Is 5-HTP Your Natural Aid For PMDD?

Photo by Samantha Hurley from Burst

PMS is a enter your favorite cuss word (here)! As a grown woman, you must find your way to control the irritability, mood swings, fatigue, bloating, hot flashes and so on. The list is long; it’s almost daunting to write them all out. Care to magnify those symptoms times 1,000? Welcome to the world of PMDD!

PMDD, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, is like PMS on steroids. These steroids don’t help your performance but instead bring your day-to-day to a screeching halt. Just like PMS, PMDD comes a week or a few days before the onset of menses and can last through the last day of menstruation.

It varies from woman to woman but when you know you know. It’s a constant monthly rollercoaster with emotional highs and lows, making any woman struggling with symptoms a superhero for getting through such an involuntary ride.

For PMDD, some try conventional methods such as SSRIs. A study found a strong association between the use of SSRIs and symptomatic relief for PMS/premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

The reason for antidepressants as the primary conventional method is due to the association with your hormones and brain chemistry. Serotonin levels are decreased in women with PMDD.

On the quest to find a natural alternative strong enough to ease the PMDD symptoms, 5-HTP came up as one of the best options out there. Note, it’s not a super supplement that instantaneously makes everything better.

It may work for some and may not work for others. Lifestyle modifications should be taken into consideration to bring out the best outcome.

Wondering what the heck is 5-HTP and if you should add it to PMS/PMDD self-care regimen? Here’s the low-down all in one place.


5-HTP comes from seeds of a West Africa medicinal plant known as Griffonia Simplicifolia. You may recognize 5-HTP as the common link between the amino acid L-tryptophan and serotonin.

Simplified Biochemical Reaction of L-tryptophan. L-tryptophan can either turn into 5-HTP or NAD+ in the body.

Simplified Biochemical Reaction of L-tryptophan

Think of 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) as the Ubereats driver delivering a made to order gluten-free pizza from L-tryptophan pizzeria. Only the made to order pie comes in the form of serotonin. 5-HTP is the immediate precursor to our beloved happy-inducing neurotransmitter, serotonin.

Dietarily we do not consume 5-HTP but rather our body makes it from L-tryptophan. When directly ingested, 5-HTP creates rainbow and sunshine thoughts (hopefully) in the form of serotonin.

The mood enhancing effect is the primary reason to consider 5-HTP for PMDD or even milder PMS.

Helpful Effects

With PMDD the mood symptoms are real, almost downright debilitating. We are talking about depression, anxiety, tension, fatigue, lashing out; some even experience suicidal thoughts. It’s severe folks and mustn’t be overlooked as merely being “over emotional.”

The cause for these symptoms is unknown, but scientist believes it is due to the cyclical hormonal shifts that cause a decrease in serotonin. PMDD sufferers often see a significant improvement in symptoms after the onset of menses.

When 5-HTP is ingested, the body converts it to serotonin. With the increase in serotonin running through the blood, your brain receptors can get a happy neurotransmitter dose, making the mood-swings associated with PMDD less intrusive.


Taking 5-HTP is recommended before the symptoms arise. It may require calendar tracking on behalf of your cycle but is worth it! Even consuming 5-HTP right when symptoms show up can subside making it fast acting in a mood-swing crisis.

A supplement to take daily forever? This is not recommended. Long term use of 5-HTP could cause a decrease in catecholamines eventually leaving 5-HTP to no longer work in your favor. Periodic intake suggested!

When shopping for 5-HTP, you’ll find supplements ranging from 50mg to 200mg per capsule. There are few scientific guidelines for the proper individual dosage. If you are unsure, starting lite with 5-HTP is your best option. Get a lower dose capsule, say 50 mg and increase throughout the day, not exceeding 200 mg/day.

It is also highly recommended to consider taking a lower dose of 5-HTP to eliminate the chance of a withdraw. Think about it; you are increasing your serotonin levels – causing an influx. Decreasing a high dose of anything (even think missing a day of 2 cups of coffee) could cause a significant withdraw. Bringing up mood symptoms you were trying to get rid of in the first place.

