Carla is a healthy 45-year-old married mother of two. In the past few years, she has complained of fatigue and insomnia, and has gained 50 pounds. She used to enjoy outdoor sports with her husband and sons but now no longer wants to leave the house. Her husband feels that Carla doesn't care for her family anymore. He is tired of the frequent arguments Carla picks with the boys and is hurt by her loss of interest in having sex with him. Since her mother's death a few months ago, Carla has started to cry almost daily. "Sometimes I just want to go to sleep and never wake up again."
Carla is suffering from severe depression, and she is not alone. Over 12 million men and women in this country, about 5% of all Americans, suffer from some form of depression. The intensity of this depression can range from mildly distressing to severely disabling. Severe depression is a very serious and dangerous disease that may lead to attempted suicide and death. Over 16,000 people succeed in their suicide attempts each year.
Depression involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It is all encompassing. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and how you think about others. A depressive disorder is not a sign of personal weakness, or a condition that can be willed, or wished away. Those suffering from depression can't just "pull themselves together," and get better. Untreated, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help over 80% of those who suffer from depression.
In the United States the recent treatment of choice for depression has been the selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRis) such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft, as well as other anti depressant drugs such as Effexor, Welbutrin, and Serzone.
Carla's husband finally demanded that she see their doctor for a physical exam. After he diagnosed depression, Carla was surprised that her
doctor did not prescribe an antidepressant. She had many friends who took Prozac and other types of SSRis.
"I want you try something new," he told her. "It's called 5-HTP and has many of the benefits of traditional antidepressants with none of the side effects." Within two weeks of starting 5-HTP Carla reported that she was sleeping more and eating less. She had stopped crying and had even lost a few pounds. Four months later her husband reported that she was "back to her old self again." Their sex life improved, to their delight, and she was again hiking with the family.
Depression May Be Due to a Lack of Serotonin
Why did the 5-HTP work so well for Carla? Carla's results with 5-HTP are not uncommon. In fact, the greatest benefit of
5- HTP seems to be in treating depression. As is shown by the success of the SSRis, depression is clearly related to low levels of Serotonin. Taking supplemental 5-HTP may help the body produce more of this essential neurotransmitter.
Researchers investigated this theory when they used a PET scan (positron-emission tomography) to compare the brains of eight healthy volunteers with those of six people diagnosed with major depression. The subjects were given intravenous 5-HTP that was radiolabelled so that the researchers could track its location in the body. They found that there was significantly less 5-HTP in the brains of the depressed subjects than in the brains of the normal controls. The authors concluded that the transport of 5HTP into the brain may be compromised in people suffering from major depression.
5-HTP Increases Serotonin Levels
Since a lack of Serotonin appears to be involved in the development of depression, does an increase in 5-HTP actually lead to an increase in serotonin levels? This question was investigated by a group of Japanese researchers. They gave 5-HTP to 24 patients who were hospitalized for depression. Two weeks into treatment, they found a "marked amelioration of depressive symptoms" in seven patients diagnosed with depression. In the subjects' cerebrospinal fluid this team found a 30% increase in the levels of 5-HIAA, a compound formed during the metabolism of Serotonin. Levels of 5-HIAA are commonly used to determine Serotonin levels in humans. This strongly suggested that 5-HTP was being converted to Serotonin, and was raising Serotonin levels.
From the book "Depression Management with 5-HTP" by Othniel Seiden, MD & Jane L. Bilett, PhD - Amazon and Kindle