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.
The Mood Cure: The 4-Step Program to Take Charge of Your Emotions–Today by Julia Ross
I began taking 5-HTP on May 29th. The first effect I noticed was vivid dreams, which seem to be 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 your mood, I highly encourage listening to the podcast interview. The YouTube presentation is fine, but it is more technical and geared toward practitioners.
(UPDATE: the podcast and YouTube video are no longer online)
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 (UPDATE: dopamine article is no longer online). 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 ones.
UPDATE May 2013: I no longer take 5-HTP. For an explanation of why see Thinking About Supplements 2013.