5-HTP or 5-hydroxytryptophan is an amino acid which is claimed to have a range of therapeutic uses including beneficial results in the management and treatment of diabetes.
Diabetics often have associated health and lifestyle conditions such as depression (due to low levels of brain serotonin) and unwanted weight gain (due to increased calorie intake, particularly craving of carbohydrates).
5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin and is said to aid in regulating glucose levels. An Italian study found that during a two week course of 5-HTP supplements, diabetic suffers lost weight from a lower food intake and, in particular, a lowering of the craving for carbohydrates.
Concerns over 5-HTP side effects
On the other side of the equation of claims, anyone contemplating taking 5-HTP supplements for diabetes or any other health condition should be aware of the side effects and serious complications that have been reported.
A major reason for the question mark over the safety of 5-HTP stems from serious problems reported in the 1980’s with tryptophan.
Tryptophan is a precursor to 5-HTP. Our bodies absorb tryptophan from various foods and when it reaches the brain it converts it into 5-HTP which then, in turn, becomes serotonin. Serotonin is important in regulating moods, rest and sleep cycles and food intake.
Because of this process tryptophan became hugely popular in the 1980s. It was touted as a solution to weight problems, depression and sleep disorders.
This popularity came to a half after over 1,500 cases of EMS (eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome), a crippling condition which included in 38 deaths, resulted from tryptophan containing an impurity. Many, but not all, of the cases of EMS were liked to tryptophan supplements which were genetically engineered.
The concerns spread to 5-HTP as the impurity in the tryptophan is similar to “Peak X” which is often found in 5-HTP products.
Although 5-HTP is used in convention medicine (to treat a rare condition involving muscle contraction) there are several warnings and publicly announced concerns from medical authorities over use of 5-HTP supplements.
5-HTP is freely available. In fact, its popularity increased as a treatment for conditions that tryptophan was taken for, after the FDA banned the tryptophan supplements in 1990.
The NIH (National Institute of Health) in 2010 made a declaration on the use of 5-HTP. Its conclusion was that 5-HTP was “possibly unsafe”. The NIH did not find sufficient evidence of its effectiveness as a treatment of any health condition and advised the public not to take 5-HTP supplements until further studies have ruled out the possible harms from its use.
Aside from the results of contamination there have been a range of reported side effects from taking 5-HTP supplements. The response to any medicine or supplement will vary from individual to individual. Interactions with other medications and supplements can also be important in giving rise to side effects. Most of the claimed side effects from 5-HTP are gastrointestinal and include nausea, bloating, acid reflux and gas. Nightmares and decreased sex drive have also been reported.
Dosage and Overdosage
Some supporters of the use of supplements have suggested that side effects are related to some dosages being too high. It’s been suggested that a dosage of 200-300mg per day is both safe and effective. However, the study that found weight loss benefits from diabetics taking 5-HTP involved participants taking 750mg per day.
There simply is not enough known at this stage of what dosage level, if any, is safe and what degree of benefit can be expected by sufferers of diabetic conditions and other health problems.
As an alternative to taking 5-HTP from supplements it can also be taken directly from food although the concentration would not be as high. There haven’t been any major studies of the effects but some diabetics have reported positive effects from dietary change. It is suspected that some of the benefit would be attributed from increased absorption of 5-HTP from foods but also from other beneficial effects on insulin levels from diet changes.
Foods from which 5-HTP is created in our bodies includes red meat as well as turkey and many poultry products.
Another alternative to taking 5-HTP supplements is to use the seeds the African plant Griffonia Simplicifolia in cooking and food preparation. These seeds are the source of the main active ingredient which manufacturers of supplements use.
Despite anecdotal claims of major benefits, with all things considered, including the warnings provided from medical authorities and the lack of conclusive medical studies of the benefits of 5-HTP, it would be unwise to suggest that diabetic suffers undertake with a course of 5-HTP supplements.