In the post L-Tyrosine is my NZT-48, I raved about taking L-Tyrosine to improve focus. It was an idea I got after quickly taking a quiz in the book The Mood Cure. Because the supplement was so effective, I went back and read the book in its entirety. After taking the other quizzes in the book, I discovered that I could possibly benefit even more from 5-HTP. Whereas L-Tyrosine would help with my morning focus, 5-HTP would elevate my evening mood and possibly improve my sleep quality.
I began taking 5-HTP on May 29th. The first effect I noticed was vivid dreams, which seem to a common effect. After about a week, I did notice my evening mood was improving. Nothing dramatic like I experienced with the L-Tyrosine, but still pleasant.
I have been tracking my sleep quality since August 27, 2011. Every morning I assign a score of 1 to 5 on how well I slept. Prior to 5-HTP my average Sleep Quality was 3.8. Since 5-HTP it has been 3.7. A slight decrease, but that could be seasonal, as I tend to get better sleep during the colder months. I found no increased sleep quality at doses of 50 mg or 100 mg. My evening mood improvement may have been from the supplement or something else. So unlike L-Tyrosine, I’m not certain I am benefiting from 5-HTP.
How They Work
My understanding of this topic came from the presentation Amino Acids and Their Application in Brain Chemical Balancing by Dr. Dan Kalish (video no longer on YouTube). I also listened to his podcast interview Brain Drain on Underground Wellness. Serotonin and dopamine do not cross the blood brain barrier. So to increase their levels, you need to add their amino acid precursors along with any essential co-factors. Taking 5-HTP will increase serotonin levels and taking L-Tyrosine will help dopamine levels. The required essential co-factors by Dr. Kalish are:
- Vitamin C: 1,000 mg / day
- Vitamin B6: 75 mg/ day
- Calcium: 500 mg/ day
- Cysteine: 4,500 mg/ day (divided doses)
- Selenium: 400 mcg / day
- Folic Acid: 2,000 – 3,000 mcg / day
What I learned from Dr. Dan Kalish is that you can create problems down the road if you try to just address a serotonin or a dopamine deficiency independently. If you take 5-HTP without L-Tyrosine for long periods of time, you could end up depleting your dopamine levels. And the same is true in reverse. Taking L-Tyrosine without 5-HTP could end up depleting your serotonin levels. It has to do with synthesis, which the video covers in depth starting around the 24 minute mark.
** Unfortunately the video presentation is no longer available on YouTube.
To be safe, the recommended ratio is 10:1. Ten units of L-Tyrosine for every 1 unit of 5-HTP. So currently I am taking 500 mg of L-Tyrosine in the morning and 50 mg of 5-HTP in the evening. By accident, I stumbled upon the safe ratio. Dr. Kalish says you can safely use up to 3,000 mg of L-Tyrosine with 300 mg of 5-HTP daily. Any more than that and he recommends getting tested. The important thing is to never use just 5-HTP or L-Tyrosine independently.
The Kalish Method: Healing the Body, Mapping the Mind by Dr. Daniel Kalish came out last month. I have not read it yet.
I have experimented with higher doses than 500 mg L-Tyrosine, but have not noticed any additional benefit. In fact, it seems I am more likely to get a headache. Some quick searching shows this is a common side effect. If you are taking these amino acids to improve mood, I highly encourage listening to the podcast interview. The YouTube presentation is fine, but it is more technical and geared toward practitioners.
My personal approach to supplements is to periodically cycle off them. Use them to make a correction and then see if the body supported by a nutrient dense diet can take it from there. I’m going to take a few weeks off from both supplements. Marks Daily Apple has an article on boosting serotonin without supplements. KnowMyBody has one for dopamine. Mark likes the herb rhodiola better than 5-HTP, because it acts by slowing down the serotonin breakdown. After reading the two articles, the tips that I believe I could benefit the most from are caffeine reduction and playing more challenging games. Another article gives props to beets as an excellent food source for increasing dopamine levels. I like beets, especially fermented.
UPDATE May 2013: I no longer take 5-HTP. For an explanation why see Thinking About Supplements 2013.