5-HTP & Cortisol

iBrian McEntire/iStock/Getty Images

5-Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is a chemically modified form of tryptophan, an amino acid found in protein. Your body uses 5-HTP to generate neurotransmitters, chemicals your nerves use for cellular communication. Taking 5-HTP has an effect on a number of chemicals in your body, including the hormone cortisol.

About Cortisol

The release of cortisol plays an important role in survival. Short-term increases in your body's cortisol levels help you respond to stress, with cortisol release contributing to your fight-or-flight response. Normally, your cortisol levels vary throughout the day: high in the morning, due to the stress of fasting all night, and gradually lower throughout the day. Chronically elevated cortisol levels cause a number of health issues, including Cushing's syndrome -- a disorder that causes obesity, depression and possibly infertility.

5-HTP Function

5-HTP helps to control the levels of neurotransmitters within your brain. Your cells can use 5-HTP to produce serotonin, a chemical involved in appetite, mood regulation and your emotional state. Taking 5-HTP supplements helps promote new serotonin production and can therefore boost the levels of the chemical within your brain. Since serotonin interacts with other compounds in your body, 5-HTP can also have an effect on other hormones.

Effect of 5-HTP on Cortisol

Your body maintains a balance of serotonin and cortisol production: the more serotonin present, the more your body produces cortisol, and vice versa. Your adrenal glands -- the hormone glands responsible for cortisol production -- contain receptors that sense the levels of serotonin in your bloodstream. Upon exposure to serotonin, your adrenal glands release cortisol into your bloodstream. As a result, taking 5-HTP -- and increasing your body's serotonin levels -- also affects cortisol and increases your body's cortisol levels.

Side Effects and Considerations

You should never take 5-HTP, except under the supervision of a doctor. If your body overproduces serotonin as a result of 5-HTP supplement abuse, you might develop serotonin syndrome -- a condition characterized by neurological damage due to excess serotonin. 5-HTP might also cause side effects related to its role in temporarily elevating cortisol levels; for example, cortisol can decrease your ability to form memories, according to The Franklin Institute. A medical professional can recommend a dosage of 5-HTP likely to prove beneficial to your health without significantly increasing your risk of negative side effects.