Note: I did not find any substantial evidence suggesting a lower dose, but it’s my nutritionial take on potential reasons to start slow.

Like many supplements, you’ll want to take this right before or during a meal to prevent a common side effect when taking supplements on an empty stomach nausea.

Potential Side Effects

Just with taking conventional medication, there is always the potential of side effects which is why it’s important to taper up as you go. You may be an individual whose body does not agree with 5-HTP, and that is entirely okay.

The potential side effects are as followed: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, heartburn, skin rash, itching, swelling, anxiety, drowsiness, and muscle problems.

If you do have any of the above symptoms, stop using it immediately. Consulting your healthcare professional before use of supplementation is always recommended.


People who are currently taking antidepressants medications (TCAs, MAOIs, SSRIs) or other medications that affect serotonin levels should not take 5-HTP. Additionally, anyone with eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS); the use of 5-HTP should be supervised by a qualified healthcare provider.

Please note if you are considering taking 5-HTP and worried about any contraindications with current medications, symptoms, or medical conditions you should consult your Doctor before taking 5-HTP. I know this sounds like a voice-over on one of those prescription commercials, but you need to see if it’s okay for your specific condition.

What you should be looking for in a 5-HTP product

Zero contaminants are your number one concerns. Since supplements are not regulated, you can find some sketchy products on the market. That is a whole other topic which I will be writing about, but for the time being, 5-HTP contaminants are the biggest concern in your supplement.

Look for a product that are peak X free.

Next, look for products that are open about their sourcing, third-party testing, potency, contain no allergens, no preservatives, and made in a GMP and NSF certified facility.

Additional Lifestyle Modifications

To decrease symptoms there are lifestyle modifications, along with taking 5-HTP, that can work in tandem to aid in PMDD symptoms.

  • Decrease alcohol consumption – Alcohol is not your best friend here.
  • Work-out regularly – whatever that looks like for you, move!
  • Relaxation therapy – meditation, massage, or counseling. Calm your stresses!

You will find much anecdotal evidence of 5-HTP helping others while individuals explain having many side-effects leading them to stir clear from the supplement. Health improvement is all case by case.

You know your body best and should communicate any adverse side effects to your healthcare provider to help lead to the root cause and ultimate symptom relief. In your journey, I hope you find something that works for your PMDD symptoms because let’s face it; it’s the biggest you-know-what you’ll ever meet.

6 Replies to “Is 5-HTP Your Natural Aid For PMDD?”

  1. That study you link to is written by quacks selling their own amino acid pill from their labs so it’s dubious to say the least. There are better reviews of 5htp on pubmed that show no negative effects long or short term on rats or humans. Obviously caution is wise with anything!

  2. I am on the pill constantly for extreme pain experienced when I have a period. I haven’t had a period for 3 years and it’s been great. I’ve tried 5-HTP twice now and each time I have break-through bleeding and cramps. Each time, I’ve had no more than 3 50mg (1 a day for 3 days) and then the bleeding and cramping starts. It lasts for 2 weeks. The first time I thought it was a coincidence. A year later, when i tried the second time, the same exact thing happened. Not sure why this is but I don’t plan to take it anymore.

    1. Hi Caren,

      Glad to hear the pill is working for you! I too tried 5-HTP a few times and unfortunately did not work for me either. I did not have the same reactions as you. Crazy enough, I have a friend that 5-HTP works beautifully for her. Believe this is evidence that is our self-care routine is all bio-individual!

      Thanks for sharing you story here!

  3. 300mg in the morning during the worst days works! Anything lower doesn’t work, so you need to find a dosage right for you and your degree of symptoms. From day 15 till 28 observe the best and worst days and increase, descrease dosage, as required. I am on 200mg on good days and 300mg on bad days. All taken in one go in the morning. Also, it is good for when you feel anxious just out of the blue, take one pill and it works within 15/30mins in my experience providing a calming effect.

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