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.