5 HTP: What is it?

What is 5-HTP?

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) in supplemental form is sourced from the seeds of the plant, Griffonia simplicifolia, native to Central and West Africa, usually in doses between 50mg and 400mg. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin – when the body naturally produces tryptophan, it converts it to 5-HTP and then to serotonin. Serotonin has an effect on many aspects of the nervous system including sleep, mood, appetite, memory, social behaviour, libido, and more.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which can be made by the body. Neurotransmitters help send messengers between nerve cells. Interestingly, a large proportion of the body’s serotonin is found in the digestive tract and works to stimulate the movement and waves of the intestines (peristalsis). Too much serotonin can cause diarrhoea and too little can cause constipation. Some research found that the messenger that transports serotonin within the digestive tract was reduced in people experiencing an irritable bowel.

Serotonin contributes to our sleep-wake cycle as a result of the amount of light our eyes are receiving. Daylight triggers serotonin production and lack of daylight triggers melatonin to be secreted to helps us sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping one of the simplest ways to support healthy sleep patterns is to reduce the confusion caused by false lighting at night. These lights include television, smart phones, and computer screens, which contain high amounts of blue light (which our brains perceive as daylight). Keep lights low and reduce screen-time in the evenings. Keeping your bedroom very dark may be another useful tip.

Serotonin has other functions within the body including the regulation of our body temperature, mood, and sleep. One of the most known links with serotonin is the connection it has with low mood. Many human behaviours have been implicated with involvement from serotonin and research continues to be conducted into the widespread effect of this neurotransmitter.

Food sources of tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin) containing foods include beef, fish, lentils, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cottage cheese, spirulina, soy, spinach, eggs, and many other things.


5-HTP supplements may be useful in a number of conditions but should not be used alongside pharmaceutical anti-depressants. There may be other medications that are not a good combination with 5-HTP and you should seek the advice of a health practitioner prior to taking it. 5-HTP should not be taken without professional advice if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The most reported side effect of taking 5-HTP appears to be a range of digestive upsets. If this happens to you, you can take the supplement with meals. If that doesn’t change the discomfort, stop taking it and consult your health practitioner to find an option that will work better for you.

If you are giving 5-HTP a try, it’s important to start on a lower dose product (around 50mg) and build up to higher doses if necessary.

Some people have experienced vivid dreams or nightmares when they have initially started taking 5-HTP, which does seem to settle down after a few weeks.  People with liver and kidney disease should avoid 5-HTP.

-The HealthPost Naturopaths

BioBalance 5HTP 50mg (lower strength recommended for first time users) and BioBalance 5-HTP 150mg is an extract from the griffonia simplicifolia seed, a naturally occurring amino acid that is the precursor in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin.

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