Safe Use of 5-HTP and L-Tyrosine

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
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

Safety Concern

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

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)

Beyond Supplements

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.


Add yours

  1. Ann Rosen Korman

    Jul 27, 2012 — 9:43 am

    Have some gelatin, bone broth, salt, oj, and milk through the day to improve your sleep. It is much safer than any supplement. These days supplements are just not safe. Check out the amino acid profile on the gelatin that I sell on my site-Great Lakes Gelatin. Much safer than anything that comes in a pill.

  2. @Ann – I tried Ray’s idea of Gelatin, but it made no difference in my sleep quality.

    I’ve even increased the dosage. Nothing.

  3. I’ve been taking 5-HTP & L-Tyrosine 100mg/1000mg a day, occasionally twice a day for about a month now. While the effects are difficult to isolate in conjunction with various other medications I’m taking, I do seem to have benefited from an increase in focus.

    I wonder, do you take this in the morning and with or without food?

  4. Ah, just read your previous post. 500 mg in the morning on an empty stomach.

  5. @Justin – Dr. Dan says it is fine to take these aminos with our without food. The effect is just quicker if taken on an empty stomach.

  6. I’m currently trying out Tyrosine in combination with L-Carnitine (which seems to elevate my mood even more than the Tyrosine) and a small dose of St John’s Wort in the evening.

    Once I’m able to work around my allergic reaction to the other ingredients in those damn pills I’ll be able to reap the rewards…

  7. Ann Rosen Korman

    Jul 27, 2012 — 12:42 pm

    MAS- Try to do salted broth, and milk with some fruit before bed. Do the gelatin with the oj during the day. The salted bone broth before bed should help. How much gelatin are you getting in? They say to try to get in 5 T or so a day. It has really helped me.

  8. Ann Rosen Korman

    Jul 27, 2012 — 12:45 pm

    Supplements may help in the short run. But, they are filled with so much crap these days. It the long run they can be very harmful. You really need to figure out what you are not getting in in terms of food that is effecting your sleep. Have you been reading Danny Roddy’s blogs about stress that he has put up recently? You should read them. Seems to me that somehow you are having a stress response which is effecting your sleep. Supplements are a band aide.

  9. @Ann – I had tried up to 2 T of gelatin. I can certainly test higher. I just started reading Danny’s site. I linked to him in my ice cream post. I’m still anti-oranges though, but I’d be willing to force it down for test purposes. I actually prefer the taste of fake orange – like Tang.

  10. Ann Rosen Korman

    Jul 27, 2012 — 12:55 pm

    The oranges are important because of the magnesium, potassium, and the vit C. There is really no substitute. You can add sugar, salt, and sparkling mineral water to it and see how you like it. If you are eating muscle meat…2T of the gelatin is not enough. You need it to balance the amino profile. Bone broth is important as well for this reason. Your blood sugar may be off as well if you are having problems with sleep.

  11. @Ann – Thanks for your comments. Most nights my sleep is fine. But better is always is a good thing. I’ll try some of your ideas.

    For those new to the site, here is the story on why I loathe oranges.

  12. Hey Mike,

    Have you ever tried meditating? Was listening to Stern and said some migraines and such disappeared after starting meditation. Just a thought.

  13. @Thomas – Soon. I’m reading a book on the topic now.

  14. Excellent! A lot of people who are credible seem to find it useful to life-altering. Looking forward to your post about meditation if you post one.

    Unrelated: I remember you got your teeth ZOOMed some years ago. Was it worth it? Are your results still present? A local dentist has it for $99 and I am considering getting it done.

  15. @Thomas – I recall having trouble not drinking coffee just after the ZOOM treatment. 🙂

    I really don’t remember if it was worth it. Before I did it again, I would search online to see if anyone has figured out how to accomplish the same task at home.

  16. thanks for the reply. The internets is all over the place. As you can imagine some say it was worth it, others don’t. And who knows the motivations behind the posters. Most testimonials are shills for dentists (typically dentists don’t even see the patient for this procedure BTW) You are a pretty straight shooter so I figured…

  17. @Thomas – I’d try the “do-it-yourself”. It you can get 50% of the results for $10, I’d say go for it. I’d love to hear what you learn.

