I have known about 5-HTP as a mood enhancing supplement for a long time now but had never gotten around to trying it. Three weeks or so ago, it popped into my head and I picked up a bottle of Nature’s Way 5-HTP at CVS, in order to give it a try and see how it would work for me. I wanted to write up a quick report or review of my experiences using this supplement and provide detail on any benefits I’ve noticed (if any) while using it.
Here’s the Wikipedia description of 5-HTP for some context as to what it is: 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), also known as oxitriptan (INN), is a naturally occurring amino acid and chemical precursor as well as a metabolic intermediate in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin from tryptophan.
My 5-HTP Experiences
I wanted to do a comparison of taking 5-HTP vs not taking anything vs ingesting caffeine through coffee or energy drinks, in the morning. I figured this way I would get a noticeable variance of moods and mental states that was different each day. A few days of each could accentuate the effects and establish a more noticeable pattern, in my opinion.
Obviously, the effects of caffeine are highly noticeable to me. While it does provide that energetic feeling, I find myself much more impulsive and often unable to focus on work or reading. It actually takes more effort for me to want to do things or to have the concentration to do anything efficiently. On low doses of caffeine, it’s much more manageable but with energy drinks that have 150+ mg of the stuff, it’s a constant battle.
The days that I don’t take anything, I am much more rational than when on caffeine. The problem is that I need to ween off of the caffeine for a day, so that I don’t experience any withdrawals that will make me feel completely drained for another day after quitting. My mood is quite baseline during this time period. Some days, it is elevated and I’m quite social. Other times, I feel completely stifled. Of course, I don’t identify with these positive or negative stories about myself, and while I do still experience some of the low energy moods associated with depression…I haven’t been ‘depressed’ in like 6 years now. That’s the power that meditation, philosophy, and mindfulness has had on my life. I still have days where my brain doesn’t seem to have the right chemical mix or whatever but it doesn’t send me into a tailspin. I can just sit back and be aware of my experience.
The first time I took 5-HTP, I started with half a pill, just in case there was any adverse reaction to it. Normally, side effects can include gastrointestinal upset, but these specific pills are coated to help prevent any of that. I didn’t notice anything with the first half a pill dose, either positive or negative. Now, the bottle says to take 2 or 3 pills with food but honestly 3 probably overkill and unnecessary (at least for me). I should also note that this particular brand also contains vitamins B6 and C, which is supposed to help with the production of serotonin. I don’t know the validity of these claims or how this may react with other things people may be taking, I can only speak for myself and the effects it has on me personally. I will say that I do avoid taking in more vitamin B6 through things like energy drinks or other sources.
The second day, I upped the dose to one pill and that’s when things got interesting. About 45-60 minutes after taking the pill, I started to feel really positive about things. It was like a sense of joy for just being alive. I can only relate it to being completely present to the moment, such as how I feel after a meditation session, except that I didn’t need to do anything…I just was already in the perfect mood. This feeling lasted for the rest of the day and while I slept, I seemed to have really vivid dreams throughout the night. Awesome!
The next day, I boosted it up to 1.5 pills and got a similar result in terms of amazing mood, etc. No side effects had occurred at all and I was extremely impressed by how well this elevated my baseline mood level. I felt no anxiety. I felt really social and I wanted to be around other people all day long. There was no stifling of my personality and work wise I never felt distracted or unable to get things done efficiently.
After this initial test run, I went back through a cycle of caffeine days, and days where I took nothing. Again, I experienced the usual caffeine craziness, but on my all-natural days I felt normal to slightly above average during that three day span.
When I started taking the 5-HTP again, the results were still mostly positive. Most of the days I simply felt relaxed but not super upbeat. On these days, it was just calmly observing the world around me, and staying in the moment. A few of the other days, I again experienced the super positive moods, where the world just seemed bright and amazing. Then, on other days, I noticed absolutely no difference in my mood after taking the pills. On some of those days, my mood was low, and there was no elevation from the 5-HTP.
5-HTP has been a really great supplement for me thus far. I’ve taken other supplements in the past that have had no effect on me, despite their claims, but this one does amp up the serotonin and give me a positive mood enhancement.
Now, sometimes, this is a huge and noticeable difference. Other times, it is only slightly above average. Finally, there are days where it does nothing at all. I try to cycle on and off of it to help prevent it from losing its potency by adaptation. I will say that, it does have a beneficial effect 80+% of the time for me and no effect the rest of the time. I have experienced no negative side effects during my use.
None of this is to say that others will have the same experiences as me on 5-HTP and it is obviously not for everyone. I can’t advise the reader as to whether or not they should take it or what side effects or interactions it may have with any meds you might be taking. I can only share my experiences with this product.