The Griffonia simplicifolia seed, part of an African vegetable, yields Griffonia extract containing a concentration of 30 percent 5-HydroxyTryptophan (5-HTP). 5-HTP is an amino acid that is a direct precursor of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter having pain soothing and relaxing effects. It is not present in significant amounts in a typical diet. The human body manufactures it from L-tryptophan, a natural amino acid found in most dietary proteins. However, eating food that contains L-tryptophan does not significantly increase 5-HTP levels.
5-HTP is an amino acid that is the intermediate step between tryptophan and the important brain chemical serotonin. There is much evidence that suggests that the lifestyle and dietary practices of many people living in this stress-filled era results in lowered levels of serotonin within the brain.
Scientists think that inadequate serotonin levels are in part responsible for the desire to overeat. Not surprisingly, obese individuals who crave carbohydrates usually show abnormally low levels of serotonin. Taking a 5-HTP supplement half an hour before a meal can lower cravings and hunger pangs by feeding the brains carbohydrate satiety center. In this way it can be a great asset as part of a weight-loss program.
The use of many addictive substances, such as tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and certain narcotics, elevates serotonin levels. Serotonin levels drop drastically when these substances are eliminated, and cause anxiety and cravings. Taking 5-HTP can stabilize serotonin levels and help minimize withdrawal symptoms.
Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS) sufferers report pain relief, decreased irritability and decreased mood swings from using 5-HTP. The supplement counters the hormone-induced decrease in serotonin levels that occur naturally during menstruation.
Due to its calming effect, many rely on 5-HTP to alleviate stress-attacks, as well as to encourage restful sleep. It is not associated with unwanted side effects, such as disturbed sleep patterns or grogginess, that often accompany sedative drugs. It can be taken regularly one hour before retiring as a remedy for insomnia.
While very high intakes of 5-HTP have caused muscle jerks in guinea pigs and both muscle jerks and diarrhea in mice. Injections of it has also caused kidney damage in rats. To date, these problems have not been reported in humans. “Serotonin syndrome,” a serious but uncommon condition caused by excessive amounts of serotonin, has not been reported to result from supplementation with 5-HTP; in theory it could be triggered by the supplement. However, the level of intake at which this toxic effect might potentially occur remains unknown.
5-HTP should not be taken with antidepressants, weight-control drugs, other serotonin-modifying agents, or substances known to cause liver damage, because in these cases it may have excessive effects. People with liver disease may not be able to regulate it adequately and those suffering from autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma may be more sensitive than others to 5-HTP. These people should not take 5-HTP without consulting a knowledgeable healthcare professional. The safety of taking it during pregnancy and breast-feeding is not known at this time.