5′-hydroxytryptophan: properties, use, benefits and contraindications

5′ -hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a derivative of the essential amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin, the so-called good mood hormone. In phytotherapy, 5-HTP is extracted from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia Baill., A tropical African plant.

Serotonin is one of the main neurotransmitters of the nervous system, that is, it transmits messages between nerve cells and is involved in the regulation of mood, the sense of hunger, sleep (serotonin is a precursor of melatonin, responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle).

Where is 5-HTP

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, that is, it is not synthesized by the human body, but must be taken with the diet. Starting from tryptophan, serotonin is synthesized, an intermediate step is represented by the synthesis of 5-HTP, which is why the intake of plant extracts rich in 5-HTP naturally increases the synthesis of serotonin.

Griffonia is a large woody shrub that can reach 3 meters in height, belonging to the Leguminosae family and native to central-western Africa; it prefers humid areas, produces flowers with greenish calyx and corolla, gathered in cluster inflorescences, the fruits are pods that contain the seeds.

The drug, that is the part of the plant rich in active principles, is represented by the seeds; they have a discoid shape with slightly convex surfaces, and take on a more or less dark reddish color, depending on the degree of ripeness; the balsamic time, that is the moment in which the concentration of the active principle is maximum, coincides with the complete ripening of the seeds themselves, when the latter have a diameter of about 2 cm and a blackish color.

Properties of 5-HTP

The extracts of griffonia seeds are used in the treatment of mild and moderate depressions, in forms of depression associated with anxiety and in dysthymic disorders (a form of chronic depression characterized by stages of moderate depression over time).

The integration with griffonia extracts allows a remission of symptoms in a short time, around 1-2 weeks.

As previously mentioned, 5-HTP is also able to relieve sleep disorders and regulate the sleep-wake cycle, as a precursor of serotonin and therefore of melatonin. In particular, it seems that griffonia improves the quality of sleep, prolonging the REM phase, the one in which one dreams.

Finally, 5-HTP is a useful remedy in the treatment of nervous hunger, frequently associated with depressive stages and characterized by an inordinate desire for carbohydrates.

On the market there are capsules of dry extract of griffonia seeds titrated at 10-20% in 5-HTP, to be taken during meals.

 Griffonia is often associated with other plants containing active ingredients with a relaxing, sedative, antidepressant action, such as Lemon Balm, Passiflora, Rodiola, Hypericum, with a synergy of action that completes and enhances its effectiveness. 

Contraindications of 5-HTP

In general, the intake of griffonia extracts containing 5-HTP is well tolerated.

It should be noted, however, that the intake of 5-HTP can induce nausea, occasionally vomiting, or other gastrointestinal disturbances, which generally disappear after adjusting the therapeutic dosage. In addition, mild cases of blood pressure changes, palpitations, headaches, insomnia have been reported.

Supplements based on 5-HTP are contraindicated in case of taking synthetic antidepressants and anxiolytics.

Finally, griffonia is not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

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