Prozacs true alternative
by James South MA
(5-HTP) is the less well known cousin of serotonin (5-HT), one of the most
important brain neurotransmitters. Tryptophan is first converted to 5-HTP in
nerve cells by a vitamin B3 dependant enzyme, and then 5-HTP is converted to
5-HT by a vitamin B6 dependant enzyme. Yet thanks to modern science, we can now
take preformed 5-HTP, with many advantages.
5-HTP passes through the
blood brain barrier into the brain far more easily than tryptophan, and getting
tryptophan through the blood brain barrier is the main bottleneck, which in many
people leads to inadequate brain serotonin levels.
Also, 5-HTP is not used to
make proteins in the body, while tryptophan is, so there isnt competition by
cells outside the brain for 5-HTP, as there is for the bodys scarce
The body often uses
tryptophan to make vitamin B3, at a very high cost of 60mg tryptophan to make
just 1mg of B3! 5-HTP is not wasted to make vitamin B3.
Tryptophan can be broken
down in the liver by pyrrolase, an enzyme that converts tryptophan to kynurenine
and its metabolites, which can be mildly liver toxic at high levels. 5-HTP is
not metabolized through this pathway.
Because of this,
tryptophan supplementation especially in chronically stressed people should be
kept to 1 gram (1000mg) per day or less, because the stress hormone cortisol
The work of HM van Praag and others over the last 20 years, shows that serotonin is a key brain
neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation (anti-anxiety and antidepressant),
impulse control (inhibits aggression and obsessive compulsive disorders [OCD],
pain control and sleep).
Serotonin is also the
precursor for our pineal glands production of melatonin. Human clinical
studies show that 5-HTP is a far more efficient increaser of brain serotonin
Further, when 5-HTP has
been compared to tryptophan in human studies, 5-HTP has been a far more
successful antidepressant, even when the tryptophan dosage used is 10 to 15
times higher than the 5-HTP dosage. Also, relapses back into depression are more
common with tryptophan than with 5-HTP.
Unlike tryptophan, 5-HTP
has been shown to increase brain dopamine (DA) and noradrenaline (NA) activity.
These are two key mood and alertness regulating neurotransmitters, and when
tyrosine, the amino-acid precursor for brain DA/NA is given along with 5-HTP,
the effect is even more powerful.
Van Praags and
Youngs work suggests that 5-HTP is more likely to be effective for those
suffering an anxious, agitated, aggressive, irritable depression and is rarely
effective for those suffering from a severe, vegetative, total "blahs"
5-HTP may also be helpful
in some cases of compulsive carbohydrate overeating, alcohol addiction and
compulsive gambling (specific forms of OCD), as well as for insomnia.
Side effects of 5-HTP are
occasional gastrointestinal upset, hypomania and euphoria. Even though 5-HTP is
a natural substance normally made by the brain, without medical supervision
prudence suggests limiting daily dosage to 100mg to 200mg, a dose shown to be
effective in human clinical studies.
Research also shows that
both tryptophan, and even more so 5-HTP, increase the activity of MAO inhibitor
drugs, tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin inhibitor (SSRI) drugs,
such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. Therefore tryptophan and especially 5-HTP,
should only be used by anyone taking any of these drugs ONLY with their
prescribing physicians consent and supervision.