5-HTP may be able to rescue those suffering from loveloss …

5-HTP Saves

At least in some instances; in others, it
reduces the dangers of loveloss
By Will Block

Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul
are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.
—Oscar Wilde

S everal years ago, a long-time friend of mine experienced a sudden—and unexpected (far worse)—termination of a long-term romantic relationship, much to his deep sorrow and anger. Jonas—as I shall call him to protect his innocence—is the kind of man who enjoys being shot out of cannons, figuratively speaking. In other words, Jonas is an alpha type, to the max. His partner, Holly—also under protective wraps—is a conscious, self-confident, self-created, 100% woman, with all of the needs that go along with feminine fulfillment: appreciation, passion, romance, love, etc. (not an exhaustive list, nor necessarily in that order). (Men have similar needs; most just don’t know it.) Following his separation from Holly, things went quite badly for Jonas. Choked by his fury—what kind of person could walk out on a great man such as himself?—the more his temperature rose, and the greater the distance between the two of them became. All that had been good and grand about their romantic relationship seemed lost.

All that had been good and grand
about their romantic relationship
seemed lost.

However, given that Jonas is a long-time reader of Life Enhancement, he knew about 5-hydroxytryptophan, aka 5-HTP,* (61 articles and counting) for its inhibitory and antidepressive effects. Consequently, he started taking it on a regular basis to control his depression and other unbearables. Less than one year thereafter, Holly told me, “You saved his life!” “What do you mean?” I asked. Said she, “Jonas has been taking 5-HTP and it has made all the difference; he’s bearable, and amazing as it may seem, I might even grow to like him again.” I’m glad to report their story has a happy ending with the two ultimately reuniting. But until now, I had no real basis for understanding what truly was involved. With the publication of a new research paper, my clarity on the biochemistry of romance is on the rise (see the subhead, “5-HTP Can Heal Heartbreak” below.)

* 5-HTP is a naturally-occurring amino acid that is a metabolic intermediate and chemical precursor in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin from tryptophan. However, 5-HTP may be converted to serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) directly by an enzyme called aromatic amino acid decarboxylase with the help of vitamin B6.

What is Love?

Figure 1.
(click on thumbnail for full sized image)

The above chart courtesy of: Oeppen J, Vaupel JW. Demography. Broken limits to life expectancy. Science 2002 May 10;296(5570):1029-31.
“What is love? ’Tis not hereafter” wrote Shakespeare in his play Twelfth Night, first performed in 1599–1600. The Bubonic Plague, which had closed down the theaters of London in surrounding years (i.e., 1593 and 1603), had in earlier years taken the lives of three sisters and one brother of Shakespeare, and in 1596 his only son. So in answer to the question, “What is love?” the Bard would probably have answered (in his characteristic style), “ ’Tis now, if to be. It cannot last with life so short, and death so sudden.” No wonder, in his most famous romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare associates love with death in the prologue: “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life … .” But with the dawn and progression of the “Industrial Revolution” and the prolongation of life (see Fig. 1), the concept of love has broadened and is more enduring now (or has that potential) than ever before. More life means more love … and also more tragedy, Romeo.

Like Nothing Else: Love

Nothing is quite like being in love. Time stands still, yet flies forward at the same time. We get lost in our reveries, ever looking forward to the next moment. Under the spell of the moon and music, romance lives on. What’s more, even after the memories have faded, love’s recollections linger on.

More life means more love … and
also more tragedy, Romeo.

Yet love is a relatively new concept in the history of civilization. In a wonderful book written in 1959 titled The Natural History of Love, author Morton M. Hunt (still available at amazon.com or ebay.com) journeys throughout Western history, from the Greco-Roman period to the present (in the latest version, there is a new final chapter), to investigate the origins of romantic love, highlighting the emotional relationships between the sexes. Among Morton’s conclusions is the idea that with time enough for love, love becomes more important and more romantic. Thus, romantic love is more likely to exist and flourish in advanced and prosperous societies, where leisure for love can more readily be afforded.

The Study of Romanic Relationships

The empirical study of romantic relationships has increased in recent years. Some of the conclusions show that when these relationships incorporate reciprocated love they promote a stable emotional environment. And when they are accompanied by enjoyable and safe feelings, they are conducive to sexual arousal. Some studies even suggest that such relationships actually promote improved health.

Nevertheless, while two-way love can be thought of as a promoter of civilization, unrequited one-way love— its antithesis—and the romantic stress it generates represent a dilemma that may be clinically associated with negative mood states.

5-HTP Can Help Heal Heartbreak

A new open-label trial, conducted at the University of Pavia in Italy (where else?), evaluated the clinical efficacy of 5-HTP, a natural serotonin precursor, in 15 young, healthy subjects with high levels of romantic stress.1 The subjects were not clinically depressed. Serotonin is a principal inhibitory neurotransmitter, biochemically derived from tryptophan, an amino acid that is also a precursor to serotonin. It can also be derived, more directly, from 5-HTP. Serotonin is a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being, and consequently has been a primary target for antidepressant drugs. The ideas behind these drugs have involved slowing serotonin breakdown, extending its stay in the synapses of the brain, and reducing its uptake.

