5-HTP Benefits for Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
What Does 5-HTP Do?
5-hydroxytryptohan (5-HTP) is the main building block of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is produced naturally in your body and works to modulate different reactions. Serotonin is unique because while it is mostly considered to inhibit certain functions of the brain, it actually works more to modulate certain neurotransmitters which allows for correct brain response to a variety of situations. Serotonin is known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter because it helps us stabilize stress and helps manage your sleep cycle. 5-HTP benefits neurotransmitters because it is a precursor chemical. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals released in your brain as a way to relay information, stimulate a response, and inhibit certain actions. Neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine are the source of your reactions that connect the brain’s various parts to generate a coherent physiological response, whether it is a response to stress or feeling of relaxation. Norepinephrine is classified as excitatory while GABA and serotonin are inhibitory neurotransmitters. The body has both by design so that one balances the other, and you can function in optimum homoeostasis without extremes.
5-HTP as a Supplement
5-HTP benefits as a supplement help provide your body with more materials needed to build serotonin. 5-HTP is made naturally in your body from the amino acid tryptophan. The body does not make tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means it is necessary for you to get tryptophan from proteins in your diet. Proteins are made up of amino acids, so when you ingest proteins, your body breaks the proteins down into smaller pieces: amino acids. Tryptophan is one of these amino acids. Our body can synthesize 5-HTP from tryptophan as needed. With the help of vitamin B-6, your body can then synthesize serotonin from 5-HTP. Often, 5-HTP supplements include B-6 because this makes it easier for the biosynthesis from 5-HTP to serotonin to occur.
Actions of Serotonin
Just as 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, so, serotonin is the precursor to melatonin. Melatonin maintains your sleep cycle and overall body relaxation. Sleep is a vital factor for the recovery from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Therefore, maintaining adequate levels of melatonin is essential if you suffer from insomnia while recovering from AFS. However, the effect is not dose dependent. You may react well to a low dose while others may need a much higher dose. Everyone is different. Melatonin also possesses strong antioxidant properties at high levels, with the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. It can therefore also be deployed to help cancer recovery when brain metastases are a consideration.
Serotonin is also crucial to regulating many other functions in your body. These include your anger response, aggression levels, food cravings and appetite, anxiety response, and sexual response. Without adequate levels of serotonin, or with abnormal levels of serotonin, these responses do not function properly.
90% of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut. It is no wonder then that the gut is also known as the second brain of the body. The gut, the central nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system combine to make up the neuroaffective response system in your body. This system helps regulate your mood, sleep, and responses to stress that can be physical or emotional. Excitatory neurotransmitters work with inhibitory neurotransmitters to create an ever changing chemistry in the brain. When the neuroaffective system is in balance and the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters act together in concert, allowing your body can sleep comfortably and your mood to adjust appropriately depending on the situation. This generally occurs in the background without you knowing 24/7. Problems begin to surface with clinical symptoms when the balance is off.
Generally, Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and helps turn off certain brain functions to make you relax. More specifically, it helps to regulate the GABA response. Serotonin tells your body to release more GABA when needed to help you relax. GABA has been shown to help your body relax, manage your stress response, decrease your anxiety levels, and also help with sleep management. When you are in a relaxed state, serotonin helps maintain that feeling. Another factor in this balance between excitatory and inhibitory responses is the hormone cortisol. We will address this relationship below and how 5-HTP benefits and factors into AFS and recovery. When serotonin is in balance, you feel well rested and ready to take on the day.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS)
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome occurs when the stress response in your body is overwhelmed and not functioning properly. This is often due to stressors and your body’s response to them. When your body reacts to overwhelming stress well beyond its capability to neutralize, it triggers the “flight or fight” response in your autonomic nervous system. Once activated, your body releases epinephrine and norepinephrine which increases your heart rate, breathing rate, and triggers a fear response. The intent is for your body to get ready to act because survival may be at stake. You are then able to respond to the stressful stimulus. While this was an effective in the early human development when humans needed to fight off a predator or run quickly from an enemy, the response does not necessarily serve humans well in modern day life. Stressors today tend to be more chronic and emotional, leaving the body constantly pushing out cortisol and norepinephrine well beyond what the body is capable of sustaining. Here is where the inhibitory neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA play a large role. These neurotransmitters help you relax and return to a relaxed state once the stress has passed.
In cases of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, the body has been in a state of chronically activated response due to ongoing stress, so cortisol production begins to suffer. The stress response has been activated as it should, but because the stress has been chronic, cortisol is initially made in large quantities, but eventually, as Adrenal Fatigue progresses into the advanced stages, the body cannot meet the demands. Cortisol levels thus fall as the body then has no other choice but to activate the “flight or fight” response as its last resort. The hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that usually regulates adrenal function becomes dysregulated and unable to suppress the stimulatory function of excitatory neurotransmitters and hormones. This means that the body is constantly in a state of sympathetic overtone. Both epinephrine and norepinephrine flood our body. Inhibitory neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA are produced in higher amounts to try and compensate and offset the increase in excitatory neurotransmitters. Unfortunately, such efforts are not fine tuned and often the body is left swinging from a state of anxiety and panic attacks on one end to depression in the other extreme. These are signs of a dysregulated neuroaffective response system.
