5-HTP and mental health
The following was copied and pasted here from another thread in order to not hi-jack Mr. F's thread. It has relevance in both places. Stagestop is so very knowledgeable in this area that it warranted it's own thread.
Dear Mr. Fantastic,
In looking at all of these letters, it seems that you are no more obsessed than most of the rest of us on this board. Certainly your writing style shows you to be intelligent and educated. My thoughts are more along the way of offering you suggestions with getting your depression cured. Sadly, modern medicine does not do a good job in that area today. I think that if I can describe what the medicines are trying to accomplish, and show you how they work, that you will be able to make up your own mind about how you might best overcome your depression.
There are six classes of medicine that are used to treat depression. They are:
1. SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors)
2.SSNRI (Selective Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors) (Norepinephrine is the same thing as Noradrenalin. It seems that the medical estabilshment in the US did not like the word “adrenalin” and just changed it to “epinephrine”, but it is the same thing.
3. MAOI’s (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors)
4. TCA’s (Tri Cyclic Antidressants)
5. NRI’s (Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors).
6. Thyroid Hormone Supplementation
As you see above, (or at least I will document this as we progress) all of the efforts of the medicines are trying to either raise your levels of Serotonin, and/or Norepinephrine (also known as Noradrenalin outside of the US) or to raise your thyroid hormone levels.
If this sounds pretty simple, it is. The crux of the problem concerns HOW it is done, as well as the rules regarding what a drug company can patent. That is indeed a very big rub, and sadly the physicians are in the camp of the drug companies rather than using a minor amount of brainpower to realize that what is offered by the drug companies (with the exception of thyroid hormone supplementation) is second rate at best.
Since thyroid supplementation is the easiest to handle, let me just say that if your thyroid levels are low, you will indeed become depressed. You can also get tachycardia (fast heart rate with no reason) and more. To determine if this is your problem, simply take your temperature. If you are at 97 degrees F or higher, (say 36 degrees C) you are fine, and that is not an issue for you.
The other two things that are available to treat depression work by raising levels of Serotonin and/or Norepinephrine. Actually, this is really the issue, because there is no prescription medicine that raises either of the neurotransmitter levels of production at all. They work (or attempt to) in the synapse of the receptor.
Serotonin and Norepinephrine are “neurotransmitters”. That is to say that they move electrical signals in the brain, and along the nervous system. Our bodies are not hard wired like a house would be. In a house, if you want a light to work, you turn the switch, and current flows through the wires, through the light bulb, and then goes to ground.
In our bodies, the nerve starts in one place, and goes to a junction. When something happens in the body where an action needs to take place, a nerve that connects the action area sends an electrical signal to the brain for the brain to analyze. From the point of origin of the message, the signal goes up the nervous system until it arrives at a junction where it is assessed prior to getting to the brain. The “electricity” arrives at the junction, but it needs to be transmitted across the junction to get to the brain. This moving of the electricity from one side of the nerve to the other (called the “synapse”) is the job of the neurotransmitter.
If there is insufficient amounts of the neurotransmitter at the junction, the signal is lost, and the brain cannot respond to the message that was sent to it. The amount of the neurotransmitter at the synapse (the junction) is the critical issue. Having insufficient amount to move the message across means that there is no message relayed. Having too much means that the signal is amplified to levels that are inappropriate and can be just as bad as having no signal.
Maintaining the balance of neurotransmitters is critical. To accomplish this balance, we first have the production side of the neurotransmitter, which is the chemical process by which new amounts of the neurotransmitter is made, and also there are the steps where the neurotransmitter is removed from the system.
There are four means of removing a neurotransmitter from the system. They are:
1. Diffusion. In this case, the brain and nervous system as encased in fluid, and the nerurotransmitter simply float away for the synapse, where they can no longer move ions (electricity) from one side to the other.
2. Glial cells. Glial cells basically eat and then convert the neurotransmitters into other items which cannot carry a signal.
3. Monoamine Oxidase. Monoamine means a “single amine.” An amine is a type of molecule. Serotonin and Norepinephrine are monoamines. MAO works by converting the neurotransmitter into other substances that cannot act as a neurotransmitter.
To understand reuptake you have to understand a bit about how the receptor is put together. When new Serotonin is made, it is (in this example) 5 HTP (hydroxylated tryptophan) is converted by enzymatic action into Serotonin. This happens directly above the “vesicle” and then the Serotonin is stored in the vesicle for future use.
