L-Tryptophan vs 5 Htp: Benefits and Side Effects

Both L-tryptophan and 5-HTP are serotonin precursors that people often take as supplements. But what’s the deal with L-Tryptophan vs. 5-HTP? Which one is better?

l tryptophan

Your body makes the substance, 5-HTP. The raw material that your body uses for this is tryptophan, one of the 20 aminos. But then, 5-HTP production is only an intermediate step. The final product of this entire process is serotonin, a very vital neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that aid the proper function of your brain cells. So then, you see how important both Tryptophan and 5-HTP are. Doctors often prescribe them for treating headaches, depression, obesity, and even insomnia. They also help in treating carb craving, fibromyalgia, premenstrual syndrome, bulimia, and narcolepsy. But what’s the deal with L-Tryptophan vs 5-HTP? Which one is better? How effective are they? Are there risks and side effects? Read on to find out more. 

Both 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan are precursors of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. So Doctors would usually prescribe them for therapeutic use. They help to facilitate serotonin production in your body. But in prescribing them, the doctor must consider the natural balance within your brain, as well as the nervous system. If this balance is disturbed, many pathways and neurotransmitter activities may begin to malfunction. Optimal brain function relies a lot on this neurochemical balance. So, it’s not as simple as getting as much of what you need. You must also consider how what you are taking will affect the balance of chemicals in your brain.

Let’s Talk About Serotonin 

Whether you are taking l-tryptophan vs 5-HTP, the goal is to get enough serotonin. So then, we should talk about this very vital neurotransmitter molecule. 

Serotonin has different functions in different areas of your body. In your CNS, it helps to regulate your responses and adaptive reactions to changes in your environment. These responses and reactions include:

  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Cognition (thinking)
  • Libido
  • Nociception (perception of pain)
  • Appetite and feeding behavior
  • Impulsiveness 
  • Aggressiveness
  • Body temperature

Elsewhere in your nervous system, as well as in other areas of your body, serotonin does other things. It modulates the function of your gut and immune system, as well as inflammatory responses. It also modulates the proper functioning of blood cells.

Whenever there is impairment in serotonin function, one of the first signs you will notice is mood-affective disorders. These include depression, anorexia, autism, cognitive deficits, and bulimia nervosa. 

A few syndromes, linked with serotonin deficit or malfunction, include fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, and chronic fatigue syndromes. 

To maintain proper levels of serotonin in your body, you should ensure to get enough L-tryptophan from your diet. Great sources include:

Chicken Fish
Turkey Oats
Milk Chocolate
Pumpkin Poultry
Potatoes Spirulina
Cheese Sunflower seeds
Turnip Sesame
Seaweed Eggs

You would realize that you been very tryptophan from both plant and animal sources. So a balanced-diet assures you that you can’t run out of tryptophan supply. However, if you do, you can get tryptophan in the form of dietary supplements.

But then some experts advocate that it is better to take 5-HTP instead of tryptophan supplements. Is there any truth to this? Let’s examine this claim more closely.

L-Tryptophan vs 5-HTP

L-tryptophan is an essential amino. This means that your body cannot make it by itself. You must get adequate amounts from your diet. 

When your body gets L-tryptophan, it uses it to make quite a number of molecules. Among them are 2 neurotransmitters – melatonin and serotonin. These 2 are vital for your brain to function optimally. 

Differences in how much tryptophan you are getting from your diet can affect your mood significantly. However, experts tell us that this link mood and tryptophan is not so straightforward. 

We must agree that some people are more vulnerable to mood disorders than others. At the same time, people respond differently to antidepressant meds and serotonergic foods.

So you see that it’s not just about tryptophan. Nothing has a very straightforward link with mood. This is basically because of individual differences and the long biochemical processes involved. 

For a long time, doctors have used L-tryptophan supplementation to treat mood problems successfully. Furthermore, research shows that a normal person can receive a mood boost when they take tryptophan-rich drinks. It also improves stamina during cognitive exercises and emotional stress. 

However, L-tryptophan can only enter your CNS with the help of transport molecules. This transport molecule is not exclusive to tryptophan alone. All other aminos use it too. This is a major concern with the use of tryptophan. 

Since many aminos use the same transport molecule, there may be some sort of competition. Different aminos are trying to use this same transport molecule at the same time.

As a result of this, there may be some limitations to L-tryptophan transportation. This could affect both dietary intake and supplementation. So it’s not only about how much you are consuming, its transportation is another limiting factor.

Unlike L-tryptophan, 5-HTP requires no transport molecule. It can cross from your blood into your brain without any assistance. So then, it may be more effective than tryptophan. More so, when you use 5-HTP, you would bypass the process of converting L-tryptophan to 5-HTP. 

This conversion process is another limiting factor. The enzyme that facilitates this conversion is tryptophan hydroxylase. However, numerous factors can inhibit this enzyme. Some of them include stress, vitamin deficiency, magnesium deficiency, and insulin resistance

When you examine it thoroughly, it may pay better to use 5-HTP rather than tryptophan. It takes a shorter process, needs no transport molecule, and boycotts the limiting factors of tryptophan hydroxylase.

Safety Concerns

Generally speaking, tryptophan is very safe. It only has mild adverse effects. These include stomach upset, headache, drowsiness, lightheadedness, visual blurring, dry mouth, sexual problems, and muscle weakness. 

In addition to these, another source of concern is drug interactions. Tryptophan can interact with other antidepressants, and cause serotonin syndrome. Tryptophan may also interact with sedatives and cause over-sedation.

5-HTP is also generally safe. Its side effects are also usually mild. They may include nausea, drowsiness, gas, and heartburn. 

But if you take excessively high doses, it may precipitate serotonin syndrome. This is potentially dangerous. It is a condition where you have excess serotonin in your system. It topples your brain’s neurochemical balance. 

Serotonin syndrome rarely occurs due to the combination of other medications with 5-HTP. But then, you should still watch against it. More so, if you are taking 5-HTP with antidepressants, opioids, or certain muscle relaxers.

What’s the deal with L-tryptophan vs 5-HTP? Both are effective. Both are generally safe. But then, 5-HTP may give you better results.

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