    When I have my procedure done, it was done by an assistant. I never spoke to the dentist until I was getting ready to leave.

  18. I’m enjoying following your story on these supplements as I am also taking them. I’m taking the same dosage as you, 500mg of L-Tyrosine and 50mg of 5-HTP, but I’m taking the 5-HTP in the middle of the day instead of at night. I take both on an empty stomach. I also started taking fish oil and DLPA at the same time, all on the recommendation of The Mood Cure book you mention.

    I didn’t notice a sudden change, but gradually my mood has improved–dramatically. I didn’t realize how much of a drone I had become. My husband stares at me in disbelief and says “Silly Ali” has returned. I am laughing more, enjoying life, making jokes, smiling more. I look forward to conversations with people instead of dreading having to listen to their stories (I didn’t realize people were annoying me so much).

    I have also found I have more energy in that I now find it difficult to sit still. I am getting up and walking around more or bouncing my feet when I’m sitting at my desk. I injured my foot several weeks ago and was unable to complete my daily morning jog, so I don’t know if that was partly to blame.

    I can’t say without a doubt all these changes have been completely because of these supplements, but they have definitely contributed. I am excited to watch these changes emerge.

    As I said in a comment on one of your previous posts, I still plan to take a break from the supplements once my current supply runs out, but I will keep a close eye on my mood and I won’t hesitate to bring them back in if I start to slip back into a fog.

  19. @Ali – Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m currently cycling off. If I notice a reversal in mood, I’ll restart the 2 supplements and report back.

  20. L-tyrosine 500 mg. This is a precursor to dopamine and norepinephrine. I use it to strengthen my adrenals and improve my energy level. It also stimulates the release of thyroid hormone. I started down this road by taking L-phenylalanine, which is a precursor to L-tyrosine, but decided (intuitively, with no research to back me up) that L-tyrosine would be more efficient. For quite a while I thought my thyroid hormone was under-replaced but my doctor is afraid to increase it because too much replacement can cause osteoporosis and heart problems. Since I’ve been taking L-tyrosine I no longer feel under-replaced. Also, many people with fibromyalgia have inadequate adrenal hormones. I think I am one of those people (my reaction to adrenaline surges is profound and distressing).

  21. Have you looked at your methylation status? A couple of things point this way– caffeine is a strong methyl donor, and you are taking an unusual amount of folic acid. Your system will be unable to use the folic acid if you have enzyme problems in your methylation cycle.

    You can check your methylation genes if you have access to your genetic data (via 23andme or FTDNA– see ). Other indications are an elevated Homocysteine level, or a family history of depression, autism, ADHD, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

    Mutations on the MTHFR gene (no joke, that’s really the name) are very common.

  22. @geneoptimize – Nope. Since this post was written, I’ve stopped taking both 5-HTP and L-Tyrosine.

  23. I meant to leave this comment under your caffeine post; I just posted to the wrong window. MTHFR isn’t directly related to Tyr or 5-HTP. It is related to caffeine, since people with MTHFR can crave the methyl groups delivered by caffeine (or so I’ve heard– I don’t like caffeine myself).

    If you are taking lots of folic acid and you also have MTHFR problems, you’ll end up with a high level of unmetabolized folic-acid in your blood. People with MTHFR have to take methylfolate instead of folic acid.

    Just curious– why did you drop the tyr/5HTP?

  24. @geneoptimize – Once I dropped my caffeine levels by 80%, I felt better.

    Someday I’ll do the 23andme, but not now.

  25. >>Someday I’ll do the 23andme

    They dropped the price to $100…

    Good luck, and thanks for the info on your blog. I enjoyed reading it.

  26. @geneoptimize – Wow! I had no idea it was $99. I’m going to look it over tomorrow.

  27. This post is a great compilation of some great resources. I watched the Dan Kalish video and listened to his podcast. And I’m starting on the book “The Mood Cure”.

    There should be more awareness of the need to take 5-HTP and Tyrosine together. Although I believe in his statement, I’m not seeing much of this info elsewhere on the web. I like to corroborate facts from more than one source. And would like to find somewhere another practitioner that says similarly.

