Uses of 5-HTP Supplement: Is It Truly Beneficial and Safe for Depression, Migraines, Obesity, Fibromyalgia, Insomnia, Anxiety and Other Conditions?

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5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a precursor to serotonin, which does have an effect on depression. Some small studies have found an association with 5-HTP supplementation and an improvement in depression symptoms [1]. A reviewer writing for the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews looked at 108 trials of 5-HTP and tryptophan but decided only two were of sufficient quality to merit inclusion. These two covered only 64 patients but did conclude “Available evidence does suggest these substances are better than placebo at alleviating depression” [2]. FDA approved anti-depressant drugs are presumed to work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, thus lending at least some logic to the uses of 5-HTP supplement for this purpose.


A number of studies have examined 5-HTP as something to alleviate migraine headaches particularly when compared to prescription drugs. In a randomized clinical trial with 124 migraine sufferers, there was 75 percent improvement with the prescription drug and 71 percent improvement with the supplement. The supplement appeared to have fewer side effects with greater reduction in the intensity and duration of attacks [3].


Some small studies have looked at what help 5-HTP might be in losing weight. One such report noted that “Previous observations have shown that oral administration of 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) without dietary prescriptions causes anorexia, decreased food intake, and weight loss in obese subjects . . . . Significant weight loss was observed in 5-HTP-treated patients . . . . These findings together with the good tolerance observed suggest that 5-HTP may be safely used to treat obesity [4]. However, other experts have disagreed with these conclusions.


Antidepressants are one conventional treatment for fibromyalgia. One study examined 50 subjects with fibromyalgia in a double-blind test. The patients were given 100 mg of 5-HTP or a placebo three times a day for one month. “All the clinical parameters studied were significantly improved by treatment with 5-HTP and only mild and transient side-effects were reported” [5].

Insomnia and Anxiety

Several suggested uses of 5-HTP supplement are for insomnia and anxiety. Medical studies of these benefits tend to be concentrated in the journals indexed on PubMed that focus on alternative medicine. Allopathic journal reviews tend to suggest that evidence for efficacy in these areas is either not found or very limited, while still acknowledging the role of serotonin in these conditions.


With the popularity of 5-HTP as a dietary supplement after the problems with tryptophan (L-Trp), it has been heavily scrutinized by various agencies. An article in Toxicology Letters had this to say: ”No definitive cases of toxicity have emerged despite the worldwide usage of 5-HTP for the last 20 years with the possible exception of one unresolved case of a Canadian woman. Extensive analyses of several sources of 5-HTP have shown no toxic contaminants similar to those associated with L-Trp, nor the presence of any other significant impurities” [6].

The information in this article should not be considered medical advice. The information in this article is not meant to treat, diagnose, prescribe or cure any ailment. Always check with your physician before taking any products or following any advice you have read on Always consult your doctor before you start, stop or change anything that has been previously prescribed. Certain herbs and holistic remedies are unsuitable to take if you are pregnant or nursing and must always be cleared by your doctor before use.


[1] Byerly, W.F., et al., “5-hydroxytryptophan: a review of its antidepressant efficacy and adverse effects,” Journal of

Clinical Psychopharmacology 1997;(7):127-137.

[2] Shaw K, Turner J, Del Mar C., “Tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan for depression,”

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2001;(3):CD003198. (accessed June 19, 2009).

[3] Titus F, Dávalos A, Alom J, Codina A., 5-Hydroxytryptophan versus methysergide in the prophylaxis of migraine.

Randomized clinical trial. European Neurology, 6;25(5):327-9.

[4] Cangiano, C., et al., “Eating behavior and adherence to dietary prescriptions in obese adult subjects treated with

5-hydroxytryptophan,” The American Journal of Clinial Nutrition, 1992 Nov;56(5):863-7.

[5] Caruso, I., et al. “Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary

fibromyalgia syndrome,” Journal of International Medical Research, 1990 May-Jun;18(3):201-9.

[6] Das, Y.T., et al. “Safety of 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan,” Toxicology Letters. 2004 Apr 15;150(1):111-22.