels can drop too low within seven hours of
tryptophan depletion.Low Serotonin can be the easiest deficiency of all to
develop.Very few foods are high in this amino acid,which is the only
nutrient (precursor) that the body can use to make Serotonin.
is considered ‘essential’ because the body cannot manufacture its
own.L-tryptophan plays many roles in human health, but perhaps most
importantly, it is an essential precursor to a number of neurotransmittters
in the brain.L-tryptophan is the only substance that can be converted into
Serotonin.L-tryptophan clearly plays an instrumental role in balancing mood
and sleep patterns.
conversion of L-tryptophan to Serotonin is a two-step process. First, L-tryptophan
is converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5HTP),and 5-hydroxytryptophan is
then, in turn,converted into Serotonin.5-hydroxytryptophan is well-absorbed
with approximately 70% of an oral dose reaching the bloodstream.This is the
basic process by which Serotonin is produced from food.
differs from Tryptophan in that it slightly increases the activity of an
energizing neurotransmitter,Norepinephrine, as well as the calming
one,Serotonin.In some scientific studies,5-hydroxytryptophan outperformed
Tryptophan in treating mood disorders. It has also proved therapeutic for
some who failed to respond to standard antidepressant drugs.The greater the
agitation associated with depression, the more likely the response to
is also useful against other emotional and mental disorders, such as
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It also could play a complementary
role in treating Alcohol Addiction,Substance Abuse,
Aggressive Behavior,Down's Syndrome,Schizophrenia,Attention Deficit /
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Pain disorders (e.g.chronic) .Children
with sleep disorder-related headaches have been shown to respond favorably
to 5-hydroxytryptophan treatment.It is also used to threat
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,and is perhaps the complementary treatment of
choice in Tourette's Syndrome.
is extracted from the seeds of the African Griffonia Simplicifolia
plant using an alcoholic extraction process that produces an oily solid.
The oily extract is then purified into a dry solid. Standard preparations
available as 25, 50, and 100 mg capsules or tablets.5-HTP dietary
supplements help raise Serotonin levels in the brain, which may have a
positive effect on the following functions and processes: sleep, mood,
anxiety, aggression, appetite, temperature, sexual behavior, and pain
sensation. Recent research studies have confirmed the effectiveness of using
just a few targeted amino acid ‘precursors’ to increase the key
neurotransmitters involved in our mental health.
experts recommend taking 50 to 100 mg of 5-hydroxytryptophan per day for
most conditions. Higher doses of 5-HTP are necessary to produce beneficial
results in certain conditions.Seek the advice of your health care provider
before taking more than 100 mg of 5-hydroxytryptophan per day.
5-HTP causes mild gastrointestinal disturbances in some people (mild nausea,heartburn, feelings of fullness,flatulence and rumbling sensations).Taking 5-hydroxytryptophan with carbidopa has been associated with side effects. 5-HTP should be used with caution,if at all, in people with diabetes and high blood pressure or individuals taking Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs), two types of antidepressant medications. People with asthma should avoid taking this supplement, because any Serotonin precursor could make their breathing worse, and high doses may lead to a noticeable sense of fatigue following exercise.
Clinical Applications of
5-HTP : Scientific Evidences
and Japanese mental health research over the past three decades has focused
on 5-HTP as a natural solution to enhance brain Serotonin activity. Several
studies and clinical trials have compared 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) to
synthetic antidepressants commonly prescribed in psychiatric practice.....
6-week study of 63 people given either 5-HTP (100 mg 3 times daily) or an
SSRI (Fluvoxamine,50 mg 3 times daily).Researchers found equal benefit
between the supplement and the psychoactive drug.However,5-hydroxytryptophan
caused fewer and less severe side effects (Byerley,1987).
2.-An 8-week double-blind placebo-controlled study compared 5-hydroxytryptophan and the drug Clomipramine in 45 individuals suffering from anxiety disorders.The results showed that 5-HTP was effective, but clomipramine was even more effective (Kahn et al.,1987).
their 1988 review of 5-HTP antidepressant studies, Zmilacher et al. report
that "Out of the 17 reviewed
studies... 60.5% of all the patients (342 out of 565) showed a good or very
good improvement of their depressive state.A tendency indicating that 5-HTP
was especially effective in patients with an anxious agitated depressive
syndrome was observed.... An important finding is the very rapid onset of
action (within 3-5 days) in patients responding to treatment." (Zmilacher
research has proven the effectiveness of amino acid therapy in fighting
depression.Both Phenylalanine and Tyrosine have been found to be as
effective as the antidepressant drug Imipramine.Tryptophan, which the body
converts into the precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), has also been found
to be as effective as the synthetic antidepressants commonly used in
clinical practice (Cass,1998).
5.-As a specific supplement,5-HTP has been proposed for all the same uses as other synthetic antidepressants, including decreasing the discomfort of fibromyalgia, aiding weight loss, improving sleep quality , preventing migraine headaches , and reducing anxiety. A typical dosage of 5-hydroxytryptophan is 100 to 300 mg 3 times daily.Once 5-HTP starts to work, it may be possible to reduce the dosage significantly and still maintain good results (Bratman et al.,2000).
Psychiatry describes the practice of preventing and treating mental disease
by providing the mind with optimal amounts of key substances (e.g.amino
acids) which are natural to the body.In the orthomolecular view, it is
possible that the strategic provision of certain vitamins,amino
acids,minerals,trace elements or fatty acids in amounts sufficient to
correct biochemical abnormalities,nutritional defficiencies or erroneous
eating habits will be therapeutic in preventing or treating many psychiatric
and emotional disorders.
to Linus Pauling (1968) "Varying
the concentrations of substances normally present in the human body
may control mental disease. I have reached the conclusion that
another general method of treatment, which may be called orthomolecular
therapy, may be found to be of great value, and may turn out to be the best
method of treatment for many patients".Future scientific research
needs to address the outcomes of combining various treatment approaches
(including psychotherapy techniques, psychoactive drugs and nutritional
strategies) and maintaining treatment gains over time,opening the door to
true hope and real recovery from mental illnesses to many individuals and
;Kroll,D. & DePalma,A.(2000). The Natural Pharmacist : Natural Health
Bible.California : Prima Health.
; Judd L. ; Reimherr,F. et al.(1987).5-hydroxytryptophan : A review of its
antidepressant efficacy and adverse effects.J Clin Psychopharmacol. , 7 ,
Wort : Nature's Blues Buster.New York : Avery.
W. et al.(1987).Effect of a serotonin precursor and uptake inhibitor in
anxiety disorders; a double-blind comparison of 5-hydroxytryptophan,
clomipramine and placebo. Int Clin Psychopharmacol., 2 , 33–45.
psychiatry. Science , 160 , 265-271.
(1999).The Diet Cure: The 8-Step Program to Rebalance Your Body Chemistry
and End Food Cravings, Weight Problems, and Mood-Swings.New York : Viking.
Zmilacher,K. et al. (1988). L-5-hydroxytryptophan alone and in combination with a peripherial decarboxylase inhibitor in the treatment of depression.Neuropsychobiology , 20 , 28-35.
Licensed Psychologist. Diploma in Naturopathy. Master Practitioner of NLP. Postgraduate Qualifications in Clinical Psychology,Hypnosis, and Nutrition.
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