If you're one of the 14 million people who previously took L-tryptophan to obtain relief from sleeping difficulties, premenstrual syndrome, obsessive/compulsive behavior, stress and depression, a newly available nutritional supplement, 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan), may be of special interest to you.
Tryptophan is a naturally occurring amino acid required by the human body for the production of melatonin and serotonin, two vital brain chemicals necessary for sleep and mood regulation. Once readily available as a nutritional supplement, tryptophan has been one of the most difficult substances to obtain in the U.S. since being banned by the FDA in November of 1990. The FDA's decision to remove all tryptophan-containing supplements from store shelves was in response to an outbreak of Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS) that was linked to the use of tryptophan. EMS is a dangerous and potentially deadly blood disease that is usually associated with parasitic infections or severe allergy. From July of 1989 to December of 1990, more than 1500 cases of EMS and 27 deaths were associated with the outbreak in the United States.
In a report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in August of 1992, researchers revealed that tryptophan was not the cause of the of EMS outbreak. The CDC, working with scientists from the Mayo Clinic, the Oregon State Health Division and the Minnesota Department of Health, traced the cause of the EMS crisis to a contaminant found only in batches of tryptophan manufactured by a single Japanese company, Showa Denko. Showa Denko, the source for up to 60% of all the tryptophan sold in the United States, had produced the tainted tryptophan after intro-ducing an untested manufacturing process that reduced the amount of activated charcoal used to filter fermented raw tryptophan.
After tryptophan was cleared of any role in the EMS outbreak it was natural to expect that tryptophan supplements would soon reappear in health food stores. In reality, tryptophan has been kept off of the market by the FDA, which currently has no plans for lifting the ban on sales of this supplement. This position is ironic, since the FDA feels that tryptophan is safe enough to use in infant formulas and parenteral (IV feedings) solutions. Still, it is doubtful that this unique supplement will ever be found on store shelves again.
In the absence of access to tryptophan, several new prescription drugs designed to regulate brain serotonin levels (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs) have been introduced. Drugs such as Prozac work through the selective enhancement of serotonin levels, and Dexfenfluramine, used in Europe to reduce carbohydrate-cravings and suppress appetite, works by mimicking serotonin activity in the brain.
Unfortunately Prozac can present unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects, and the safety of dexfenfluramine is in question after a study found it may cause brain damage in monkeys.
Now Smart Basics is carrying pure 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan (5-HTP),
considered by many researchers to be the safest tryptophan alternative
available. 5-HTP is normally converted in the body from L-tryptophan,
and as an intermediate metabolite, is further converted into melatonin,
a neurohormone, and serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT), a
neurotransmitter. While 5-HTP is more expensive than tryptophan prior
to the 1990 ban, it is also ten times as effective (a 50 mg. capsule of
5-HPT is generally regarded as the equivalent of 500 mg. of tryptophan).
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