Oxitriptan, also known as 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is one of the most sought after dietary supplement in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada for its many health benefits including antidepressant, sleep aid, and appetite suppressant. We know you are particularly interested in the last indication that we mentioned: appetite suppression.
Should it surprise you then if we say 5-HTP can help you lose weight?
What is 5-HTP?
Oxitriptan or 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan is a special kind of naturally-occurring amino acid. We all know what amino acids are and how important they are in various biochemical processes. They are essentially the building blocks that make up our DNA. They are also important in the facilitation of chemical processes so that other substances can be formed.
The principal derivative of 5-HTP is tryptophan which is a metabolic intermediate as well as a chemical precursor of melatonin and serotonin. Essentially, what we are saying is that 5-HTP:
- Is needed to form serotonin
- Is needed to form melatonin
The question now is what do these neurotransmitters do and how do they accomplish their effects on the body?
Serotonin and Weight Loss
We all associate serotonin with happiness and our feelings of well-being. It is generally considered as the happy molecule, one that gives us pleasurable sensations. Studies show that depressed individuals often have substantially low levels of serotonin. Increasing the levels of circulating serotonin in the brain has been shown to help alleviate the symptoms of depression; hence, its antidepressant effects.
But there is clearly another more beneficial effect of serotonin and one that not everyone is familiar with. Serotonin is known to be a very potent inhibitor of dopamine. If dopamine is what is produced and secreted by the brain in response to a particular stimulus to increase our appetite, then serotonin is the antithesis of this particular neurotransmitter.
Here’s how it works.
- Whenever we are presented with a food-related stimulus – the smell of food, the thought of food, the sight of food, and the taste of food – these sensations are integrated into our brain where dopamine is synthesized and released to increase our appetite. That is why, when we smell the wonderful aroma of a certain food item, the more that we feel we want to eat. The same thing with the first few bites of the food. If it is palatable, these sensations signal our brain to produce dopamine. We can thus, look at dopamine as the substance that makes us want to eat more of the food simply because it is giving us pleasure. Like they say, there is pleasure in eating. And this is the work of dopamine.
- While eating, serotonin is released. Serotonin acts on a certain receptor called 5-HT2C which is located on the nervous tissue that is producing dopamine. What happens is that the 5-HT2C receptors block the release of dopamine. This leads to a reduction in appetite. Studies show that when 5-HT2C receptors are blocked by certain drugs, weight gain ensues. And since 5-HT2C is activated by serotonin, it can thus be said that serotonin indirectly induces weight loss by suppressing the release of dopamine; hence, reducing your appetite.
As we can see, serotonin does not only make us happy. It also helps suppress our appetite by affecting the 5-HT2C mechanism.
The Value of 5-HTP
So, where does 5-HTP fit into all of these?
It is possible to take an oral form of serotonin. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier where it can exert its effects on the 5-HT2C receptors. However, 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan and tryptophan itself can. It is for this reason that 5-HTP supplements are a much better solution than taking supplemental serotonin.
Remember what we said about 5-HTP being an important molecule in the production of serotonin? Because it crosses the blood-brain barrier, it can interact with other molecules in the brain to form serotonin. And since serotonin produced in this way is already inside the brain, then it can readily exert its inhibitory effect on dopamine through the action of the 5-HT2C receptors.
The end-result? Appetite suppression.
What Does Science Say?
One particular study revealed that 5-HTP supplementation can lead to substantial reduction in calorie intake among obese individuals. Two groups of obese adults were included in this particular study where one group was given 300 milligrams of the supplement 5-HTP while the other group was given a placebo. All of the participants did not know whether they were taking the 5-HTP supplement or the placebo. They were instructed to take their pills half an hour before each meal. They did this for the first 6 weeks. On the 7th week of the study, the study participants were instructed to reduce their caloric intake for the next 6 weeks.
The results of the study showed that during the first 6 weeks of the program, those who were on 5HTP supplements were able to reduce their calorie consumption from a high of 3,233 calories to a low of 1,886 calories, averaging at 1,347 calories. Those who were taking the placebo did not show any reduction in their calorie intake.
In the 7th to 12th week of the trial, those who were taking 5-HTP supplements were able to further cut down their calorie intake to just 1,276 calories from the new baseline of 1,886 calories for a net calorie loss of 610 calories. In addition to the calorie-reducing effects of 5-HTP supplements, the study also showed significant reductions in daily carbohydrate consumption from a high of 350 grams to a low of 160 grams.
A 2012 study also revealed that 5-HTP supplements can decrease body mass index and skinfold measurements which are indirect measurements of body fat. The study participants also reported higher satiety which resulted in reductions in calorie intake.
The Bottom Line
Studies show that 5-HTP supplements are effective in reducing our appetite. And if we are not “in the mood” to eat even though it is our favorite food, then we tend to consume fewer calories. This address one part of the weight loss equation where dieting is concerned. It is for this reason that we still recommend increasing your level of physical activities to reap the full benefits of 5-HTP supplements.