Does 5-HTP Help Depression?

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan), also known as oxitriptan, is a naturally occurring amino acid and chemical precursor as well as a metabolic intermediate in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin (Wikipedia). In layman’s terms, it helps increase serotonin in the brain, a hormone that influences sleep, digestion, mood, blood clotting, bone density, and sexual function.

It isn’t found in any foods, so it’s not something we can just add to our diet.

Some people use 5-HTP for a number of different reasons; these can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • ADHD
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite suppressant
  • Symptoms of fibromyalgia
  • Migraines

5-HTP is sold over-the-counter as a dietary supplement.

For the purpose of this post, I am going to focus on the use of 5-HTP and depression, especially intense deep-dark depression, which can increase the chance of suicidal ideation and thoughts.

JUMP STRAIGHT TO MY EXPERIENCE BY CLICKING HERE

LOW SEROTONIN

Without tests, many of us may not know if we actually have low serotonin; we may assume we do if we have a range of symptoms. Low serotonin can bring about the following (from Psych Central):

MOOD CHANGES

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • irritability

BEHAVIORAL CHANGES

  • difficulty with memory
  • having a hard time paying attention or learning
  • hyperactivity
  • insomnia
  • a change in sexual desire

PHYSICAL CHANGES

  • blood clotting
  • constipation
  • cravings for carbohydrates or other “comfort foods”
  • digestive issues, like irritable bowel syndrome
  • fatigue
  • premature ejaculation
  • tremors
  • weight changes

The possible reasons for low serotonin can also vary.

  • a deficiency in chemicals needed to synthesize serotonin, like L-tryptophan, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B6, and vitamin D.
  • age-related brain changes
  • chronic stress
  • fewer serotonin receptors in your brain
  • a highly processed, low-nutrient diet
  • lack of exposure to natural light
  • exercising very infrequently
  • receptors that have a hard time receiving serotonin.

STRESS – TRAUMA – LIFE DISAPPOINTMENT

My own experience with depression has been ongoing since childhood. I think most of my life I have had some degree of depression, many intense long bouts of it that included anxiety and panic attacks also. Sometimes life hits you with things all at once, or it can be a slow drip-drip experience of stress due to toxic childhood programming. We may not even know we are losing serotonin and try many different things to feel better.

From what I researched, some doctors actually prescribe 5-HTP for depression for people who are not compatible with your typical SSRI anti-depressants.

After trying St. John’s Wort and Ashwaghanda, my list just went on for years. I resisted trying 5-HTP. I saw so many articles and YouTube videos where people were saying it was bad and you needed the balance of taking another supplement to make sure dopamine was not out of balance due to taking the 5-HTP. I wanted to make sure that my body was okay with 5-HTP before I even tried to add another supplement to the mix.

WHY DID I FINALLY GIVE IN AND TAKE 5-HTP?

I lost a really close friend I was in love with and caring for due to an advanced cancer diagnosis, and along with other stress, which you can read all about here, I was already grieving and in a lot of emotional pain. One of the experiences of grief and loss often turns into depression. A few months later, my best friend, who had been much like a husband to me for 20 years and who I had lived with for half of my adult life, was also diagnosed with advanced cancer. So I had a double stress on top of the original stress without any time to catch my breath. I also lost my friendship tribe because I had to step back to care for Michael, and I found out that not many people stick around when challenging things happen in your life. You certainly get to learn who your friends are. And in May, Michael passed away due to a complication of the cancer, sepsis. It was unexpected that his death would come so soon; we both thought we had at least a year to prepare.

So here I was, double, triple grieving a lot of things and changes in my life, having to face managing a home, paying bills that had doubled overnight, and wondering if I was going to lose my house also. The stress became too much; the loss was so painful in October and November that I started to have deeply suicidal thoughts and started to consider how to act on them. I got so far as to thinking about how to plan them and what would work.

I knew this was a very dark place, and I needed help. I was already isolated as many friends stepped back after about a month after Mike’s passing; the support didn’t last long enough. I had one friend who was a godsend, and I think without Louisa, I would not be here today.

After a lot of research, I decided to go down the 5-HTP route. I didn’t want to numb the grief like my mother did after my father passed away. She was put on traditional anti-depressants a year after he died, and she is still on them now. Unfortunately, she rarely cries or feels difficult emotions, and while this may be appealing when depressed or grieving, it was not the route I wanted to take. I wanted to organically process the grief and pain I still felt, but I needed something that would at least reduce the suicidal thoughts.

PLEASE GET HELP NOW CLICK HERE! if you are planning or thinking about suicide. The world needs you, even if your mind is telling you otherwise. It often lies to us due to childhood trauma and programming.

MY INITIAL EXPERIENCE AND DOSAGE

I purchased some 5-HTP online and did not realise I had ordered the 400mg. And I panicked myself reading all the negative side effects from people taking a higher dose (looking back now, I realise there were probably fewer than I imagined), so I halved my capsule daily and took it in some water. I tried it during the day for a couple of weeks, but nothing really changed. I then tried taking it at night, but this brought about weird nightmares for me that left me waking up feeling groggy and just as low in my mood. One day I just decided I had had enough of feeling so despairing, so I took a full 400 mg capsule. I took this once a day, and I could not believe the change that happened. The suicidal thoughts left me within a week. I won’t kid you here and say the depression lifted; no, it didn’t, but you have to remember I am massively grieving, so for someone who has depression without grief, it may be an even better experience. I have been taking 400mg since the beginning of December 2023, and it is now January 11th, 2024, and the suicidal thoughts have not returned.

