We live a frenzied pace, eat unhealthy fast or convenience foods, breathe in environmental pollutants, and deal with financial and familial pressures not commonly found in previous generations. So it’s not hard to see why millions of Americans are suffering from some form of emotional illness, whether in the form of a depressive disorder or an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), are the most common form of mental illness affecting 13.3 percent (19.1 million) of U.S. adults each year. These disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias. While women are more prone to anxiety and panic disorders, both sexes are equally affected by OCD and social phobia.
Anxiety—which often precedes depression—affects approximately 9.5 percent, or 18.8 million, Americans each year. And, 35 to 40 million Americans will suffer from a depressive disorder at some point in their lives. Find out more about anxiety.
Both stress and depression can impact your health in other, more serious ways including eating disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sexual disorders, osteoporosis, immunity, and sleep disorders.
With more than 22 percent of Americans suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder each year, it’s no wonder that sales of pharmaceuticals to treat depression and anxiety are on the rise.
Antidepressants—like Zoloft®, Paxil®, and Prozac®—may provide immediate relief, particularly against more severe forms of mental illness, but there’s been no evidence that these drugs prevent depression and anxiety. Antidepressants also carry some potentially serious side effects. Long-term use is controversial and withdrawing from them can be as difficult as the disorder itself.
Recovering from depression and anxiety often means an integrated approach. Whether you choose pharmaceuticals, supplements, or just plain lifestyle changes, it all starts with finding the information necessary to help you regain your emotional well-being.
The Role of Nutrition
Some nutrients—like essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals—play a major role in mental wellness.
According to researchers, psychologically distressed adults eat differently than emotionally healthy adults. Psychologically distressed women, for example, eat fewer fruits and vegetables, while men under stress consume more unhealthy fat.1
Another study looking at the link between diet and anxiety found significant differences in levels of anxiety and depression between those who ate a strictly vegetarian diet and those eating an omnivorous diet.2
Naturally occurring compounds in the body, taken in supplement form, may also improve mood and reduce anxiety.
Those with mental issues are more likely than the general population to take supplements. Of 2,000 consumers surveyed, 28.3% reported managing or treating stress, 14.9% depression, and 10.6% overall mood.3
When used with a healthy diet and exercise regimen, supplements—particularly vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and naturally occurring compounds—may help maintain enhanced emotional wellness.
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is just one supplemental alternative that may help improve emotional and mental wellness.
The Basics of 5-HTP
Not often found in the typical American diet, 5-HTP is manufactured by the body from the essential amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin, an important neurotransmitter in the brain, appears to play a significant role in sleep, moods, pain control, inflammation, digestion, and other functions.
Unlike tryptophan, 5-HTP can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to help relieve mild to moderate depression and anxiety, promote restful sleep, suppress the appetite, and reduce pain.
Unfortunately, eating food with tryptophan does not significantly increase 5-HTP levels and many turn to supplements to get the important health benefits of 5-HTP.
Many 5-HTP supplements are synthetic substances manufactured in much the same way as pharmaceuticals. Other 5-HTP supplements are naturally derived from the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia, a West African medicinal plant. Because this natural form of 5-HTP is naturally extracted from the plant, they do not carry the risk of Peak-X contamination found with synthetically produced 5-HTP.
Regardless of how it’s produced, 5-HTP behaves much like the antidepressants often prescribed for generalized forms of depression and anxiety. It can be used alone or, in some cases, as a supplement to a pharmaceutical regimen for more severe forms.
5-HTP and Mental Wellness
5-HTP, a naturally occurring substance that converts to and raises serotonin levels, has been closely studied as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety.
- A 6-week study found equal benefit between 300 mg of 5-HTP a day and 150 mg per day of fluvoxamine, a common antidepressant in the Prozac family. But 5-HTP caused fewer and less severe side effects than the drug.4
- In a review of two separate trials, researchers determined that both 5-HTP and tryptophan were more effective than placebo for alleviating depression, although the evidence was not conclusive.5
- Another research review concluded that neurotransmitter precursors, such as 5-HTP, can be helpful in patients with mild or moderate depression.6
- A Maastricht University study found that 5-HTP significantly reduced the reaction to the panic challenge in panic disorder patients by regulating serotonin levels.7
Clearly, 5-HTP can affect serotonin levels and may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Let’s now turn to some other uses of 5-HTP.
Other Effective Uses for 5-HTP
Fibromyalgia. In a controlled trial, 300 mg per day was shown to be effective in reducing many symptoms of fibromyalgia including pain, morning stiffness, sleep disturbances, and anxiety.8 Read more about fibromyalgia
Migraine and tension headaches. Some evidence suggests that 5-HTP—at dosages of 400 to 600 mg per day—may help ease migraines. Lower dosages were found to have little or no effect.
In one study, 600 mg of 5-HTP a day reduced the intensity and duration of migraines as effectively as the drug methysergide.9 Given that previous studies showed that methysergide was better than placebo, this study provides meaningful evidence about 5-HTP’s effectiveness. Similar results were seen in another study comparing 400 mg of 5-HTP each day with another migraine drug.10
Additional evidence suggests that 5-HTP did not significantly reduce the number of tension headaches, but it did reduce participants’ need to use other pain-relieving medications.11
Weight management. Fenfluramine, one of the combo phen-fen weight loss drugs pulled from the market a few years ago, was effective because it raised serotonin levels. Given that 5-HTP also raises serotonin levels, numerous studies have been done to determine whether it might also be effective for weight management.