Could This Be You or
Someone You Know?

The Feeling of Abandonment

Some of the most powerfully negative signals identifying heartbreak include:

  • I have been abandoned by my beloved partner
  • A dearly-loved friend is no longer here ...
  • It was entirely unexpected and suddenly I find myself alone

Sometimes separation is preceded by a lengthy and difficult detachment process where even at the end of that tunnel one feels lonely and abandoned.

When you have the feeling of standing on the sidelines, of being beyond the help of your most trusted friends, these too are signals.

When all thoughts begin to revolve around this one problem … Separation consequences can generate the feeling that you are not whole. It can affect all aspects of your life, and even change life completely.

When you have the feeling of standing on the brink, desiring to obliterate your pain by plunging into nightlife, or seeking solitude and retreating into a shell, or shielding yourself from the outside world … these too may be signals.

Weathering these emotions, struggling to find friends once more, getting a grip on one’s own life, and feeling accepted again … these are consequences of abandonment.

The Loss of Love

In today’s world, it is common to suffer the pain of isolation from being alone. Yet it is difficult to find, develop, and keep a real friend. When you have found such a friend, a life companion, you feel happy and the support that you gain provides stability.

Such a friend is usually a much-loved life partner or spouse, but it can be anyone, including a family member such as one’s own child or a relative. There are many reasons why such relationships dissolve or break: a husband leaves his wife, a girlfriend leaves her partner, the children leave home, a much-loved companion dies, etc.


Although the bond with a loved one may be enriching and beautiful, over the course of time, it may be taken for granted. This was true for Jonas.

Yet affection, love, partnership, and being able to rely and care for someone are essential pillars of human life. When these are unappreciated, negative emotions will then undermine our everyday life, our social relations, and our ties.

Often we only become aware of the importance of the bond, when a partner or loved one leaves … painfully so. Such a loss of a partner is usually perceived with profound sorrow. The result is the emotional state commonly referred to as “lovesickness.” The grief experienced in matters of love must be viewed in a much larger context; it can refer to a wide variety of life situations such as crises in any kind of relationship involving love and parting.

Who is Affected?

Grief due to love and separation can affect people in a variety of circumstances:

  • Disappointment with first love as a young person
  • Abandonment and separation during the middle years of one’s life, while maintaining family and children ties, and continuing to work without interruption
  • “Farewell,” especially in the later stages of life; the death of friends and relatives, or of a beloved pet
  • In the case of unrequited love or when the longing is for an unattainable person
  • When an existing relationship is in crisis

Aside from these, those affected may include children who have lost a parent due to separation or death, who often suffer greatly.

Also included may be the loss of a pet, such as a dog, which can be the most significant companion in a person’s life. A pet companion can replace or supplement social relations, so when it dies, many people perceive the death as the loss of a significant life companion. The resulting grief they feel can often be pronounced and enduring, sometimes lasting for a period of several years.

The consequences of lovesickness and separation have only recently come to the increased attention of medical investigations. In part, this may be due to discomfort and embarrassment concerning revealing or admitting to lovesickness.

Victims of loveloss frequently ignore the side effects. They don’t give the matter sufficient consciousness. This often results in insomnia, the inability to concentrate, restlessness, and anxiety. Other negative consequences include sadness and depression, changes in appetite and eating behavior, impairment of the autonomic nervous system, increased alcohol consumption or alcohol abuse, and many others.

What Can Be Done?

With psychotherapy, it is usually possible to determine the cause of these side effects and work through the pain. Alternatively, and especially as the result of the Italian study, it is possible for individuals to dampen their lovesickness by providing their bodies with natural substances that can have a positive effect on the biochemical processes taking place.

Starting with the knowledge that neurotrophins—growth factors that induce neuron survival, development, and function—and serotonin both have been linked to romantic attachment in humans, the researchers sought to measure changes in the levels of a particular neurotrophin, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). At the same time, the researchers examined platelet serotonin content in relation to the changes in romantic stress throughout the study.

Supplementation with 5-HTP and
B vitamins increased both serotonin
content and plasma levels of the
neurotrophin BDNF.

All of the 15 subjects (11 females and 4 males, with a mean age of 23.3 ± 2.1 years) had experienced either a recent romantic break-up or reported recent romantic problems. Participants were treated openly for 6 weeks with 12.8 mg of 5-HTP, along with 1.1 mg of vitamin B1 and 1.4 mg of vitamin B6, all taken twice daily.