Does this mean that 5-HTP definitely works with depression? Well, I’m not an expert, but all I can say is that in the darkest place I have ever been in (and I’ve been in a lot over my life), it lifted me from the point of potential no return.

Just to note, there is no recommended dosage for 5-HTP, but many take anything between 50mg and 300mg a day.

WHAT I DIDN’T DO

While taking 5-HTP, I made sure I wasn’t taking other things. For example, if you are on anti-depressants, you would need to wean yourself off, and they need to be out of your system for many weeks before taking 5-HTP (please do research on this for your own wellbeing).

I was taking some somewhat illegal CBG (cannabigerol) for a while, which is similar to CBD but has more of the effects you don’t get from CBD (Cannabidiol), it can be quite strong and have similar effects to Marijuana. The CBG had a mix of CBD and CBG in it, many people are using this for chronic pain like fibromyalgia and in their own natural cancer treatments.

I was also occasionally smoking a few joints to relieve stress. I stopped doing this once I started 5-HTP because I had read that it could increase serotonin too much and that it’s not healthy. However, this was just what I read; how true it is, I am not sure, but I didn’t want to take any risks.

I also limited my alcohol use. If I did have the occasional drink, I would leave at least 5 hours between taking my 5-HTP and a glass of wine. I think it had something to do with the potential for serotonin overload, which can be dangerous, and also because alcohol is a depressant, so it seemed pointless to drink and take it.

WHAT I DID DO

During this time of grief and depression, I spent a lot of time looking at my life and my past conditioning, and I started the journey of re-parenting myself after a toxic childhood. I received some therapy and also received hands-on healing regularly. As a Reiki therapist in Gloucester, UK, I understood the importance of combining natural treatments and psychological exploration. I recommend doing this with someone rather than on your own initially, especially if you are in the dark place I was in.

PERSONAL BENEFITS OF 5-HTP

  • Elimination of suicidal ideation, thoughts, and planning
  • A slight reduction in migraines, but nothing major
  • The mood is not as dark.
  • As an appetite suppressant, it didn’t work on me.
  • Sleep better

SIDE EFFECTS OF 5-HTP

As I mentioned above, my own side effects involved nightmares on the lower dose, but I also sleep quite well. The ongoing side effects are regular bowel movements, but not diarrhoea, and sometimes smelly farts, which is probably one of the reasons I don’t want to be taking this forever. I’m of the view that if 5-HTP can help me get through the harder feelings of depression and grief until my life has become bigger than the grief itself, that is how I choose to use 5-HTP.

Other Side Effects People Can Experience When On 5-HTP

  • Stomach pains
  • Drowsiness
  • Sexual problems
  • Muscle problems
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhoea
  • Digestive issues

I didn’t experience any stomach pains, but I did experience a little more tiredness in the first two weeks. So if you take it for two weeks and experience this, you may want to consider keeping going because, after this, my body adjusted and I had no tiredness during the day.

IS IT SEROTONIN YOU LACK OR DOPAMINE?

5-HTP can actually reduce levels of other brain chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, low levels of which have also been linked to depression. And this is one of the reasons, in the past, I resisted trying 5-HTP. I think that with anything, you just need to try it for yourself and see if it works for you. Every-body is different; we are all unique in our biology. Do lots of research and then decide. That being said, there are some people for whom 5-HTP is not recommended.

WHO SHOULDN’T TAKE 5-HTP

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Some sources say it is okay with children, but they might develop eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, which is a serious condition that causes extreme muscle tenderness and blood abnormalities.
  • SURGERY? If you are due for surgery, stop taking 5-HTP two weeks prior. Taking 5-HTP pre-surgery might result in there being too much serotonin in the brain, which can lead to serious side effects, including heart problems, shivering, and anxiety.
  • High blood pressure? Diabetes? Talk to your doctor first.
  • It may cause liver toxicity in higher doses, so if you have liver issues, talk to your doctor before trying this.

SUMMARY

So to summarise, my overall experience with 5-HTP has been really positive. I’m not overly fond of the smelly farts (wide grin), but I can cope with them for a time. I hope to transition off this supplement as my life settles down, but for now, it is supporting me through grief, change, and this new life journey.

Let me know in the comments if you have tried 5-HTP yourself or are thinking about it.

Good luck everyone!

Disclaimer
The author of this blog is not medically qualified. The information contained in this blog is provided as the author’s personal opinion, based on personal experience and research, for your information, education, and interest. In no way is it offered as medical advice, as a diagnosis, or as a treatment for any physical or mental health condition. I recommend that you consult your healthcare professional for advice should you consider using any of this information.


Under no circumstances should you make any changes to any medication regimen that your physician has prescribed without the knowledge and permission of that physician, who is legally responsible for your primary healthcare.

The author’s responses, if any, to any comments made by others are not, in any way, to be considered expert moderation. Any such responses are the author’s personal opinion and are not offered as advice.

The author is not responsible for the content of any external site that may be accessed via links contained within this blog.

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Kelly Martin
Kelly Martin

Kelly Martin, author of ‘When Everyone Shines But You’ is a dedicated writer and blogger who fearlessly explores life’s deepest questions. Faced with a decade of profound anxiety and grief following the loss of her father and her best friend Michael, Kelly embarked on a transformative journey guided by mindfulness, and she hasn’t looked back since. Through her insightful writing, engaging podcasts, and inspiring You Tube channel Kelly empowers others to unearth the hidden treasures within their pain, embracing the profound truth that they are ‘enough’ exactly as they are.

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