5-HTP is an amino acid that is naturally produced in the human brain. It is less commonly known as oxitriptan. This amino acid is directly involved in the biosynthesis of serotonin and melatonin. All of these substances directly effect the central nervous system and are associated with feelings of happiness.
Though 5-HTP is naturally occurring, it can sometimes be found in food in insignificant amounts. It is, however, involved in how the human body metabolizes tryptophan. Tryptophan is found in foods such as milk, meat, certain green vegetables and potatoes. There is no solid evidence of relevant amounts of 5-HTP being found in food.
In recent years, many people have begun taking 5-HTP supplements over the counter. These supplements are sold over the counter in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. Individuals typically take a 5-HTP supplement as an antidepressant. Some people also claim it has positive effects as a natural appetite reducer and sleep aid. It should be noted that there is a lack of high quality studies surrounding the use of 5-HTP over the counter.
While 5-HTP is most commonly supplemented via over the counter tablets, it has recently become available in the form of a transdermal patch. This patch, however, is currently available only in the United Kingdom. As this patch just recently became available in 2014, it has not picked up the popularity of usage that 5-HTP pill supplements are known for.
Interestingly, 5-HTP is frequently consumed by individuals who use the drug MDMA. MDMA is an illegal mood enhancing drug, and the usage is often followed by a crash. This crash causes users to experience feelings of unpleasantness, depression and related emotions. 5-HTP is used to boost the production of serotonin following the usage of MDMA. While this is a fairly common practice, there is no legitimate scientific research to verify the effectiveness.
Individuals who consume 5-HTP should be aware of the side effects and adverse reactions when used with other supplements or prescription medications. While serious side effects are somewhat rare, people can experience gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Studies have shown that 5-HTP combined with certain antidepressants can cause serotonin syndrome in rats; 5-HTP has not been associated with serotonin syndrome in humans.
New studies and evidence regarding 5-HTP are completed by pharmaceutical companies and independent labs. This may lead to some regulation of the use of 5-HTP supplements in the future.