In AFS, because the body is always responding to stress, and constantly in the “fight or flight” mode, excitatory neurotransmitters unfortunately dominate the response system as the natural progression of the condition advances. The body’s heroic attempt to produce enough GABA to compensate for the excess epinephrine and norepinephrine invariably fails if stressors are not removed. The body demands more serotonin, but output is deficient. As serotonin output depletes, the message cannot be sent to release GABA, and the neuroaffective response system becomes dysregulated. Mood swings, anxiety, depression, and insomnia are some symptoms that may start to arise.
5-HTP benefits and Adrenal Fatigue
5-HTP benefits you indirectly in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome recovery. While 5-HTP benefits do not improve adrenal function, or act directly on the adrenal glands, it does help with managing advanced symptoms of AFS such as sleep issues, food cravings, and memory when the neuroaffective response system is deranged.
Serotonin, including 5-HTP and melatonin, GABA and cortisol all work together to not only manage stress, but also to manage your biological rhythm; in particular, your 24 hour body cycle called the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is what allows you to fall asleep at night, and wake up in the morning on a relatively regular schedule. If the balance of these hormones and neurotransmitters are off, the neuroaffective response system becomes dysregulated and symptoms such as insomnia, waking up too early, feeling lethargic during the day, or feeling restless at night can present themselves. When working normally, cortisol is low at night, reaching the lowest level around early morning. Cortisol then gradually increases and reaches a maximum around 9 a.m. The low levels of cortisol allow you to fall asleep while higher levels enable you to wake up. In Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, cortisol levels are elevated in the early stages of sleep, so the symptoms manifest as trouble falling asleep, and feeling restless. In the late stages of AFS, cortisol levels are low throughout the day, which means that the symptoms of needing caffeine throughout the day, and not feeling rested are common. As the cortisol levels become erratic, so do the neurotransmitters from the ANS and CNS in a bid to compensate. Serotonin and GABA levels start to follow the same pattern as cortisol, initially increasing in response, and then diminishing as nutritional reserves begin to drop. Supplementation with 5-HTP benefits include helping the body achieve sleep despite erratic cortisol levels by helping to replenish nutritional reserves.
Sleep is essential to Adrenal Fatigue recovery because it helps tell your body what a normal circadian rhythm is. It is your body’s way of resetting, and giving cortisol the opportunity to normalize its rhythm. 5-HTP benefits can help with sleep management because they provides the building blocks for serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin helps release GABA, which relaxes your body and inhibits certain brain functions like racing thoughts and anxiety. Serotonin also forms melatonin, which at high levels helps you to sleep. If melatonin levels are low, your body has trouble managing your sleep cycle. 5-HTP is the building block to maintaining these cycles.
As with any supplement, you should consult with your healthcare provider to make sure the supplement achieves the desired effect and is helping to manage the targeted symptoms of AFS. The symptoms that can be helped are the inability to fall asleep, overall mood, memory issues, immune response, and food cravings. If, however, you already take a medication that affects the levels of serotonin in your body (e.g. antidepressants such as SSRIs) or have a preexisting affective disorder, such as depression, or schizophrenia, talk with your healthcare provider about taking the 5-HTP supplement for 5-HTP benefits. It is possible for the body to receive too much serotonin. This is rare, but something to watch for if you choose to take a 5-HTP supplement. If the body gets too much serotonin, it causes a neurotransmitter imbalance which can lead to hormone imbalances. Some side effects to look out for are headaches, feeling flushed, excessive sweating, and tremors. On the other hand though, if serotonin levels are too low, this is thought to be a cause of depression, chronic inflammation and issues with the immune system, gastrointestinal issues and sleep disturbances. One of the most perplexing problems is the presence of paradoxical reactions which can present themselves. Instead of calming down, the body becomes excited when receiving 5-HTP benefits. This usually happens in those whose body is weak, sensitive or in advanced stages of AFS. Any intolerance of 5-HTP is a sign that the body is rejecting this compound and points to a deeper root problem such as receptor site malfunction or extracellular matrix congestion, both of which need experienced clinical hands to navigate.
Along with taking 5-HTP while consulting with a health care provider, it might also be helpful to measure the levels of neurotransmitters already existing in your body to see what the serotonin levels in your body might be. While this is not an exact measurement, it helps get a slightly bigger picture of how to manage symptoms with 5-HTP and other supplements and ultimately help the recovery from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.
Lam, M. 2014. “Neurotransmitter Balance and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.” Retrieved from https://www.drlam.com/blog/neurotransmitter-balance-and-adrenal-fatigue-syndrome/
Meltzer, HY, et al. 1984. “Effect of 5-hydroxytryptophan on serum cortisol levels in major affective disorders. II. Relation to suicide, psychosis, and depressive symptoms.” Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6608336
Bush, B. Hudson, T. 2010. “The Role of Cortisol in Sleep.” Retrieved from http://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2010-06/role-cortisol-sleep
Life Enhancement. 1999. “5-HTP.” Retrieved from http://www.life-enhancement.com/magazine/article/178-5-htp-enhance-your-mood-your-sleep-and-a-lot-more
Day, K. 2014. “Nutrient Spotlight – 5-HTP.” Newsletter Retrieved from http://www.wholehealthinsider.com/newsletter/nutrient-spotlight-5-htp/
Ciranna, L. 2006. “Serotonin as a Modulator of Glutamate- and GABA-Mediated Neurotransmission: Implications in Physiological Functions and in Pathology.” Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2430669/
WebMD. 2016. “What is Serotonin Syndrome?” Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/serotonin-syndrome-causes-symptoms-treatments
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Thanks for your reply again. I can't express enough how much I appreciate your responding to my concerns. Through the modern miracle of the Internet I am meeting a caring and a compassionate person.