(Note: This week, Dr. Juan will be focusing on a serious disorder that affects a lot of people: anxiety. Here’s part three of his intriguing three-part series)
Only one in five people with an anxiety disorder seek professional help. Many try to help themselves, turning to the world of natural medicine. With that in mind, let’s take a gander at a natural supplement, 5-HTP, which is sometimes used to combat anxiety. Many people don’t know of this possibility. Despite its promise, there remains an important safety note on this supplement.
5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid. The dietary supplement is extracted from the plant “Griffonia simplicifolia.” Anxiety can be due to a dysfunctional serotonin system — and 5-HTP is needed to make serotonin. Can 5-HTP supplements boost the level of serotonin in areas of the brain involved with anxiety? Here are four studies that address this question:
— In 45 patients with panic disorder, researchers tested 5-HTP (25 to 150 mg a day) vs. an anxiety drug and placebo. Over eight weeks, the drug reduced anxiety the most, while 5-HTP showed modest improvement.
— Patients were exposed to a panic-inducing carbon dioxide challenge and given one 200-mg dose of 5-HTP or placebo before exposure. 5-HTP significantly reduced symptoms in those with panic disorder.
— In 10 patients with generalized anxiety or panic disorder, researchers used 5-HTP combined with an anti-Parkinson’s drug. The combination significantly reduced anxiety on three different anxiety scales.
— One study with five patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder for whom traditional antidepressants hadn’t worked. Researchers added 5-HTP and found it significantly reduced obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
There is an important bit of health advice here. The major safety concern with 5-HTP is the development of “eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome” (EMS). EMS is a potentially fatal flu-like neurological condition caused by 5-HTP or a contaminant. Though there is some preliminary evidence of 5-HTP’s effectiveness in anxiety disorders, it should not be used for these conditions until the exact cause of EMS is further clarified.