  28. @BlissfulWriter – Thanks. I see you wrote a full article on the topic.

    Since this post was written, I’ve become more cautious about these supplements. I tend to only start a cycle when I can tell my mood has dropped significantly. Otherwise, I don’t mess with them. Also, my doses are lower than what Kalish advises.

  29. Did you feel any withdrawl when you went off of them? Can you talk more about your opinion of them now?

  30. K : I never took the higher doses , so I never had issues coming off both. Search for my supplement 2013 post for recent thoughts.

  31. Julia Ross, MFT teaches that for some people 5HTP increases cortisol and doesn’t improve their sleep. For those folks using L-tryptophan in the late afternoon and evening has better results for the low serotonin symptom of insomnia. Using 5HTP during the day can still improve the long list of serotonin deficiency symptoms on her questionnaire in The Mood Cure, such as afternoon cravings, irritability, flaring anger, PMS, low self-esteem, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts or actions, and/or obsessive-compulsive thoughts or actions.

  32. @Carolyn – That is great to know. I stopped taking 5HTP completely, but I might be better taking it earlier in the day. Good to know!

  33. Great thread and very interesting. I am working with my clients to first look at diet as in the gaps diet or select carb diet then also amino acids all this before medication. I have read the kalish book and working on the mood cure. I’m sure there has to be a better way to go than regular meds. Keifer is a great start!

  34. I have MS with chronic fatigue and chronic depression. I am currently taking an SSRI. Can tyrosine and 5htp be taken along with the SSRI, quite honestly it is not doing much for my depression.

  35. @Kari – I have no idea. That might be a question for Dan Kalish.

  36. Just started taking 1000mg tyrosine in the mornings, has anyone here experienced irritability? I was snapping at my best friend and my Ma, feel terrible. I say a lower dose is in order. Peace.

  37. Heard about 5 HTP by watching this webinar from Dr Hedberg – a guy I really like following. Apparently you also have to take vitamin B6 while taking 5 HTP – as you need it to properly metabolize 5 HTP. If B6 isn’t supplemented – 5 HTP will deplete your levels. Talks about 5 HTP at the 13:30 mark.

  38. So I’ve been talking 5 HTP for the past 8 months. I try taking L Tyrosine but for some reason I get chest pain with it when I take it regularly. And that’s even with low dosages. I take 100 mg of 5 HTP 3 times a day and I try taking 500 mg of L-Tyrosine three times a day. When I start getting chest discomfort though I get off it. At the moment I feel like crap so I’m not sure if it’s because i haven’t been taking L Tyrosine. I’m not sure what to do because I feel like 5 HTP helps me but at this moment I may be unbalanced.

  39. I’m revisiting L-Tyrosine/5HTP 10:1, then I noticed that studies of Tyrosine are using on the order of 150mg per kilo bodyweight; in the case of one study, to combat cognitive decline when deprived of sleep.

    A little looking around and I notice that most studies are based on doses that would be considered massive, if you’re buying the over-the-counter marketed supplements. For example, most Creatine studies, while validating the usefulness of the supplement for Cognition, improved recovery, etc., deal in dosages of 5-30 grams per day!

    Anyone want to comment on this? Compared to the documented results, people seem to be quite sensitive to this stuff.

  40. Hey MAS,

    Thanks for all the info on L-Tyrosine and 5 HTP! Question:

    I’ve tried 5 HTP in the past and it really has dampened my mood. I love coffee, but I’m pretty sensitive to caffeine. What do you think is a safe regiment if you to only take a small amount of L-Tyrosine without significantly depleeting serotonin levels? Also, if I’ve had a bad experience with 5 HTP, do you think Rhodiola to balance out the L-Tyrosine intake is even worth a shot?

  41. @Daniel – I don’t have the answers to your questions.

    For myself, I cycle off the L-Tyrosine from time to time. I do this with all supplements anyway. Doing this addresses the issues Dan Kalish brought up without having to balance with 5-HTP.

    One my readers loves Rhodiola. I tried it and got nothing, but my dose may have been too low.

  42. Check out this recipe for an alternative to bullet proof coffee; it includes tyrosine as one of the main ingredients.

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