Which is better for low Serotonin depression and anxiety? Tryptophan or 5-HTP?
Answer: that depends on you.
Serotonin is made from an amino acid called Tryptophan (or L-Tryptophan).
When Tryptophan is transported to the brain, it converts into a substance called 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) which then converts into Serotonin (and then further into Melatonin, the sleep-inducer).
So it’s like this:
Serotonin is not available as a supplement, but both Tryptophan and 5-HTP are.
If you have low Serotonin, doesn’t it seem like you would want to take 5-HTP since it is the next step to Serotonin?
Maybe, but maybe not.
Symptoms of Low Serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger between neurons. Neurotransmitters like Serotonin control our emotions and mental well-being.
In a nutshell, if you are low in serotonin, you tend to be more negative, obsessive, worried, irritable and struggle with sleep.
Low Serotonin symptoms can be any of these:
- Panic attacks or phobias
- Feeling worried or fearful
- Obsessive thoughts or behaviors
- Perfectionism or being overly controlling
- Anxiety that’s worse in winter
- Winter blues or seasonal affective disorder
- Negativity or depression
- Suicidal thoughts
- Excessive self-criticism
- Low self-esteem and poor self-confidence
- PMS or menopausal mood swings
- Sensitivity to hot weather
- Anger or rage
- Digestive issues
- Fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint syndrome, or other pain syndromes
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Insomnia or disturbed sleep
- Afternoon or evening cravings for carbs, alcohol or drugs
- Loss of pleasure in hobbies, favorite activities and interests
- Not enjoying favorite foods
- Not enjoying friendships and relationships
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Low cholesterol
The type of anxiety associated with low Serotonin is typically the ‘worry in your head’ or rumination type of anxiety.
Why you may need 5-HTP instead of Tryptophan
We’ve all heard that the Thanksgiving turkey has Tryptophan in it, but it actually has only modest amounts.
It’s likely that your family members fall asleep at the dinner table because of all the potatoes, gravy, dressing and pumpkin pie. Carb coma!
Other sources of Tryptophan are: chicken, milk, potatoes, pumpkin, turnip and collard greens, seaweed, eggs, cheese, chocolate, oats, fish, poultry, spirulina, sesame, and sunflower seeds.
Tryptophan requires a transport molecule to deliver it to the central nervous system. This transport molecule is in competition from other amino acids like Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.
5-HTP, however, does not require a transport molecule.
In addition, an enzyme, tryptophan hydroxylase, is needed for the synthesis of Tryptophan to 5-HTP.
Tryptophan hydroxylase can be inhibited by numerous factors, including stress, insulin resistance, vitamin B6 deficiency, and insufficient magnesium.
For many people, 5-HTP works better for them than Tryptophan due to the additional steps needed to convert Tryptophan to 5-HTP.
Why you may want to Switch from 5-HTP to Tryptophan
If 5-HTP is not working for you (or not working anymore) to relieve your low Serotonin symptoms, you may want to switch to L-Tryptophan.
Other reasons to switch may include:
- Digestive issues–Some people experience digestive issues with 5-HTP especially if taken on an empty stomach. The good news about 5-HTP is that is does NOT have to be taken on an empty stomach like most amino acids (L-Tryptophan should be taken without food).
- Cortisol elevation–If you have discovered that you have high cortisol (from a saliva test), you may feel ‘wired and tired’. 5-HTP has been shown to increase cortisol.
- Insomnia–For some, insomnia can worsen with 5-HTP, particularly with falling asleep as opposed to staying asleep.
Before trying any new supplement, consult your healthcare practitioner.
Neither 5-HTP nor Tryptophan should be combined with an SSRI, MAOI or Tricyclics without the supervision of a doctor.
Tryptophan can aggravate asthma. Tryptophan should be avoided in pregnancy and those with lupus.
Brands and Dosages
Quality matters a great deal with all supplements, but particularly with amino acids.
Avoid grocery store, drug store and especially big box stores like Costco versions of supplements. The supplement industry is not regulated in the same manner as pharmaceuticals.
I am a big fan of Lidtke’s brand of Tryptophan which comes in capsule or chewable. They make a 5-HTP product as well, but I have not tried it myself.
Protocol for Life Balance brand is my choice of 5-HTP.
I feel comfortable with any of the brands available at Emerson Wellevate where you can order quality supplements online for a substantial discount (up to 35%).
I don’t make any money off of this. I just find that it is a great service!
Contact me if you would like your own account. They only need an email address to get started. For more information about this service, read this article.
How much should you take?
Julia Ross, MA, author of The Mood Cure, recommends starting with 50 mg of 5-HTP at mid-afternoon and at bedtime. Alternately, she recommends starting with 500 mg of Tryptophan at mid-afternoon and at bedtime.
An amino acid trial will tell you what the correct dosage of Tryptophan or 5-HTP is for you.
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Joli Tripp and Mind Blowing Wellness are not medical doctors nor licensed medical professionals. No comment or recommendation should be construed as being a medical diagnosis. If you suffer from a medical or pathological condition, you should consult an appropriate healthcare provider.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.
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