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5 HTP and ADHD

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ADHD is a common disorder that affects children and can last long into adulthood. It is usually treated with psychostimulants but these can have pronounced effects on the brain. 5 HTP provides an alternative to conventional ADHD medication. Is it any good? Read on to find out.

What is 5 HTP?

5 HTP or 5-hydroxytryptophan is an amino acid found in nature. Although it is rarely found in food crops, it is still found in the plant kingdom. Most of the 5 HTP used in the dietary supplement industry is extracted from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia.

As an over-the-counter dietary supplement, 5 HTP is used to treat a number of medical conditions caused by low levels of serotonin in the brain.

This amino acid is normally synthesized in the body as the immediate precursor of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. 5 HTP is made from L-tryptophan, an aromatic and essential amino acid.

In the synthesis of serotonin, the conversion of tryptophan to 5 HTP is the rate-limiting step. This means that the rate of synthesis of the neurotransmitter is determined by the production of 5 HTP. To improve the efficiency of serotonin synthesis, 5 HTP supplements are directly taken to bypass the need for tryptophan.

5 HTP is readily taken up into the central nervous system through the blood-brain barrier.

It is then converted to serotonin in a single reaction catalyzed by the enzyme, 5 HTP decarboxylase, and vitamin B6. Therefore, 5 HTP supplements are the best means of increasing serotonin levels in the brain.

Serotonin is responsible for the regulation of sleep, appetite, and mood. It also contributes to learning and memory.

Since 5 HTP supplements improve the synthesis of serotonin in the brain, they are used to improve mood, suppress appetite and promote sleep. This means that 5 HTP supplements can help treat depression, anxiety disorders, obesity, insomnia and other sleep disorders.

Other conditions for which 5 HTP supplements are helpful include fibromyalgia and panic disorders.

There are other indications that 5 HTP may become useful. For example, it can be used to manage the symptoms of disorders which can be corrected by improving serotonin levels.

5 HTP supplements are largely safe and well tolerated. The most common side effects of 5 HTP are gastrointestinal disturbances including stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Although it is mostly used by adults, 5 HTP has also be found to be effective and safe for children. Its use in children should, however, be monitored and discontinued at the earliest sign of serious side effects.

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a developmental disorder with a unique set of symptoms including inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. People suffering from ADHD usually have a combination of these features.

ADHD is the most common psychiatry disorder in children. It affects 3 – 5% of children and there are more reported cases in boys than in girls.

Up to half of the children diagnosed with ADHD continue to live with the disorder well into adulthood.

ADHD is a controversial disorder which continues to generate a lot of attention. Because its symptoms resemble some of the other disorders, it is often misdiagnosed or overlooked entirely.

Diagnosing ADHD is a delicate task especially in borderline cases. Some people only show some of the symptoms of ADHD and not enough to reach a diagnosis. In addition, when these ADHD symptoms are mild enough not to impair work, relationship etc. then ADHD may not be diagnosed.

Also, ADHD often presents along with other disorders. Some of the conditions that are comorbid with ADHD are:

  • Language delay
  • Persistent bedwetting
  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Conduct disorder, Oppositional defiant disorder, and Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder

Although the exact causes of ADHD remain unknown, different studies have suggested that genetics, diet, environmental toxins and social background contributes to ADHD.

Of these factors, genetics is the strongest. ADHD is often inheritable and it has been estimated that as many as 75% of ADHD cases are due to genetic inheritance.

For example, a single gene, the variant of LPHN3, is known to be responsible for 7% of ADHD cases. People with the ADHD-promoting variant of this gene respond well to stimulants.

However, most cases of ADHD are caused by the combination of genes like LPHN3. These gene variants often after the level and activities of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

The two neurotransmitters most affected are dopamine and serotonin. The ADHD gene variants of these neurotransmitter pathways affect transporters and receptors in the brain. This means that compared to children who do not have ADHD, the serotonin and dopamine system in the brain of ADHD children light up differently.

A good support for this neurotransmitter difference hypothesis is the low arousal theory.

Already, the low arousal theory has gained strong support in the medical community because it explains the results of brain scans in ADHD patients, the calming effect stimulants have with therapeutic dosage on ADHD patients and the differences in neurotransmitter pathway in ADHD patients.

This theory explains that hyperactivity is only a means of physical self-stimulation in people with low arousal. When ADHD patients are not properly stimulated by external stimuli, they make up for it by fidgeting, talking and walking around.

How 5 HTP Supplementation Might Work for ADHD

The chief function of 5 HTP supplements is to increase serotonin levels in the brain.

There are 7 classes of serotonin receptors in the central nervous system and these are numbered from 5 HT1 to 5 HT7. Serotonin and serotonin drugs usually bind to these receptors to activate or inactivate the serotonin pathway.

However, these serotonin receptors are also responsible for regulating the release and activities of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Therefore, given the central role of dopamine in the presentation of ADHD, it follows that serotonin receptors can help regulate the neurotransmitter in the brain.

In fact, there is clinical evidence for such interaction. Some of the genes (or their variants) that have been shown to contribute to ADHD include those that express serotonin receptors (5 HT1B and 5 HT2A).

In certain parts of the brain, increasing serotonin levels can increase dopamine levels too through these serotonin receptors. Since the brain scans of ADHD patients show low dopamine levels, this is a welcome outcome.

Yet another way in which 5 HTP supplementation can help ADHD patients is by increasing mood and promoting learning and memory.

A high proportion of ADHD patients also suffer from mood disorders and depression. In fact, in adult ADHD sufferers, depression is the most common condition that occurs along with this hyperactivity disorder.

5 HTP can improve the symptoms of depression by increasing serotonin levels. In fact, physicians prefer to treat depression before ADHD, and increasing serotonin levels achieves this purpose.

Because 5 HTP (through serotonin) improves mood, it acts like psychostimulants which have a high success rate in the treatment of ADHD. By stimulating ADHD patients, 5 HTP can contribute to fulfilling the arousal need of these hyperactive patients and so reduce any compensatory signs of low arousal.

In fact, a study published in the journal, Science, in 1999 suggests that the serotonin pathway is involved in the paradoxical calming effect that psychostimulants have on ADHD patients.

Lastly, children with ADHD often have sleep issues. Taking 5 HTP can also improve this problem and help them sleep better.

Taking 5 HTP for ADHD

5 HTP should not be combined with ADHD drugs that also affect serotonin levels.

Furthermore, since there are multiple components to the progression of ADHD, not every patient may benefit from 5 HTP supplementation.

There is no standard dosage for 5 HTP in the management of ADHD. However, it is best to start with low doses, especially for children.

A low dose of 50 mg daily is recommended to see if 5 HTP can improve some of the symptoms of ADHD. Subsequently, this dose or its frequency of administration may be increased following consultation with your physician.





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