How Much 5-HTP Can I Safely Take in a Day for Depression?

Depression is a disorder that affects your moods, and the way you feel about yourself and your surroundings. It affects the way you interact with other people, leading to feelings of sadness, anger, loss and frustration with life. The exact cause of depression is unknown, but appears to be associated with heredity, environment and abnormal levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is a dietary supplement sometimes used for symptoms of depression. Ask your doctor about its use and safety.

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About 5-HTP

5-HTP can be made by your body from its precursor, the amino acid tryptophan. You obtain tryptophan through your diet. University of Maryland Medical Center notes foods containing tryptophan include turkey, chicken, collard greens, turnip greens, milk, potatoes, pumpkin, seaweed and sunflower seeds. Following its conversion from tryptophan, 5-HTP is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin, a brain chemical responsible for mood. Supplements of 5-HTP increase serotonin levels in the brain and improve mood. However, the balance of chemicals in your brain is a very delicate matter, so you should only take 5-HTP under the supervision of your health care provider.

5-HTP Dosage for Depression

The 5-HTP dietary supplement is derived from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia, a plant native to parts of Africa. The most beneficial dosage of 5-HTP depends on a number of factors, including overall health and age. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that a dose of 50 mg, one to three times daily, with a full glass of water is generally safe. However, high doses of 5-HTP can be toxic, so you should always follow your doctor's recommendations for taking this supplement.

Side Effects

As with all medications and supplements, states there is also the possibility of developing an allergy to 5-HTP. Allergy symptoms include itching, flushed skin, rash, facial swelling and wheezing. Call your doctor immediately if you develop allergy symptoms. Other side effects include upset stomach, heartburn, cramps, gas, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sleepiness and decreased appetite.

Safety Precautions

Originally, tryptophan supplements were available for use in treating depression. However, an outbreak of an extremely serious side effect called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, or EMS, occurred. This rare disorder affects numerous body systems including the organs, muscles, blood and skin. EMS can be fatal, and the U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter states in 1989 all tryptophan supplements were pulled from the market following the outbreak. Although EMS was traced to a contaminant, it's also possible for 5-HTP to cause EMS. You shouldn't take 5-HTP if you are pregnant, nursing, have liver disease or are taking antidepressant medications. You shouldn't use 5-HTP with certain medications, including some for blood pressure, Parkinson's disease, migraines and pain. MedlinePlus states other dietary supplements to avoid while taking 5-HTP include St. John's wort, Hawaiian baby woodrose and SAMe.