The Dangers of 5-HTP
Neurotransmitters are the chemicals within the brain that transmit impulses related to emotion and thought to the brain; should an imbalance in neurotransmitters occur, there can be all manner of symptoms including depression, headache, and fatigue. Many different factors affect the level of these crucial chemicals in your brain and one thing these various factors may be affecting is the level of 5-HTP and other such chemicals that are required for neurotransmitter synthesis.
Depression and other issues related to the levels of neurotransmitters are becoming increasingly common as average stress levels rise and a sedentary, indoor life trumps all other lifestyles throughout many of the industrialized countries. As a result, in the last ten years, there has been a focused effort in research and treatment for these disorders. Amongst the myriad treatments now available on the market, the supplement 5-HTP has shown promise in treating some types of depression as it is a key chemical for the creation of serotonin.
Taken in supplement form, 5-HTP helps boost the rate of serotonin synthesis in the brain; this is often preferred to prescription drugs because of the lower risk of side effects with 5-HTP supplementation, though it isn’t without risks. Probably one of the most dangerous side effects of 5-HTP is the risk of serotonin overdose if the medication is taken improperly, a potentially fatal condition that can appear as confusion, restlessness, hallucinations, fever, nausea, and even lead to coma and death. Overdose is a very serious situation that can escalate quickly and reach its final stages within 24 hours of symptoms first appearing. Luckily, taken as directed, there is a low risk of such dire side effects.
Because 5-HTP targets serotonin levels, it should never be taken with other serotonin-targeting chemicals such as tryptophan, St. John’s Wort, or SAM-e. Supplements of 5-HTP should never be taken along with prescription medications for anxiety or depression unless it is specifically approved by a physician, as these all increase the risk of having too much serotonin in the system.
Higher blood pressure and a faster heart rate often result from taking 5-HTP supplements, so anyone who already has high blood pressure should discuss the dangers with a physician. Because of this side effect, 5-HTP should be avoided by anyone who is pregnant, nursing, or has any cardiovascular diseases or risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, anyone with carcinoid tumors should also avoid 5-HTP as the increased blood pressure may increase tumor growth rate.
There is some risk for minor side effects as well such as headache, dizziness, and mild nausea. While all of these are potential issues with 5-HTP, all are fairly rare with the most common side effects occurring in only about 3% of people who take 5-HTP supplements. As with any supplement, a physician should always be consulted before you begin taking 5-HTP to ensure that you are not at risk for these side effects and to ensure there are no adverse interactions with any medications you may already be taking.