L-tryptophan and 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP) are amino acids widely used to treat generalized anxiety. Both amino acids are necessary for making serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has a central role in the regulation of mood and anxiety. More studies have been done on 5-HTP for anxiety compared to L-tryptophan. In one study, almost 2/3 of generally anxious individuals randomized to L-tryptophan 3g/day reported significantly greater reductions in baseline anxiety compared to those taking a placebo. Both animal studies and human clinical trials provide evidence that 5-HTP has consistent anti-anxiety effects.
5-HTP may be safely combined with anti-anxiety medications with monitoring for adverse effects related to excessive brain serotonin, including insomnia, agitation and nervousness, the so-called ‘serotonin syndrome.’ The risk of adverse effects is minimized when 5-HTP is started at doses of 25mg/day and gradually increased over several weeks to a total daily dosage that is well tolerated and produces beneficial anti-anxiety effects. 5-HTP 50mg to 100mg three times a day is generally well tolerated without excessive daytime sedation, and is an effective approach for many chronically anxious individuals when used alone or in combination with SSRIs or other anti-anxiety medications.
Taking a bedtime dose of 5-HTP and gradually increasing it to 200 to 400mg often reduces daytime anxiety while also improving the quality of sleep in chronically anxious patients who frequently have insomnia. Greater research evidence supporting the use of 5-HTP for generalized anxiety and smaller doses of 5-HTP needed to achieve beneficial effects make the 5-HTP the preferred choice over L-tryptophan.
You can find out more about l-tryptophan, 5-HTP and other safe and effective complementary and alternative treatments of anxiety, and learn practical tips for using them in “Anxiety: the Integrative Mental Health Solution,” by James Lake M.D.