Griffonia simplicifolia, an otherwise less than noteworthy shrub, has gained tremendous notoriety for its herbal seeds. The seeds contain 20 percent 5-Hydroxytryptophan, which has been argued to be a potentially effective treatment for a number of ailments, including depression, anxiety, migraines and even obesity. However, it also has links to the L-Tryptophan supplement, which has mostly been banned from sale in the U.S.
Griffonia simplicifolia is a climbing shrub found primarily in central and western Africa. The stout woody plant grows to heights of around 10 feet, with green flowers and black pods. Indigenous people have long used parts of the plant for various purposes. The stem and roots are used for chewing sticks and the leaves for the treatment of wounds. The juice from its leaves has also been used as a treatment for bladder and kidney problems. Around the world, the seeds from the plant’s pods are used to manufacture an herbal supplement containing 5-Hydroxytryptophan.
The plant is most commonly known for its seeds, which contain the amino acid 5-Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP. This derivative of the amino acid tryptophan is produced naturally in the body from tryptophan. Tryptophan is found in high-protein foods, such as chicken, fish, beef and dairy products, although consuming these has not been shown to raise levels of 5-HTP by much. 5-HTP is converted into serotonin in the brain and central nervous system. Serotonin is a mood-altering chemical that is linked to healthy sleep patterns, balanced moods and appetite suppression.
Possible Health Benefits
While studies are limited, 5-HTP has been linked to several possible uses. 5-HTP may be effective in reducing the symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as pain, anxiety, morning stiffness and fatigue. The supplement may also reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, with similar results to beta-blockers and methysergide. Its potential to regulate serotonin levels may provide relief from depression and anxiety. Additionally, 5-HTP has shown the potential to work as a weight loss therapy, suppressing the appetite.
Web MD advises its readers not to use 5-HTP until more is known about the supplement, warning that use may not be safe. There have been at least 10 cases of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome linked to 5-HTP. EMS is a potentially fatal disorder that affects the skin, blood, muscles and organs. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, this outbreak was linked to a contaminant, called Peak X, in both L-Tryptophan supplements and, in low levels, some 5-HTP supplements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of most L-Tryptophan supplements in 1990.
Before taking any supplement, you should always consult a physician. Use of 5-HTP supplements should not be combined with other antidepressants or MAO inhibitors. You should not take with ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine, common in many over-the-counter cold remedies. Side effects are typically mild and may include nausea, constipation, gas, drowsiness and reduced libido.
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images