Four trials studied 5-HTP for weight loss. The first found that participants given placebo ate 2300 calories per day while those taking 5-HTP (8 mg per kilogram of body weight) ate only 1,800 and lost over three pounds in just five weeks.12
In a follow-up study, those taking 5-HTP (900 mg per day) lost weight both when there were no dietary restrictions and when following a prescribed diet compared to those taking placebo. As in the first study, researchers concluded that taking 5-HTP led to quicker feelings of fullness.13
Similar benefits were seen in a double-blind study of 14 overweight women given 900 mg of 5-HTP daily.14
The final study found that using 5-HTP (750 mg per day) without intentionally dieting resulted in not only weight loss in those with adult-onset diabetes, but also a reduction in carbohydrate and fat intake.15
Other Options for Anxiety and Depression
L-Tryptophan. One of the essential amino acids, tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. But, unlike 5-HTP, tryptophan is abundantly available in diet through protein foods. However, it must first be converted to 5-HTP, which is then converted to serotonin. While 70% of 5-HTP actually gets converted to serotonin, that number drops off drastically for tryptophan: just 5% is converted to serotonin. Read more about balancing amino acids for improved mood and reduced anxiety.
A pineal hormone that regulates the circadian rhythm, melatonin may be closely linked to mood. After all, melatonin is normally released in higher amounts at night and lower amounts in the morning to coincide with the sleep-wake cycle. Changes in this pattern have been found in those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), bulimia, schizophrenia, panic disorder, and OCD.16
In patients with major depression, successful treatment with antidepressants also included melatonin, and in women with bulimia or neuralgia in addition to fibromyalgia, melatonin replacement reduced pain, sleeping disorders and depression.17
Other researchers have found that melatonin may help reduce anxiety.18,19
L-Theanine. Known for its calming effects is an amino acid commonly found in green tea. However, since just 1-2% of the dry weight of tea leaves contains theanine, it’s extremely difficult and time-consuming—not to mention expensive—to extract it from tea leaves particularly without losing purity. Fortunately, a patented enzymatic process known as Suntheanine® helps synthesize 100% pure L-theanine.
Suntheanine goes directly to the brain where it helps promote relaxation, ease restlessness, and reduce the anxiety that comes with stress and fatigue. And its effects are immediate, often within 30-40 minutes of taking it.
B-vitamins. The B-vitamins have been the subject of a number of studies because B-vitamin deficiencies can sometimes mimic symptoms of depression and anxiety. For example, pyroxidine (vitamin B-6) helps convert tryptophan to serotonin and a deficiency in this important vitamin can result in lowered levels of serotonin.
Similarly, cobalamin (vitamin B-12) deficiency may also be linked to depression and mood disorders. Duke University researchers found that bereaved men who were cobalamin deficient reported increased overall levels of distress, depression, anxiety, and confusion.20 And in research done by the National Institute on Aging, elderly patients with cobalamin deficiency are two times more likely to be severely depressed than non-deficient patients.21
Folate levels have also been shown to be low in depressed individuals. A Cochrane Database System review of trials involving folate and antidepressants concluded that folate may be useful in supplementing other treatment for depression.22
And inositol, which affects cell membrane health and nerve transmission, may help ease anxiety. Researchers have found 18 g per day reduced the number of panic attacks as well as the use of the pharmaceutical fluvoxamine.23
Essential fatty acids (EFAs). According to the Natural Marketing Institute, using omega-3 fatty acids to enhance overall mental wellness has become increasingly popular with 5.4% of the general population. That compares to nearly 30% of consumers who specifically treat mood, stress, and depression with omega-3 supplements.3
Of the omega-3 EFAs, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) have been extensively studied for use in mental wellness.
In fact, a University of Alaska study found that changing the omega-3 EFA-rich diet of native peoples to more processed foods and Western dietary habits not only increased the rate of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes, but resulted in an increase in depression and anxiety.24 And a Harvard Medical School study showed that a combination of EPA and DHA helped improve symptoms of manic depression.25
But EPA and DHA each has its own link to mental wellness. A research review concluded that geographic areas with high DHA consumption showed decreased rates of depression, indicating that using DHAto treat minor depression should be considered.26
Similarly, EPA can positively impact depression. In one study, patients with persistent depression—who were taking a standard antidepressant along with EPA—showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms.27 Another study found that EPA was superior to placebo in diminishing aggression as well as severity of depressive symptoms in patients with borderline personality disorder.28 Read more about how essential fatty acids impact your health.
Minerals. Deficiencies in chromium and selenium may produce symptoms of depression and anxiety which can be eased by replenishing them. Chromium has been found to improve depressive symptoms in those with atypical depression where low serotonin levels may be linked to insulin sensitivity.29,30
And a recent research review concluded that selenium may adversely affect psychological condition because of its role in thyroid function. Patients who showed a combination of depression, hypothyroidism, and increased susceptibility to viral infections may be at risk for selenium deficiency.31
Magnesium deficiency has also been linked to depression in many cases since serotonin is dependant upon magnesium to function optimally. Supplementing with magnesium can have a very beneficial impact on mood, including symptoms of anxiety and depression.32
While pharmaceutical therapies may help those with more serious and clinically-diagnosed mental health issues, you may benefit from a healthy diet, exercise, and supplement regimen to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Plus, you’ll avoid the need for pharmaceutical therapies that can have serious side effects and long-term use issues.
From The Hatched Egg: 5 HTP changed my life when I was battling the Anxiety Monster. Taken regularly I began to notice the panic attacks reduced & the intensity of each attack started to lessen. This gave me the opportunity to quiet my mind and strengthen my body.
We have lots of great additional supplement info from Jigsaw Health in our Supplement Section. Learning how supplements can fill in the gap and change your life is so important. Jigsaw has been kind enough to offer our community a standing $10 coupon. Feel free to use it anytime you order from them. Just make sure to click the links on our site to make sure your code is activated. This is the brand my family uses and we have been extremely happy with the product & service. Wishing you all the best! ~Amy
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