Thursday, June 04, 2009

5-HTP: Natural Serotonin Boost Without Anti-Depressant Drugs

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning that it must be obtained from dietary sources. It plays several important roles in the human body. Tryptophan is the precursor to the B vitamin, niacin. Niacin is an important vitamin for the functioning of the nervous system. It has been well researched for its ability to improve mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. It also helps the digestion of fats, carbohydrates and protein because niacin is needed in the coenzymes that speed up these reactions. Niacin plays a part in the production of stomach acid and bile. One form of B3, niacin, lowers cholesterol because niacin is involved in chemical reactions that metabolize fats. Niacin also causes the release of histamine, a chemical responsible for dilating vessels. Thus it benefits cardiovascular diseases, where circulation is compromised, and diabetes, where decreased circulation causes numbness in the extremities. To further help with diabetes, niacin regulates blood sugar as a component of glucose tolerance factor. Niacin can also help allergy sufferers by depleting the body’s histamine stores. Histamine release leads to allergic symptoms like runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. Tryptophan is also a precursor to 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which in turn creates the hormones serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin regulates mood, behaviour, appetite, dilation of blood vessels and many other body processes. 5-HTP has been favourably compared to tricyclic antidepressants and Prozac for its ability to alleviate depression. Serotonin is released in response to fullness and regulates appetite. Deficiency of serotonin can lead to overeating and obesity. This also accounts for the fact that when we are under stress our appetite tends to change. Some people become deficient in serotonin and gain weight because they overeat. Others lose their appetite partly because their brain is reacting to high levels of serotonin released during the stressful time. Serotonin also decreases the diameter of blood vessels. This is helpful in headaches and migraines that are caused by increased blood flow in the brain. Melatonin regulates the body’s sleep/wake cycles. Optimal levels of melatonin allow us to have restful and restorative sleep. Melatonin also cues the body to release growth hormone and sex hormones, which are used during sleep to repair body tissues and normalize hormone levels. Finally melatonin is an antioxidant that protects tissue by neutralizing damaging free radicals. The amount of melatonin produced by the body naturally declines as we age so supplementing with 5-HTP may be a means to prevent age-related disease. Tryptophan and 5-HTP are recommended by natural health practitioners for insomnia, jet lag, aging, cancer, frequent colds and flus, PMS, memory loss, arteriosclerosis, high cholesterol, blood sugar imbalances, allergies, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, headaches, migraines, obesity, fibromyalgia, stress, anxiety, hyperactivity, depression and smoking cessation.Supplements of L-tryptophan are restricted because contaminated tryptophan products have lead to deaths in the US. Consequently, 5-HTP, an activated form of L-tryptophan, is used as a supplement. It can be purchased in tablets or capsules. Taking your 5-HTP supplement with a high-carbohydrate food or drink, like juice, will increase its absorption. Excessive use of 5-HTP alters the levels of some immune cells. Regular laboratory testing is recommended. Do not use 5-HTP if you are pregnant, nursing, have autoimmune disease or cancers of the immune system. 5-HTP interacts with antidepressant medication. 5-HTP has additive effects when taken with St. John’s wort, SAMe and tryptophan. It may irritate the digestive tract of sensitive individuals.

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