I’ve used 5HTP a lot in the past. It works. I know that for sure. Like cleansed by a wave of lethargic happiness all your worries ripple away, giving room for a peaceful slumber. That’s the power of increased Serotonin in the brain. At first, anyway.
Why, then, would we choose not to include 5HTP in our night-time nootropic, Unplug? The reason is simple: for as much as I know 5HTP’s benefits, so too do I know its dark side.
The decision to avoid 5HTP was relatively straightforward – and you’ll see why in this article. It was early 2017 and we were working closely with our lead Neuroscientist Miguel Toribio-Mateas to formulate a product that would help quell anxiety and promote restful sleep, night after night. A truly healthy alternative to perilous sleep aids.
We have two strict rules at Motion Nutrition when it comes to formulating new supplements. They need to work, and they need to be safe for long term use:
1. For Unplug to work, it needed to provide something otherwise not abundant in our regular diets.
2. We needed it to be healthy long term solution for sleep improvement. And here lies our big issue with 5HTP.
5HTP stands for 5-Hydroxytryptophan, also known as oxitriptan. It is a naturally occurring amino acid used as a mild antidepressant and commonly associated with improved sleep. So how does it stack up against our 2 criteria?
1. Is 5HTP an essential supplement?
Let’s start here: does 5HTP provide something that is inherently lacking in our diets? Is it a necessary supplement?
Critics of 5HTP question how much of it is truly synthesised into Serotonin inside the brain. This conversion to serotonin is itself limited by the availability of another compound: the enzyme L-aromatic amino acid decarboxylase (AAAD for short). This means no matter how high the dose of 5HTP, you may actually only synthesise a small amount of Serotonin. Is there a more direct way to increase serotonin levels in the brain? Let’s consider food sources.
5HTP is not available in foods. As a supplement, it is sourced from an African plant known as Griffonia Simplicifolia: an unlikely feature of your regular diet.
On the other hand, the amino acid Tryptophan, recognised as the most direct precursor to Serotonin, is abundant in food. And the list of food sources of Tryptophan is extensive. To name a few:
- chicken and turkey
- cheese, milk and organic whey protein
- peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds
- tofu and soy.
So while 5HTP may seem like a smart supplement to add onto your overall diet – the likelihood is you may already consume vast amounts of Tryptophan from your regular food sources.
This does not in itself disquality 5HTP from our consideration, but it certainly puts a big question mark onto our first criteria: whether 5HTP is an essential supplement. So onto our second big criteria.
2. Is 5HTP a healthy long term solution to improving sleep?
The applications and potential benefits from 5HTP are multiple. It is a widely recognised precursor to Serotonin, the ‘happiness hormone’, and as such it is often used to treat a wide variety of conditions including depression, fibromyalgia, binge eating, chronic headaches, and even indeed insomnia.
But being potentially helpful does not make long-term use of 5HTP healthy. So back to criteria number 2: our goal with all our products is that over time their effects accumulate. We are not in the business of negative side effects. In fact, any side effect at all should be a positive one: better sleep means better skin, better brain health, better decision making – the list goes on.
I started using 5HTP as a full time athlete to improve my sleep, many years ago. And at first, I enjoyed great results: I slept deeply and soundly. But slowly, after 4 weeks or so, the effects tapered off. So I increased my dosage. 200mg became 300mg. 300 became 500 – you get the picture. Something didn’t feel right. I was beginning to wake up feeling lethargic and with a reduced appetite – not conducive to a high performance lifestyle.
I dug a little deeper and was surprised to find that 5HTP is indeed shown to decrease appetite. This rang some alarm bells: is 5HTP as innocuous as it seems?
Not according to this 2012 Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment research paper, whose authors claim that 5HTP “has a large and strong following who advocate exaggerated and inaccurate claims relating to its effectiveness in the treatment of depression and a number of other serotonin-related diseases.” The authors go on to assert that 5HTP’s short-term antidepressant benefits are within the range you’d expect of a placebo. The placebo effect after 30 days of depression treatment ranges from 30%–45%, and improvements from 5HTP have shown a 43% efficacy rate.
More importantly, the research paper plainly contraindicates the long-term use of 5HTP, and here lies our problem. “Long term” in this context is simply greater than one month. Concerns around long term usage of 5HTP are frightening. They include reduced levels of other brain chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, low levels of which have actually themselves been linked to depression. A completely pointless exercise when it comes to 5HTP’s antidepressant application, then.
So here it is: the dark side of 5HTP.
As I increased my dosage, I was waking up feeling empty, lethargic and unmotivated. I knew instinctively that something was wrong. I knew it was time to quit 5HTP. Today, we have the science to explain what was happening: my dopamine levels were depleted.
That’s simply not a risk worth taking with Unplug. On the contrary, our daytime nootropic Power Up is specifically formulated to support dopamine production, thanks to the inclusion of its precursor L-Tyrosine.
You can put worry to bed with Unplug. We’ve done the research.
Unplug vs 5HTP cheatsheet:
|What’s it for?||Holistic relaxation, stress relief and sleep improvement||A precursor to Serotonin sold as a mild antidepressant and sleep aid|
|Is it a legal?||Naturally||Yes|
|What is it made of?||A natural and comprehensive blend of 10 minerals, amino acids and botanical extracts||A single ingredient extracted from the African plant Griffonia Simplicifolia|
|How does it work?||Unplug combines restorative minerals with calming amino acids and soothing herbal extracts. The botanical extracts inside Unplug nourish the brain and gently help you drift off. This is unlike a synthetic sleeping pill which knocks you out for hours.|
Unplug’s benefits rack up over time, with users reporting falling asleep 52% faster and waking up 1/3rd more refreshed after just 1 month.
|5HTP is a very close pre-cursor to serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’. Because it is supposed to increase serotonin in the brain, 5HTP is most often used as a mood-enhancer, or a natural alternative to antidepressant medication. Another common use for 5HTP is as a sleep supporter: it works in a similar way to Melatonin, though requires some transformations in the body before creating Melatonin.|
|Is it safe long term?||Yes. Unplug has been specifically formulated to be a healthy and safe supplement to use daily for as long as you like.||No. 5HTP may cause serious side effects beyond 30 days of use.|
|Any negative side effects?||No known side effects.||Long term use side effects include depletion of Dopamine, which is linked to depression. 5HTP is also known to reduce appetite.|
|Is it an essential supplement?||Yes. Unplug provides 10 active ingredients which are either not present in our daily diets (such as Ashwaganda) or for which we have widespread deficiencies (such as Magnesium).||No. Although 5HTP is not found in our regular diets, its close relative, Tryptophan, is found in many every day foods such as dairy, chicken, nuts and seeds.|
|When to use it?||Take 2 capsules of Unplug approximately an hour before bed to improve sleep quality, every night, for as long as you like.||5HTP may be helpful as a short term solution to sleep problems, but we do not recommend it as a long term solution. Check with your practitioner before use.|