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5-HTP and Anxiety

By Brindusa Vanta

Anxiety disorders are common mental illnesses that are diagnosed based on specific criteria by physicians. Conventional treatment includes anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication as well as psychotherapy. Using 5-HTP, a natural over-the-counter supplement may help improve symptoms of anxiety; however, you should never use this supplement without proper consultation with a health care provider.

About 5-HTP

5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan, is a natural substance formed in the body during conversion of the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in sending messages in the brain. The 5-HTP used as an over-the-counter supplement is extracted from the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia. According to, it is more beneficial to take 5-HTP than tryptophan because 5-HTP is better absorbed from the gut and is converted more quickly into the mood-regulator serotonin than tryptophan. Use of 5-HTP has been studied for a variety of mental illnesses, and it may assist drug therapy of anxiety as well.


In the August 1998 issue of “Alternative Medicine Review,” a study found 5-HTP to be a clinically effective source of serotonin. As serotonin is an important neurotransmitter in the regulation of depression, anxiety, sleep and other parameters of well-being, 5-HTP may be used for anxiety if further scientific investigations prove its efficacy.

Another double-blind placebo-controlled study of January 1987, published in “International Clinical Psychopharmacology” compared the effect of the anti-anxiety conventional drug Clopiramine and 5-HTP. The study involved 45 individuals diagnosed with anxiety. The scientists found that 5-HTP showed moderate reduction in anxiety symptoms.


The various uses of 5-HTP are not all approved by the FDA. There have been concerns about contamination of 5-HTP supplements with toxic products, leading to a serious condition called Eosinophilic Myalgia Syndrome, which is characterized by severe muscle pain, nerve pain, lung and heart problems, and abnormal blood lab tests. Liver and brain toxicity are major adverse effects. Others side effects include nausea, heartburn and excessive gas. Using 5-HTP in Down syndrome or those with hypertension or diabetes is also not recommended. Use in children, or while pregnant or breast-feeding is not advised.

Dosage and Considerations

The recommended dose is generally 50mg of 5-HTP taken 1 to 3 times per day; larger doses can be toxic. Consult a qualified health care provider to find out optimal dosage of 5-HTP and possible drug and herb interactions. Keep in mind that 5-HTP does not replace and should not be used to replace any anti-anxiety drugs.

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