BDNF and platelet serotonin content were determined at baseline, at 3 weeks, and after the completion of the 6-week trial. Also, after 3 weeks and at the end of the 6-week trial the subjects were evaluated using an adapted version of a questionnaire developed by the Dr. Inge Seiffge-Krenke, a developmental psychologist who has written about coping with stress in different phases of romantic development.

Romantic Stress Reduction

There were significant improvements in romantic stress scores from weeks 0 through 3, but not from weeks 3 through 6. Yet at 6 weeks, the subjects were found to have both higher BDNF and platelet serotonin values. This indicated that direct modulation of the serotonergic system with the 5-HTP and B vitamins formulation is likely to be beneficial for young subjects with high levels of acute romantic stress, reducing the psychological suffering associated with unreciprocated, terminated, or some other romantic love problem. The findings suggest that this approach by itself could be an effective alternative treatment for patients who prefer a nutritional approach to drugs or psychotherapy.

The Importance of BDNF for Romantic Attachment

The Italian study also found that subjects with romantic stress display deficiencies in their serotonergic function and plasma levels of BDNF, and that supplementation with 5-HTP and B vitamins reversed these biochemical changes. In fact, these changes correlate closely with the changes in romantic stress. This demonstrates that the serotonin system is likely to play a major role in the psychobiology of love, as well as in social bonding. Especially noteworthy is recent research showing that BDNF plays a role in romantic attachment, the establishment of a relationship between two sexual partners.2

In other research, negative mood states were found to be associated with a reduced expression of BDNF.3 Negative moods are a sure-fire way to cool a romantic relationship. A prior study showed that BDNF could serve as a marker for the action of psychopharmacological agents such as antidepressants4—exactly what was found in the current study, albeit with nutrients instead of drugs.

Even though the Italian study was small and open-label, rather than the gold standard randomized double-blind, placebo controlled type, the significant response seen in subjects strongly suggests that modifying the serotonergic system with supplements may be quite useful for subjects with high levels of romantic stress. While larger studies are needed to confirm these preliminary findings, the existence of strong anecdotal evidence is reassuring.

Previous observations have implied that serotonergic dysfunction may be involved in human romantic stress and that increasing the activity of the serotonergic system may have use for the treatment of psychological suffering associated with the end of romantic love. Because this is an area of considerable concern in a world in which an increasingly high value is placed on love, there is hope that more definitive research is on the way.

Tryptophan helps children in recognition tasks, enabling them to …

Distinguish Fear and Happiness Expressions

Serotonin has been discovered to help behavior regulation. But is this true for children? A new study investigated serotonergic functioning in boys with a history of behavior regulation difficulties through a double-blind, acute tryptophan supplementation procedure.1 The study involved 23 10-year-old boys with a history of physical aggression, 11 of whom were given a chocolate milkshake supplemented with 500 mg of tryptophan; the remaining 12 received a chocolate milkshake without tryptophan. This dose level has traditionally been used by adults. All of the subjects then engaged in a competitive reaction time game against a fictitious opponent. Assessed were response to provocation, impulsivity, perspective taking, and sharing.

In another leg of the study, impulsivity was further assessed through a Go/No-Go paradigm. A computerized emotion recognition task and a staged instrumental help incident were also administered.

While all boys responded similarly to high provocation by the fictitious opponent, boys given tryptophan adjusted their level of response as a function of the level of provocation. Curiously, boys not given tryptophan significantly decreased their level of responding towards the end of the competition, as if they had spent their energy.

Also, boys in the tryptophan group demonstrated greater “perspective taking,” tending to better distinguish facial expressions of fear and happiness, and tending to provide greater instrumental help to the experimenter.

This study provides initial evidence for the feasibility of tryptophan supplementation in children to alter their behaviors in positive ways by increasing serotonergic functioning that affects boys’ dominant and relational behaviors for the better.


  1. Nantel-Vivier A, Pihl RO, Young SN, Parent S, Bélanger SA, Sutton R, Dubois ME, Tremblay RE, Séguin JR. Serotonergic contribution to boys’ behavioral regulation. PLoS One 2011;6(6):e20304. Epub 2011 Jun 1.


  1. Emanuele E, Bertona M, Minoretti P, Geroldi D. An open-label trial of L 5-hydroxytryptophan in subjects with romantic stress. Neuro Endocrinol Lett 2010;31(5):663-6.
  2. Marazziti D, Roncaglia I, Del Debbio A, Bianchi C, Massimetti G, Origlia N, Domenici L, Piccinni A, Dell’Osso L. Brain derived neurotrophic factor in romantic attachment. Psychol Med 2009;39:1927-30.
  3. Castrén E, Rantamäki T. Role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the aetiology of depression: implications for pharmacological treatment. CNS Drugs 2010 Jan 1;24(1):1-7.
  4. Wang JW, Dranovsky A, Hen R. The when and where of BDNF and the antidepressant response. Biol Psychiatry 2008 Apr 1;63(7):640-1.

Will Block is the publisher and editorial director of Life Enhancement magazine.

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