Arrived: Three New 5-HTP Books 

5-HTP Interest Explodes
By Will Block

n June 17th, the popular television magazine PrimeTime Live covered the exciting health information about 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5-HTP). The presentation affirmatively supported the prospective benefits of 5-HTP. This news article was triggered by a groundswell of public interest in this amazing precursor nutrient. While 5-HTP actually appeared in the catalog listings of a few small buyer's clubs as early as 1995, and was offered to the alternative medical market by several compounding pharmacies in years prior, no significant information about 5-HTP was offered. Sales were strictly on the QT (hush, hush). It was Life Enhancement that braved the day and first informed the world about its applications in a front page cover story. Until then (and not until many months afterwards), no other articles appeared on 5-HTP; marketers were afraid that the FDA would swoop down and put an end to what was billed as "the return of tryptophan." 

Now, three new books have recently been released propounding the virtues of 5-HTP (to relieve the burdens of depression, obesity, anxiety and insomnia). One of these books is Life Enhancement's 5-HTP Archives; a compilation of the scientific ground-breaking articles on this extraordinary natural herbal extract which was first written about in the pages of this magazine in November 1996. As we have pointed out time and again, 5-HTP is the direct precursor to the natural and necessary neurotransmitter serotonin which operates throughout your body as well as in your brain. Serotonin is the most studied of all neurotransmitters, which are special natural brain chemicals that help the neurons in your brain communicate with one another. Neurotransmitters are characterized by the functions they perform: some are specialized for motor mechanisms (e.g., dopamine), others for excitatory functioning (e.g., noradrenaline), and yet others for inhibitory purposes (e.g., serotonin).

In the evolution of antidepressive drugs, SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil have garnered much more success than those drugs that have preceded them such as MAO (monoamine oxydase) inhibitors and tricyclics. They are much more effective than their antidepressant predecessors. They have fewer side effects. And, as one author has claimed, SSRI's help sculpt personality and make it possible for countless individuals to restore proper serotonic function and enjoy living again.

As good as they are however, SSRI's are drugs. They do have side effects and risks. Recently, two allied drugs (dexfenfluramine and fenfluramine) that also affect serotonin levels were recalled after it was found that they caused damage to the lungs of some users, the heart valves of others and quite possibly a class of nerve cells in the brain. Justifiably, many individuals have been looking for something that is not a drug, that does not have side effects, and can naturally provide similar benefits without being alien (xenobiotic) to their bodies.

In the 1980s, the amino acid tryptophan was widely proclaimed as the solution to serotonin deficiency. During this time period, the Japanese chemical manufacturer Showa Denko entered the food market and produced tryptophan. They used an unproven raw material and an altered production technique. This resulted in a toxic batch which caused an illness known as osinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS) killing 30 people and causing an additional 1500 people to get sick. Before it could be determined that only Showa Denko's tryptophan was responsible, the FDA in its gun-slinging wisdom, removed the contaminated product from the market as well as all the uncontaminated product of other quality trytophan producers. Millions of people whose lives had been made healthier and more functional from tryptophan were left stranded and could no longer get relief, nor find an alternative to tryptophan.

Even after the publication of a definitive study finding that only Showa Denko's product was at fault (not that of any other tryptophan producer) the FDA continued to ban the sale of tryptophan and similar products claiming that there was something inherently wrong with tryptophan itself -- rather than addressing the manufacturing process - which was the actual culprit in this case. Contrarily, if tryptophan is the problem, why has the FDA allowed the use of tryptophan for infant formula, as well as for parenteral nutrition (hospital usage for those getting all their nutrition intravenously)? As a result of its ban, the FDA abandoned fifteen million Americans who had been using tryptophan; they were left without a non-drug alternative. Many were fooled by the FDA into believing that tryptophan was inherently bad.

The American public will not be fooled again. Against this backdrop, Life Enhancement started to market 5-HTP in October of 1996, realizing that there was a pent-up demand for a nutrient or herb alternative to provide serotonin deficiency relief. 5-HTP is extracted from the bean-like seed of an African plant, griffonia simplicifolia, that has traditionally been used as a natural sedative, even for children. With the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in place, lobbied for by a tidal wave of public activism (surpassing anything since the Vietnam war), the FDA is unable to calmly go after a substance that is tended to restore natural serotonin function.

Book 1: The 5-HTP Archives
The good news is that the higher natural levels of serotonin needed for proper laid-back, enjoy-your-life-more functioning can be achieved with a dietary supplement. Depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness do not have to be everyday occurrences in the fast-paced, high-stressed lives that many of us lead. Instead, the basic raw material, the brain food absolutely needed to help create and maintain desirable moods, is the same nutrient that can make "your brain feel as if you've just had a Hawaiian vacation," and is now available on our Product/Price List as 5-HTP. And the public is clamoring for more information in order to make intelligent decisions about supplementation.

Since the Fall of 1996, Life Enhancement has published no less than 12 major scientific articles on 5-HTP, comprising informational integrations published nowhere else. Now a book containing all these difficult-to-access articles is available from the original source of reliable scientific information on this breakthrough herbal product. The information contained in these articles is always highly informative and intellectual, well written and expertly crafted with the original primary literature amply cited (numerous scientific references are given). We have a list of the Chronology of Articles in Life Enhancement's 5-HTP Archives.

Life Enhancement's 5-HTP Archives is everything you've learned to expect from our publication: from excitement to insight, complexity to conceptualization, disorganization to order, and from the theoretical to the practical. At only $9.95, this book is a bargain, and specifically significant, if you intend to purchase either or both of the other two books.

