How to Treat Depression Using 5-HTP


Scientists and researchers are always looking for the next, more effective therapy for depression. One such treatment that is receiving a lot of press lately is 5-HTP, derived from a medical plant native to Africa. If doctors can figure out how to treat depression using 5-HTP, it could open a whole new avenue of naturally-based remedies.


5-Hydroxythryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid derived from the seeds of the Griffonia simplificifolia plant of West Africa. It represents the second step in a sequence of compounds between tryptophan (known for its mood and sleep regulating effects) and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Low serotonin levels have been implicated in the onset of depressed moods as well as a host of other disorders.

Indeed, the most popular class of antidepressants currently prescribed are the SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. These drugs, like 5-HTP, work to elevate levels of serotonin in the blood.

Applicable Conditions

The list of conditions that may be helped by a regimen of 5-HTP is growing all the time, and currently includes the following:

  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Bulimia
  • Insomnia
  • Narcolepsy
  • Sleep apnea
  • Tension and migraine headaches
  • PMS
  • Fibromyalgia

As further work is conducted, it is expected that this list will grow.

5-HTP vs. SSRIs

One of the major advantages to SSRIs is that they have been around long enough that doctors generally understand how they are most effectively used. Those doctors will have to learn how to treat depression using 5-HTP as effectively as SSRIs before those drugs fall out of favor.

Nevertheless, a recent study directly compared the results of treatment with 5-HTP and treatment with SSRIs. What it found was that 5-HTP resulted in a 50 percent improvement and was better tolerated than the SSRI. 5-HTP also had an 11 percent lower rate of failure than SSRIs. In countries where it is already an approved treatment, 5-HTP is the "go-to" drug for more severe cases of depression, with SSRIs used for more mild cases.

While SSRIs act by limiting the body's ability to reabsorb serotonin, leaving more of it in the blood stream where it can be most effective, it is possible that 5-HTP acts by actually increasing levels of serotonin themselves. Because it is a direct precursor to serotonin, 5-HTP is easy converted to that compound. It is also easily concentrated in the brain, where it is most effective.


While further testing in this country is necessary, 5-HTP already has a large following in Europe and elsewhere, proving its effectiveness at treating depression. If it continues to perform well and can give results similar to SSRIs with fewer and less severe side effects, it may become the de facto treatment for that disease.


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