5-HTP and Weight Control

One simple reason people become overweight is their overindulgence in food; they eat too much. While there are several reasons people overeat, one may be due to a lack of serotonin . Serotonin is the brain messenger that is associated with “feeling good”. A lack of serotonin is associated with depression and irritability and some studies are showing it to be a potential aid for those seeking to control body fat.It appears that increasing the amount of serotonin that reaches the brain may decrease the appetite and in the US, Redux, a drug that increases serotonin levels had been a favorite among dieters as it was a very strong appetite suppressant. Within a year of being introduced to the American market, Redux was discontinued as it was shown to cause dangerous drops in blood pressure and could damage the heart.

   Researchers have found animals and humans fed a diet lacking tryptophan, the amino acid that produces serotonin in the body, will over eat and gain weight. (1) Other studies show dieting can cause a drop in serotonin levels which causes an increase in hunger and food cravings! (2) With these facts in mind, supplement companies have been marketing 5-HTP, a natural substance that increases serotonin levels, to people trying to rid themselves of depression and to maintain or lose bodyweight.

   One field study in Italy showed women using 200 mgs of 5-HTP 20 minutes before eating each of their daily 3 meals, ate 22% less carbohydrates daily than those using a placebo. (3) Researchers asked female participants to keep a food diary for 3 days at the beginning of the study and again for 3 days at the end of the study. During the study, food was carefully measured. The food that was not eaten was re-measured to find how many carbohydrates went un-consumed by the women. This study demonstrates the effectiveness of 5 HTP in aiding carbohydrate control, an important component in controlling body fat. In another study, a 12-week double-blind trial, overweight women who took 600–900 mg of 5-HTP per day lost significantly more weight than did women who received placebo.(4)

   Specifically, 5-HTP is an intermediary substance produced naturally in the body from the amino acid tryptophan found in protein foods. 5-HTP can also be extracted from plants. It can naturally increase the total amount of serotonin that reaches the brain helping to alleviate food cravings. For the bodybuilder who craves carbohydrates or might find it difficult to battle food cravings during the dieting phase, a 5-HTP supplement might be helpful. A 200 milligram dose taken 2- 3 times a day should help.

   Caffeine, stress, and the use of anabolic steroids can rob the body of its ability to manufacture serotonin so supplementing is a good idea for many individuals.

   Liberal Use of Negatives May Effect Glycogen Storage Insulin, the powerful hormone released with carbohydrate consumption and, to a lesser degree with protein consumption, is the major hormone in the body regulating carbohydrate and protein metabolism. In a nutshell, insulin drives carbohydrates into muscles where they are stored as muscle glycogen. Insulin also increases the uptake of amino acids by muscles enhancing protein synthesis leading to greater muscle growth. For the hard training, mass seeking bodybuilder, insulin secretion by maintaining a high calorie intake is a vital part of increasing muscle size. How powerful is insulin? When you eat too few carbs, glycogen stores begin to fall increasing cortisol levels which, in turn, causes muscles to break down. In addition, insulin is the main “anti-catabolic” in the body. When insulin levels surge, protein breakdown comes to a halt. When insulin levels crash, the body burns its own muscle as fuel.

   That said, weight training increases the activity of hormones and enzymes that increase muscle sensitivity to insulin. Most of this increase is a result of the actual training. That means, the training causes a drop in glycogen levels and the burning of glucose (from carbohydrates and glycogen) as fuel causing a temporary adaptation response where the body outputs greater concentrations of glycogen storing hormones and enzymes to help rapidly restore muscle glycogen levels. (5) However, other studies seem to point that weight training exerts a permanent effect on carbohydrate storage where an increase in muscle mass causes a continual adaptation response that continually increases not only the requirement for carbohydrates but changes the hormone and enzyme environment where the carbohydrate-storing capabilities are enhanced and continual- regardless of actual training.

   Paradoxically, intense weight training may have the ability to decrease carbohydrate uptake by muscle. (6) It seems eccentric work, commonly referred to as “negatives” can be so overwhelming and taxing on the muscles, the opposite occurs where too much negative training may decrease the body’s ability to uptake glucose which leaves the muscles appearing flat. This flies in the face of the Heavy Duty Training System which over emphasizes negative work, performing each and every set beyond maximal muscle failure- to the point where the athlete is suppose to perform forced reps or negatives on every set. My suggestion is to take your sets to positive failure and use a forced negative on the final set of each exercise. Not on each and every set.

   Stabilizing the amount of sugar in the blood stream is the job of insulin and glucagon. When you eat a lot of carbohydrates, the body releases insulin which drives the excess glucose from the carbohydrate foods consumed into the muscles as muscle glycogen or, if glycogen levels are full, into body fat stores. On the other hand, when sugar levels in the blood fall, as with dieting, the body releases glucagon which liberates glycogen stores. In essence, the job of glucagon is to tap muscle for glucose when sugar levels in the bloodstream fall.

   However, many individuals struggle with stabilizing blood sugar levels. Dietary steps to ensure more stable levels include eating smaller meals through the day, avoiding fast acting simple carbohydrates and including lots of vegetables into the diet which help slow the digestion of carbohydrates which encourages steady levels of sugar in the blood. Other steps include supplementing with chromium and fish oils as both can help improve sugar metabolism in the body. Two herbs that may contribute to better or improved blood sugar levels include Gymnema and Fenugreek. Studies have shown fenugreek to be effective in diabetics in stabilizing blood sugar levels. (7) Bodybuilders who suffer from ups and downs of blood sugar levels could benefit by using 1 gram of fenugreek seeds 3 times daily daily or as a tincture, about 4 milliliters 3 times daily. Gymnema has been used in India for centuries to help diabetics. It appears Gymnema may actually help regenerate damaged cells in the pancreas where insulin is produced. (8) A bodybuilding dose of 500 mgs of leaf powder taken twice daily and up to 750 mgs twice daily would likely help optimize insulin secretion and perhaps aid in muscle growth and repair.

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References:

R.J. Wurtman and J.J. Wurtman, “Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity, and depression.” Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 398 (1996): 35-41.

Anderson, et al. , “ Dieting reduces plasma tryptophan and alters brain 5-HTP functions in women” Psychological Medicine 20, No.4 (1990):785-91.

F. Ceci et al. “The effects of oral 5-hydroxytryptophan administration on feeding behavior in obese adult female subjects.” Journal of Neural Transmission 76 (1989): 109-17

Cangiano C, Ceci F, Cascino A, et al. “Eating behavior and adherence to dietary prescriptions in obese adult subjects treated with 5-hydroxytryptophan.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1992;56:863–7.

Mikines, K.J etal. “Effects of accute exercise and detraining on insulin action in trained men.” J Applied Physiology. 66(2):704-711; 1989.

Kirwan, JP etal. “Eccentric exercise induces transient insulin resistance in healthy individuals.” Journal Applied Physiology. 72(6):2197-2202; 1992.

Madar Z et al. “Glucose-lowering effect of fenugreek in non-insulin dependent diabetics.” European Journal Clinical Nutrition. 1988; 42:51-54.

Shanmugasundaram ER eta l, “ Possible regeneration of the islets of Langherhans in streptozotocin diabetic rats given Gymnema sylvestre leaf extracts.” Journal Ethnopharmacol.

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