Those of us who have spent years maintaining a healthy low carb lifestyle can relate to that time
of weakness where that pint of ice cream, or that piece of cake looked so good we just HAD to have
it. Fortunately for us, there is a magic nutrient that can help strengthen our willpower and increase
the self-discipline that we all need to stay on track. But it isn't all magic... In fact the nutrient — called 5-HTP — has
been scientifically proven in placebo-controlled clinical studies to reduce appetite and promote weight loss (Cangiano 1991, 1992, 1998,
5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a naturally occurring substance derived from the seeds of Griffonia
simplicifolia, a West African medicinal plant. Very small amounts of 5-HTP, as well as serotonin,
are found in food sources, including bananas, tomatoes, plums, avocados, eggplant, walnuts and
pineapples. In humans, 5-HTP is the immediate nutrient precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin
(5-HT). This means that 5-HTP converts directly into serotonin in the brain. Serotonin has many
important functions in the human body, including a role in sleep, appetite, memory, learning,
temperature regulation, mood, and muscle contraction.
Serotonin levels are also directly affected by carbohydrate consumption and therefore brain glucose
levels. Research has shown that increasing carbohydrates not only raises glucose and excessive amounts
of insulin, it also raises serotonin levels. So what happens to our serotonin levels when we reduce
When we reduce carbohydrates, we naturally lower glucose levels in the body and the brain. These
decreasing brain glucose levels have a direct effect by lowering serotonin levels, which increases
hunger as the brain sends out a signal for more glucose. This "trigger" causes us to grab that piece
of cake, thus breaking the diet, increasing circulating insulin, and opening the door to fat storage.
If you have a substance deficiency, you should try to correct it by supplementing with that very
substance or, in some cases, with a precursor substance, which is sometimes more desirable. To correct
this diet induced serotonin deficiency, it's preferable to take not serotonin itself, but 5-HTP.
Your body converts much of 5-HTP to serotonin, which is found not only in the brain but also in
relatively high concentrations in blood platelets and in the intestinal wall. By boosting brain
serotonin levels, 5-HTP helps create a feeling of satiety (fullness), thus suppressing appetite and
curbing carb cravings, which leads to a successful low carb lifestyle. Achieving beneficial serotonin
levels to that of elevated brain glucose levels is key for all of us in maintaining self-discipline
and the willpower to combat carb and food cravings.
Most of the clinical studies on the use of 5-HTP for weight loss were done by a group of Italian
researchers at the University of Rome in the early 1990s. In one such study on 19 obese women (a
5-week, double-blind, crossover trial in which each woman served as her own control), 79% of the
women reported a decrease in appetite while taking 5-HTP. This was borne out by measurements of
their actual caloric intake: it was found that supplementation with 5-HTP reduced the women's
daily intake by 508 calories-a 22% reduction compared with placebo. Over the 5-week period, the
women lost an average of 3.1 lb with 5-HTP, vs. 0.9 lb with placebo. The amount of 5-HTP used daily
(taken in three divided servings) was 3.6 mg per pound of body weight; this corresponds to a total
of 450 mg per day for a 125-lb woman, or 900 mg per day for a 250-lb woman.
In the same study, the researchers (Ceci F, Cangiano C, Cairella M, Cascino A, Del Ben M, Muscaritoli
M, Sibilia L, Rossi-Fanelli F) had previously tested the same women during a 6-week period in which
they were given the same daily 5-HTP (or placebo) regimen, but without any dietary restrictions. Over
that 6-week period, the average weight loss was less (not surprisingly), but still appreciable: 3.5 lb
with 5-HTP and 1.1 lb with placebo. Thus, with or without dietary restrictions, the women in this study
lost substantial amounts of weight (10.3 lb total) while taking 5-HTP-4 times as much as with placebo
(2.6 lb total).
Of course these doses were very high and most people report benefits after just 100 mg a day. Since
5-HTP also has a profound effect on inducing sleep it is possible that doses more than 100 mg could
cause some calming and drowsy effects. I use 5-HTP strategically to prevent nighttime eating and
Don't forget that 5-HTP is extremely beneficial for sleep so you will rest easier and wake up more
energized. While restful sleep is imperative, 5-HTP has also been successful in reducing anxiety; panic
attacks, and acts as an effective anti-depressant, so losing weight may not be the benefit you receive
from taking 5-HTP.
In another study worth mentioning, the same Italian researchers put 14 obese women on a 1200-calorie/day
diet for 6 weeks.3 Some were given 300 mg of 5-HTP 30 minutes before meals (a total of 900 mg per day),
while the others were given placebo. Over the 6-week period, the women taking 5-HTP lost 6.8 lb, on
average, compared with 1.5 lb for the women on placebo.
5-HTP is one the most important nutrients for those of us who lack the discipline (like myself) and
proves to be a valuable tool in reducing carbohydrate and overall food intake. Even taking 5-HTP for
a short period of time could help your body adapt to a reduced food intake and "shrink your stomach"
enabling us reach our weight loss goals faster.
So if maintaining a low carb lifestyle has been tough for you and it seems that the self-discipline
isn't there, try increasing your serotonin. Boosting serotonin levels might go a long way toward
helping you battle the bulge, by boosting your willpower and self confidence in making correct food
choices... in a calmer, nicer kind of way.
Chief Science Officer, DynaPure Nutrition
Copyright © July 2005 Pete Maletto and Low Carb Luxury