5-HTP (5- hydroxytryptophan) is an herbal supplement that is available for purchase over the counter at several grocery and retail stores. Like other herbal supplements, it doesn’t require Food and Drug Administration approval before being sold to consumers.
People taking 5-HTP should avoid alcohol for several obvious reasons. Those who take the supplement often believe the supplement may help improve symptoms of depression, insomnia, anxiety, obesity and other health issues.
Alcohol is a depressant. It’s known to cause symptoms of depression, anxiety and weight problems. In addition, alcohol withdrawal is associated with insomnia. If you’re trying to improve your health, drinking alcohol is a bad idea. There are several health benefits of quitting alcohol, including improved mood and sleep.
5-HTP is converted into serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a natural chemical in the brain that regulates sleep, mood, anxiety and appetite, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center’s medical reference guide.
However, researchers writing in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment described claims that 5-HTP can treat depression as “exaggerated and inaccurate.” They wrote that the health benefits of the supplement have no scientific basis and may make depression worse in some circumstances.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine does not list any proven benefits of 5-HTP, but it states that the supplement is “possibly effective” at treating depression. More research is needed to prove that it’s effective. Combining alcohol with any supplement that has unknown benefits and side effects is risky.
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Internet forums are full of horror stories of people vomiting, blacking out or having seizures after drinking while on 5-HTP. It’s impossible to know if the stories are reliable, but there is little other evidence of known interactions between 5-HTP and alcohol.
We do know that alcohol affects serotonin levels in the brain. Experts believe that alcohol’s effects on serotonin may contribute to why we feel rewarded or intoxicated when we drink.
Antidepressants also affect the balance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Popular antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors increase levels of serotonin in the brain. The labels of SSRIs such as Celexa and Prozac warn patients not to drink alcohol while on the drugs. If you shouldn’t drink with antidepressants, you probably shouldn’t drink with 5-HTP.
The effects of mixing 5-HTP and alcohol on serotonin levels are not fully understood. However, both substances alter serotonin levels, which may increase the risk of developing serotonin syndrome. This life-threatening condition is caused by the accumulation of too much serotonin in the body. Serotonin syndrome can cause confusion, agitation, sweating, coordination loss, fever and seizure.
If you experience any of these side effects after taking alcohol and 5-HTP, call 911 immediately.
Both serotonin and tryptophan are associated with liver inflammation. 5-HTP is made from tryptophan, a chemical that naturally occurs in several foods. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that tryptophan made nonalcoholic fatty liver disease worse in people with a diet high in fat and fructose.
Research has not found an association between 5-HTP and liver disease, but it’s possible that the chemical can play a role in liver toxicity because tryptophan is associated with liver toxicity. The University of Maryland Medical Center warns people with liver disease to avoid 5-HTP.
People who drink alcohol heavily have increased rates of liver damage, liver disease and other diseases and disorders. Liver damage is one of the risks of mixing alcohol with other substances that can cause harmful reactions, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs and supplements.
Individuals who drink alcohol regularly should speak to a health provider before taking 5-HTP. Heavy drinking damages the liver, and combining alcohol with 5-HTP may cause increased liver damage. The best way to recover from alcohol-related liver damage is to stop drinking.
Taking 5-HTP with alcohol is risky. People who with alcohol addiction should avoid 5-HTP. You should speak to your doctor about the benefits and risks of 5-HTP before taking the supplement. When taking supplements that affect brain chemistry, you should always play it safe and avoid alcohol.
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