5-HTP For Improved Mental Health
Good physical health has been a topic of research and conversation for decades, even centuries, but good mental health has only recently become a point of focus. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being and is all about how we think, feel, and act. It includes many factors such as how we handle stress, having a sense of meaning, and feeling confident in who we are.
Good mental health does not necessarily mean we never feel sad, overwhelmed, or anxious, but rather that we are able to cope with these feelings in a healthy manner and bounce back from life’s adversities. Like good physical health, good mental health means taking care of ourselves and investing in wellness on a regular basis. Our mental wellness can be improved by moving our bodies, connecting with our loved ones, eating nourishing food, engaging in meaningful activities, being out in nature, enjoying a good laugh, and more. We can also improve our mental health with supplements that impact our brain function. In this series we are looking at different supplements that can support mental wellness.
5-HTP (short for 5-Hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid which our bodies produce from another amino acid called L-tryptophan. These two amino acids are both building blocks for melatonin and serotonin — a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. It is well known that low levels of serotonin contribute to depression, so assisting the body in raising serotonin levels can be very beneficial for mental health.
While L-tryptophan can be obtained by eating red meat and turkey, its ability to be converted into 5-HTP, and ultimately into serotonin, is reliant on specific enzymes. Many factors, such as stress and nutrient deficiency, can lead to low enzyme levels, leaving us depleted of this important feel-good chemical messenger.
Supplementing with 5-HTP eliminates the first conversion step, making more available for conversion to serotonin. One of the sources of 5-HTP is Griffonia simplicifolia, a small, green shrub found in West Africa (1). 5-HTP has also been known for being effective in supporting mood and easing symptoms of stress and anxiousness, which can, in turn, interfere with sleep.*
Though more large-scale studies are needed, there is growing evidence that 5-HTP can have a positive impact on serotonin and therefore on overall mood and well-being.