Fibromyalgia sufferers are ready for relief. Their journey to diagnosis takes an average of five years, and treatments that successfully manage pain for everyone across the board are difficult to find. Designing a pain management plan can take sometimes years of trial and error, which is why so many patients may try whatever new supplement is touted to relieve fibromyalgia pain. In this series, we’ll look at a number of different supplements, examining available research and patient testimonials to see if they live up to the hype. This week, we shine the spotlight on 5-HTP.
Does 5-HTP help with fibromyalgia pain?
5-HTP is one of the structures of serotonin. In studies of people with fibromyalgia, many have been found to have lower levels of serotonin. Serotonin, or 5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT, is created from tryptophan ingested in proteins (e.g. turkey) and is found in both the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. It is a neurotransmitter that carries impulses to the brain, the vast majority of which are associated with mood regulation, sleep, and social behavior. As between 80 and 90% of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, serotonin also plays a role in appetite and digestion.
Research on the efficacy of 5-Hydroxytryptophan in helping with fibromyalgia pain is sparse and decidedly mixed. Because it can boost serotonin levels, it would stand to reason that 5-HTP might be able to help ease pain, alleviate depression, and boost well-being overall.
Preliminary studies of 5-HTP and its role in relieving fibromyalgia pain were largely positive. In 1990, a small-scale, double-blind trial of 5-Hydroxytryptophan was shown to significantly relieve fibromyalgia pain with only mild and passing side effects. A follow-up 90-day open study found the same result: 5-HTP improved symptoms for all clinical variables studied (including number of tender points, anxiety, pain intensity, quality of sleep, and fatigue).
After those two studies, the research on 5-HTP and its ability to relieve fibromyalgia symptoms appears to have stopped entirely. The research focus shifted more to looking at how 5-HTP can alleviate depression, elevate mood, and help with sleep disorders. This is good news and bad news for fibromyalgia patients hoping that 5-Hydroxytryptophan will help relieve their pain.
The good news is that 5-Hydroxytryptophan seems to have some success relieving some other symptoms of fibromyalgia.
In a review of multiple alternative and complementary medical approaches to insomnia, researchers found that 5-HTP does appear to induce sleepiness in subjects. A dose of 100 milligrams increases slow-wave sleep.
Although gaining weight is not a symptom of fibromyalgia, patients in pain may have difficulty motivating themselves to exercise and may find themselves gaining weight. In a double-blinded, scientifically valid study, 5-HTP was shown to increase satiety and reduce carbohydrate intake better than a placebo in obese women. Study participants received 900 milligrams of 5-HTP daily.
In minor studies of 5-HTP and its effect on reducing anxiety and controlling panic attacks, there is some evidence that it works best when combined with carbidopa, a drug that slows the breakdown of 5-Hydroxytryptophan and allows more of it to cross the blood-brain barrier.
The bad news is that there is little scientifically valid evidence to prove that 5-HTP is effective at treating depression. At the same time, there is evidence that drug interactions with 5-HTP and prescription antidepressants can be quite serious. Specifically, over long-term use, it depletes dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, exacerbating conditions that occur when these chemicals are decreased. In the review linked above, it appears that just supplementing with it can be damaging in the long-term and has the same effectiveness as a placebo.
Researchers from both sides of the effectiveness debate acknowledge that there is extraordinary theoretical potential in 5-HTP but have not been able to unlock the secret to translating that potential to successful treatments for fibromyalgia pain.
Cautions on 5-HTP
There is some anecdotal evidence that 5-HTP helps with fibromyalgia pain. If you are considering adding it to your pain management plan, it is most important to talk to your doctor first. 5-HTP can have serious interactions with prescription antidepressants and is not always well-tolerated. Your doctor can help determine if it is safe to try supplementing with 5-Hydroxytryptophan .
Other important things to consider when thinking about supplementing with 5-Hydroxytryptophan include:
- In 1989, there was an outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), a serious condition involving extreme muscle tenderness (myalgia) and blood abnormalities (eosinophilia). This outbreak was eventually linked to contaminated tryptophan in one batch of 5-HTP, but this outbreak cast a long shadow and still has many leery of this supplement.
- A dosage listed as “possibly safe” is up to 400 milligrams daily for one year.
- Potential side effects of it include heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, sexual problems, and muscle spasms.
- Taking more than six to ten grams daily has been linked to severe stomach problems and muscle spasms.
- In addition to severe interactions with antidepressants, 5-HTP can also interact with dextromethorphan, a common over-the-counter cold medicine.
5-HTP holds tremendous promise as a treatment for fibromyalgia pain. Its measured ability to boost serotonin levels would seem to point to its promise to alleviate pain and promote feelings of well-being. For some reason, the research to expand upon this potential is not there. If you feel like you might benefit from 5-Hydroxytryptophan for your fibromyalgia pain, talk to your doctor first.
Have you taken 5-HTP for fibromyalgia pain? What was the result?