5-HTP and a Lesson on Safety

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5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP), a well-known supplement used to support depression and mood, was featured this week on the Dr. Oz Show and blog for its potential use as an appetite suppressant and weight loss aid. While the Dr. Oz blog makes a compelling case, it may be dangerously playing to our society’s affinity for mindless, quick fix weight loss cures. “Take this pill and you’ll lose weight without trying!” If only it were that easy, we’d all be much thinner. And yet we want so badly to believe it… and try it!

A precursor to the synthesis of serotonin in the brain, 5-HTP has been studied for decades as a method for increasing serotonin levels due to its ability, unlike serotonin itself, to pass from the bloodstream into the brain. It is widely accepted that serotonin regulates mood, appetite and sleep. so it makes sense that increasing it could impact overeating and support weight loss.

So why sound the alarm? Before we go out and get some, let’s do our homework and break down the critical facts about 5-HTP. 

Despite being featured on the Dr. Oz show, these uses for 5-HTP are not remotely new. Research on mood support dates back to the ’70s and the studies cited by the Dr. Oz blog for weight loss benefits are from 1989 and 1991 respectively. More importantly, regardless of efficacy, there is some serious controversy over the safety of 5-HTP. Research suggests it might cause eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS), a potentially fatal condition associated with severe muscle soreness. The argument weighs whether the 5-HTP itself, or product impurities are the cause of EMS. While the Dr. Oz blog sticks to the impurities side of the argument, the US Food and Drug Administration, MedlinePlus (an NIH resource) and a systematic research review by the respected Cochrane Database all state that the evidence to identify the cause is inconclusive and advise against the use of this supplement.

Lesson learned – always do your homework before trying new products and don’t trust everything you hear in the media, even if it comes from a popular and well-known source like Dr. Oz.  The professional and knowledgeable staff at the Village Green are a great resource for guidance on complex decisions about product choices.

For more info about supporting mood and promoting weight loss, check out the Village Green radio show and podcasts, the Essentials of Daily Living, for conversations about both topics or talk with the experts at Village Green for personalized guidance.

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November 2022