The vesicle is analogous to a “bellows” like the air bellows that you would use to get a fire going. In the bellows example, a full bellows is squeezed and a stream of air is ejected, thereby helping a fire get going. When you open the bellows, more air is sucked back into the bellows for the next use.
Reuptake works the same way. When your body sends a signal on a nerve, it gets to the synapse, and the body responds by squeezing the vesicle, thereby ejecting more of the neurotransmitter into the synapse. When the message is delivered, the vesicle expands, thereby sucking the serotonin back into the vesicle to be used again.
What SSRI and SSNRI’s do is to inhibit the body from sucking the neurotransmitter back into the vesicle. This leaves more of the neurotransmitter in the synapse, and to a degree enables more of a signal to make it to the brain.
What is wrong with the entire approach is that there is not one molecule of new Serotonin (or Norepinephrine) created. So you squeeze out the bellows, but keep it from reopening. More is then left in the synapse, FOR A WHILE. But then it is subject to the other three things that reduce output.
The effectiveness of the SSRI’s and the SSNRI’s depends on HOW MUCH OF THE NEUROTRANSMITTER YOU HAVE TO BEING WITH.
Unfortunately, there are no tests that will tell a doctor what your leaves of Serotonin or NE (norepinephrine is abbreviated as NE) are. There are some urinary metabolite tests, but they don’t help much because you do not know WHERE the existing neurotransmitter are.
So, what is the best course of action? Actually, this is really simple. Add more of the items that make up the neurotransmitter. If you give the body a chance to do this, it will do it in spades.
Serotonin is by far and away the easiest to increase. It is done with an over the counter supplement, 5 HTP. It works, and actually, it is guaranteed to work. Not by the manufacturer, but rather by the rules of chemistry.
The production of Serotonin starts with the amino acid (protein) Tryptophan. You get this in foods that are “whole proteins” such as meat, dairy, eggs. When ingested, Tryptophan goes to the liver, which can do one of four things with it. It can pass it on unaltered for other uses in the body. Or it can make 5 HTP out of it. Or it can make two other substances from it, that do not effect Serotonin.
The conversion of Tryptophan into 5 HTP is the most difficult chemical operation in this equation. To do that, the body needs two enzymes and a donor to give up a “hydroxyl” (two hydrogen atoms in a particular shape). When done with the process of hydroxylation, what is left is hyroxylated Tryptophan which is abbreviated as 5 HTP.
5 HTP is then converted into Serotoin by another enzymatic reaction called decarboxylation. Basically, enzymes are chemical scissors, and this reaction simply cuts a carboxyl (COOH) out of the 5 HTP, and what is left is Serotonin. The critical item here is THAT THE DECARBOXYLATION REACTION IS A NON SATURATED REACTION. What this means is that there is much more of this enzyme in our body than we need, so if there is 5 HTP available, it WILL be converted into Serotonin.
The drug companies know this very well, but since 5 HTP cannot be patented as it is a natural substance, they are forced to find an alternative to supplementing with 5 HTP in order to sell you their Anti depressants. They need to have a compound that can be patented, in order to make any money. And in this case, since the 5 HTP that is sold over the counter is sold cheaply, there is no profit potential for them there, and they do not even make 5 HTP.
What makes this even more interesting is the speed of action. Neurotransmission is a simple process from one point of view, in that if there is sufficient amounts of the neurotransmitter available at the synapse, the message will get through. As it takes about 90 minutes on an empty stomach to digest a 5 HTP pill and get it in the blood stream, it works VERY fast. For depression, it is usually noticed in as little time as 4 hours. For bowel issues such as Irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and other bowel conditions, it can take up to 12 hours to work due to the number of nerves that are affected.
I did not touch on MAO’is and TCA’s, but basically they are not used because of there many side effects. NRI’s are not widely used just because Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that is more important for mood issues.
The bottom line here is that there is ONLY one way to increase the production of Serotonin, and that is by supplementing with 5 HTP. Every other medication (again with the exception of Thyroid hormone, which is not related to this issue) works (or better said TRY’s to work) by reducing items that are getting rid of Serotonin.
I certainly encourage you to do the research on everything that I have said so that you feel comfortable in the knowledge. It is quite easy to do, just put in “serotonin” into your browser and you fill find tons of information, that will document the process of how Tryptophan makes it into Serotonin. And with the basic principles of what is going on with the prescription drugs, their action should be easy to follow. Then all you need is logic to make your decision.
I have not gone into the NE side, and it has a different pathway, but start with Serotonin if you are so inclined. Then, I will be happy to go into the NE pathway.
Best of luck,