Book 2: 5-HTP Diary
Another new book, 5-HTP: Nature's Serotonin Solution by Ray Sahelian, M.D., has made its way to bookstores. This is Dr. Sahelian's best and most complex effort since his fine book on DHEA. In a word, it is savory. It's great fun to read as it clearly unfolds the story of the 5-HTP research and the developing art of its application. Of special value are the author's notes on his personal experimentation with 5-HTP at different doses, at different times of the day, and for different purposes.

Also particularly pleasing are the FAQs (frequently asked questions) with which the book begins, a device that the author has refined with each of his successive books concerning cutting-edge nutrition. There are major chapters about the serotonin-melatonin connection, appetite control, depression, anxiety, insomnia, fibromyalgia and more. Throughout these chapters it becomes clear that Dr. Sahelian has first-hand knowledge about 5-HTP, and that he has researched the literature thoroughly, and applied the principles with intelligence.

As we've learned to expect from his books, there is an illuminating section on other experts' opinions, an advanced technical section and, best of all, a great deal of attention given to finding the right dose and the right time to take 5-HTP. This is the flip side of Paracelsus, the founder of modern pharmacology (paraphrasing): "'Tis the dose that maketh the medicine, that maketh the difference between healing and harming." Kudos also to Sahelian for his unrelenting focus on the side effects, cautions and interaction with other substances.

Dr. Sahelian believes that 5-HTP appears to be very safe, yet he points out, there are still no long- term studies. What he doesn't express, however, is that there are also no long-term studies for Prozac or many other drugs, nutrients or even most foods! Throughout Sahelian's work there is a seeming bias against the continued use of any supplement beyond a few RDA multiples. Then there is his suggestion that users take holidays, breaking, for example, two days a week from 5-HTP and for as long as one month after a maximum of a three-month usage. However, holiday breaks may not prevent any problems arising from retained toxicities. For example, many of the EMS victims used only a small amount of the contaminated tryptophan for a short period of time; and of those who took the bad product, only 1 out of 250 developed EMS. A far better explanation of the 249 out of 250 who did not develop EMS is that they were protected by the large amounts of other supplements they were taking. Take a look at the EMS "survivors network" at which the general tone for supplements is shrill, to say the least. Given the incredible "knight-in-shining-armor" presentation of government agents and their efforts to bring sanity to freedom of choice, the entire operation could be a front for the FDA's continued assault on the supplement industry.

Will 5-HTP be the next supplement superstar? According to Dr. Sahelian, 5-HTP holds a great deal of promise, and will not be a shooting star, only to fizzle and disappear. When the dust has settled, Sahelian expects that 5-HTP will still be considered an important supplement. At $10.95, 5-HTP: Nature's Serotonin Solution is a good value and a book you will want to add to your own library.

The Inner Recesses of 5-Hydroxytryptophan
Last, but not least, is another excellent book from Michael Murray, N.D. called 5-HTP: The Natural Way to Overcome Depression, Obesity, and Insomnia. In many ways, this book is grander in scope than the prior two; it encompasses what appears to be the entire body of literature on 5-HTP and makes it very user-friendly. Thus, it is a significant contribution to the domain of popularly-written scientific information.

First, it provides a great deal of background in biomedical science - not assuming that the reader knows a lot about the brain, neurophysiology, neurology and so on. These sections are clear and engrossing and of great value to the lay reader and, as well, to the more knowledgeable reader as subject refreshers. There is excellent material (often with illustrations) on neuronal mechanisms, the blood-brain barrier (BBB), neurotransmitters, and receptors, for example.

Second, Dr. Murray reports on the literature of 5-HTP quite thoroughly, veering off the trodden path into the rare, less accessible material. For example, he clarifies the differences in the transport mechanism for 5-HTP vs. tryptophan. There is a fascinating discussion of the BBB role of glial cells and how - while tryptophan's passage across the BBB requires an escort transport molecule - 5-HTP does not require escort transport because of its greater lipid-solubility. It possesses a high security clearance and as soon as it shows up "is admitted to the brain like a first class passenger on an airline." Murray is terrific with metaphors.

All three books are enthusiastic about how 5-HTP is effective and safe for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, weight loss and how it can be used immediately. One of the important differences among the writers is the added caution of Dr. Sahelian, who constantly reminds his readers to use less 5-HTP as a matter of principle. In this regard, such a position serves a useful purpose and recognizes that new ideas, findings and applications require time to evolve and mature; otherwise, there would be a paradigm shift every year. Science suggests, but arriving at the right dose is an art.

Dr. Murray, on the other hand, is much less cautious about dietary supplements than Dr. Sahelian. Life Enhancement joins Murray in this regard; the evidence available at this time being excellent. However, there is an anomaly in Dr. Murray's presentation. Perhaps owing to his conclusion that it makes little difference for bioavailability if 5-HTP is taken with meals, he ends up endorsing significantly higher levels than the other authors. Even though all authors agree that the synergy between some of the B vitamins, certain herbs, and amino acids and 5-HTP should lower the requirement levels, recommendations differ. While Murray is in the 100-300 mg/day range for most uses, Life Enhancement suggests 50-200 mg/day, especially if taken with synergistic items such as St John's wort, vitamin B6, or tyrosine. Sahelian thinks even lower amounts are best.

Dr. Michael Murrray's book is $23.95, more than the other two combined, however, if you're really interested in this subject you owe it to yourself to get all three. They give complementary news from multiple perspectives and all together represent an enormous boost for understanding ourselves. Truly, 5-HTP is something that can change your life for the better.


  1. Belongia EA, Hedberg CW, Gleich GJ, White KE, Mayeno AN, Loegering DA, Dunnette SL, Pirie PL, MacDonald KL, Osterholm MT. An investigation of the cause of the eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome associated with tryptophan use. N Engl J Med 1990;323:357- 65.
  2. National Eosinophilic-Myalgia Syndrome Network.

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