Does 5-HTP Work As Well As Antidepressants?

Time to get real here: everything on this site is a direct reflection of my own experience and research, but I want to take it a step further as I answer this question today.

Q: “Does 5-HTP work as well as antidepressants?”

A: I could answer with “yes” or “no” and argue either side of this all day long. I had to think for a long time before deciding how to answer.

Tentatively, yes.

Here are some factors that can make it more complicated…

1. What brand of 5-HTP?
Taking the right brand of 5-HTP is way more important than taking the right brand name of antidepressant. Paxil and paroxetine are mostly the same, for example. Nature’s Way and Swiss Naturals are totally different. The tricky thing about natural remedies is that there’s very little standardization.Ever picked up a few brands of omega-3 fish oils and compared the EPA and DHA in them? If you’re using it for depression, you should be finding 1000-1500 mg of EPA and DHA combined in a capsule… but the average off-brand type gives you maybe 100-200 mg. I’m sure as hell not taking ten omega-3 capsules a day.Same thing with 5-HTP, only it’s even harder to find exactly what concentration of the plant it’s made from is in it, how it’s processed, etc. Unfortunately, this means a lot of manual testing. In my free ebook, I recommend some great brands, but what works for me might not work for you. If you find the right brand (and have every other factor going for you), yes, 5-HTP works as well as antidepressants.

2. How big a dosage?
Another huge factor, obviously. I do fine on 100 mg/day, others take 200-300 mg/day. Don’t go above 400-500 mg/day without consulting a doctor, though. I’ve seen reports of people taking 3,000 mg/day and wondering why they have horrid side-effects!You may wish to start at a low dose, like 25 mg/day for a week or two, then 50 mg/day, and work your way up. This means you might not get the full effect instantly, but you definitely won’t have those awful effects of starting an antidepressant.

3. How many times per day?
5-HTP has a pretty short half-life, so smart timing of your doses is crucial. If possible, space them at two doses twelve hours apart, or even three at eight hours apart. (Immediately upon getting up, halfway through your day, and bedtime?)Honestly? I don’t do this right now, and I should. I do notice the effect on my mood throughout the day as the dose wears off. I’m sure it would be even more effective if I did this too. But hey, a short half-life is better than a long one like many antidepressants. If I went two or three days without taking my Paxil, I started going into withdrawal, and damn, did I ever get some nasty symptoms.

4. What kind of depression?
From what I’ve read, 5-HTP seems to have a better effect on mild to moderate depression, and I think depression can easily be magnified by your own circumstances. If you’ve got a good life and you’re still feeling down, but not so down you can’t get out of bed, maybe you’re the perfect candidate for 5-HTP. If you’re in a situation with a failing marriage, domestic abuse, a war-torn country, or other traumas, it’s probably not going to be a miracle pill for you.Try not to expect it to be a miracle pill. Expect it to help your mood improve, but not to give you a permanent clown smile. The permanent clown smile effect is easily obtainable with a simple prescription for antidepressants! I was on a very low dose and I still never cried for eight months straight. Now that I’m on 5-HTP, I actually cry when I feel I should (over sad news stories but not over spilled milk), but I also have wonderful days. It feels a lot more natural.

5. How long have you taken 5-HTP?
It becomes more effective over time, unlike standard antidepressants — these chemicals (I really can’t dislike them enough for what they did to me and others) kick in after a week or two of weird starting symptoms and that’s that. (As long as you don’t miss any doses, or you’ll start going into withdrawal and get even weirder symptoms.)5-HTP, however, is a much more gradual improvement. I didn’t really notice any difference after two weeks, so I kept taking it. After four weeks, I did seem to feel better, though it’s so hard to know what “better” really is since it’s so subjective. After six weeks, I accidentally missed my doses for a few days and felt quite a difference! It showed me that 5-HTP was really helping my depression.If you’ve taken it for two weeks and don’t notice a difference, don’t be surprised. Studies have found this, too — the effectiveness of 5-HTP equals or exceeds that of other antidepressants over time, so give it another two to four weeks before giving up.

6. Versus what antidepressant?
It’s hard to measure “effective” because, again, it’s very subjective. When compared to Paxil, I find 5-HTP just as effective. Compared to others, it may be less effective.Studies aren’t consistent about comparing it to specific drugs, unfortunately. Some studies compare both to a placebo, while others have 5-HTP vs a placebo, 5-HTP vs an antidepressant, etc. More research must be done, which is going to require funding from somewhere other than a major pharmaceutical company… sigh.

7. How long have you been on or off antidepressants?
Antidepressants can continue to effect your system for a while after discontinuation. Take a look at threads like this for stories of people trying to overcome withdrawal! If you’re still experiencing withdrawal-related symptoms like brain zaps, it may still be in your system, and you need to be super-careful.Too much serotonin at once can cause serotonin syndrome, and you really don’t want to do that! So if you’ve been on antidepressants for years, and have only been off them for a month, you may not be “clean” yet. I was extraordinarily lucky when I quit Paxil and immediately started 5-HTP not to get into trouble, but I don’t want you causing yourself severe pain or even death. Serotonin syndrome is real, and serious.If you really want to start 5-HTP (I know the feeling!), follow the advice in my free ebook, please, and consult your doctor. Failing that, at least start at a very low dosage, like 25 mg every other day, until you’re sure it isn’t causing you any distress.

So, when I say it’s effective, it’s from my own experience. Based on your unique circumstances, it may not be effective for you… but something as natural, side effect-less, and inexpensive is certainly worth a try for anyone looking to cure depression naturally.

5 HTP for depression is a scientifically verified alternative treatment for serotonin problems. To check on Amazon for the lowest price for this natural supplement, click here.

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