5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is the in-between step as the amino acid tryptophan converts to serotonin. It has been used clinically to raise serotonin levels since the 1970’s.
5-HTP crosses the brain barrier easier than tryptophan. The brain is very selective about what it will allow to enter. So it is an ideal choice to raise the “feel-good” brain chemical serotonin (this is the chemical involved with Prozac). It not only works on serotonin though, as 5-HTP has also shown benefits in enhancing dopamine, endorphins and melatonin levels, So it can help depression with support from a few angles, including better sleep.
There is substantial evidence to suggest that low serotonin levels are common in this fast paced stressful society we live in. Low brain serotonin is involved with not only depression but also anxiety, carbohydrate cravings, some chronic pain disorders, compulsive disorders, tension headaches and insomnia. It is also far safer to supplement than tryptophan, and while tryptophan can sometimes work as a free radical, 5–HTP also works as an antioxidant, so is providing further benefits.
There is no proven safety in women who are pregnant or breast feeding. Also, because 5-HTP is the direct precursor to serotonin it should not be used with any pharmaceutical anti-depressants. One would be best advised if on any pharmaceutical medications, to discuss with their doctor before using 5-HTP.