What is tryptophan?
Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids that the body needs for the normal synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. Recall that essential amino acids are substances that are critical to the work of metabolism, but are not able to be synthesized in the human body. The food source of such amino acids is meat, eggs, nuts and other protein products.
The lack of tryptophan in the body is associated primarily with the development of depression and the problems associated with it - poor mood, chronic insomnia, as well as an uncontrolled craving for fast carbohydrates¹. Taking tryptophan supplements, just like tryptophan-rich foods, can even out mood and increase the natural production of sleep hormone melatonin .
There are several reasons why serotonin is reduced and why the body needs more tryptophan. First of all, the lack of tryptophan is associated with mood disorders caused by excessive consumption of alcohol, nicotine and other substances. In addition, the need for this amino acid increases with active physical training and low-carb diets.
What is 5-HTP?
Additive 5-HTP (hydroxytryptophan) is a processed amino acid tryptophan, presented in the form that is as easy as possible for the body to absorb. In fact, all tryptophan coming from food is converted to hydroxytryptophan, which has its many-sided effect on the body. 5-HTP is currently available as dietary supplements sold over the counter in Russia.
Taking 5-HTP helps to normalize the level of serotonin in the brain. In turn, serotonin is the so-called “hormone of joy”, that is, the neurotransmitter responsible for good mood and well-being. Serotonin deficiency is one of the key characteristics of depression. However, since antidepressants also affect serotonin levels, they should not be taken with 5-HTP.
Why do we need tryptophan?
Scientific studies suggest that the lack of tryptophan in the body leads primarily to various disorders of the emotional state and a negative perception of reality. Low levels of tryptophan can be expressed in sharp changes in a person’s mood, deterioration in cognitive abilities, as well as in a decrease in libido and impaired sexual function.
Since tryptophan is one of the key elements for the synthesis of the sleep hormone melatonin, a lack of tryptophan is considered one of the causes of chronic insomnia. In addition, the lack of this essential amino acid can affect all kinds of sleep disturbances - inability to fall asleep quickly, shallow sleep, regular nightmares and so on.
Tryptophan Content in Products
Despite the fact that the amino acid tryptophan is found in foods , eating such foods does not always help to increase serotonin and melatonin levels. Scientific research suggests that the most common cause of tryptophan deficiency is the body’s inability to absorb it - and not the absence of food sources of amino acids in the diet².
- meat and meat products
- milk, cottage cheese, yogurt
- all kinds of nuts, chia seeds
- cereals (oatmeal, buckwheat, quinoa)
- fruits (bananas, dates)
- chocolate (especially dark chocolate )
Although the use of tryptophan products is beneficial for the body and is important for the synthesis of a number of hormones, an acute lack of tryptophan is usually associated with metabolic diseases. You can cure these diseases only by taking medications prescribed by your doctor (for example, antidepressants). On the other hand, supplementation (5-HTP and L-tryptophan) affects the level of tryptophan in the brain.
Why does a biohacker need 5-HTP?
5-HTP is an OTC analogue of antidepressants and one of the most popular biohacking supplements . The substance is a precursor of L-tryptoptane, freely converting in the body to the amino acid itself - whereas in the case of food sources this process can be difficult. It is believed that 5-HTP is needed to normalize serotonin and melatonin levels in the body.
It is believed that this supplement is useful in quitting smoking and other bad habits, as it prevents the onset of symptoms of depression. Scientific research suggests that 5-HTP reduces food cravings¹ and also has a positive effect on normalizing levels of the stress hormone cortisol . In addition, the drug is used in biohacking as a means of improving everyday mood.
How to use?
A typical recommended dose is 100-300 mg of hydroxytryptophan taken daily once or twice a day. Taking 5-HTP tablets is recommended with meals. Once again, we note that their use is contraindicated in the use of antidepressants or any other drugs that affect the production of serotonin, dopamine and other hormones associated with them.
Side effects from taking tryptophan in capsules can be dizziness and nausea - signals of an excessive increase in serotonin levels. It is also important to note that since 5-HTP is not considered a full-fledged drug, its effect on chronic diseases or on combination with other drugs has not been fully studied.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid used by the body to synthesize the hormones serotonin and melatonin. Tryptophan deficiency can trigger depression, sleep disturbances, and an uncontrolled craving for food. Despite the fact that tryptophan is found in foods, often its lack is due to metabolic disorders - in this case, it is recommended to take supplements with tryptophan (5-HTP and L-tryptophan).
- 5-HTP Supplement - Science-based Review on Benefits, Dosage, Side Effects, source
- 5-HTP efficacy and contraindications, source
- Tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan for depression, source