5HTP Side Effects

Alma L. Figueroa

5HTP, a natural health supplement, has shown itself to be generally safe during the past forty years of scientific testing. 5HTP seems to be tolerated better by a larger number of people than its pharmaceutical cousins, the SSRI antidepressant medications like Prozac and Paxil.

Of course, nothing is completely without side effects so anyone taking 5HTP needs to be alert to the possible side effects.

5HTP has been tested enough to reveal a distinct pattern of side effects. The most common side effect of 5HTP treatment is intestinal or stomach upset. This is because about 90% of the serotonin in your body is actually not in your brain, but in your intestines.

Among other things, serotonin helps regulate the involuntary contractions of the intestines, called peristalsis, which flush waste through your system. Your intestines are loaded with serotonin so any changes in levels can affect this entire process.

Specifically which digestive side effects you might experience by taking 5HTP will depend on your personal state of health. Anything within the gamut of digestive system complaints could occur, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, even vomiting. Some people report this side effect being less severe, or even disappearing completely, if they take their 5HTP with a meal.

About 3 to 5% of people who take 5HTP report digestive-related side effects. They can range from mild to severe.

Digestive disturbances due to 5HTP treatment are most likely to be extreme with people who already have chronic digestive disorders. So if you suffer with irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, celiac sprue, ulcers or any among a long list of digestive problems, perhaps 5HTP treatment is not a good option for you. Please consult with a health care practitioner in your area.

Another reported side effect with 5HTP is vivid dreams, sometimes escalating to nightmares. This side effect occurs because dreaming and sleep depend heavily on serotonin. 5HTP and sleep go together like a chilly night and a goose-down comforter. This is why 5HTP treatment is so helpful for people with sleep disorders. 5HTP can help set the serotonin level back to a healthy level for better sleep.

On the flip side, because the biological process of sleep is delicate, 5HTP might cause your sleep to become disrupted. Everyone is different in this regard and while some enjoy extreme dreams, others find it upsetting. Often, people report that their dreams return to normal once their body adjusts to having a higher level of 5HTP and serotonin. Rarely, people choose to stop taking 5HTP because this side effect bothers them.

As you would expect, digestive disturbances and vivid dreams are both commonly reported side effects with all treatments that affect serotonin levels, such as the SSRI antidepressants, like Prozac or Paxil.

For best protection against side effects when taking 5HTP, start with a low dosage, such as 50mg or less once per day, and increase gradually. Sometimes it’s advisable to give your body periodic breaks from taking 5HTP. Taking breaks can lower the incidence of side effects too. Some people experience relief from side effects if they take 5HTP with meals.

The incidence of side effects from 5HTP is lower than it is with many other medicines. This is because 5HTP is a pure substance found already in the body. It isn’t a complex substance with many components that break down, spread throughout the body and wreck unintended havoc. 5HTP functions in the body in a relatively straight forward manner.

The same can’t be said for other most other medicines. Virtually every medicine known has some components that are beneficial and others that aren’t. It’s these unwanted components that lead to unpleasant side effects. The more pure a medicinal molecule is, the easier the body can assimilate it and this fact is to the benefit of anyone taking 5HTP.

When compared to the number of people who find the side effects of treatment objectionable, 5HTP generally fares better than its pharmaceutical counterparts. For example, in a study conducted by researcher Dr. H. M. van Praag, only 3% of the study group taking 5HTP quit, while 9% of the group receiving an SSRI left the study.

All medicines produce side effects people find intolerable, it’s to be expected. The question isn’t IF people don’t like the treatment, it’s how many people object to the point of discontinuation? With 5HTP, the answer is generally less than with comparable treatments.

All in all, 5HTP side effects are minimal or nonexistent for most people. The vast majority of people who take 5HTP report a positive experience. Dr. L.J. van Hiele, who has been one of the leading researchers of 5HTP, reported, “no contraindications or significant side effects in our series of tests…follow-ups of the blood pressure, living function, urine and EEG’s revealed no anomalies.”

Of course, this generally positive news does not negate the fact that some people find 5HTP side effects intolerable. All medications should be judged by weighing the benefits against the risks. Only you can determine where the line is right for you.

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