Q Dear Dr. V,
I have been reading a lot about 5-HTP. I have made several attempts to quit Paxil®, a prescription antidepressant drug, but I have been unsuccessful due to extreme withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and brain zaps. My question is, do you think the 5-HTP would help counteract the withdrawal symptoms of Paxil?
A Dear GT,
Both 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) and Paxil increase the levels of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, but they do it in different ways. Remember that serotonin deficiency is associated with depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, fibromyalgia, and migraines, among other conditions. Enhancing serotonin levels often brings relief from such ailments.
Paxil is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), a class of drugs that also includes Prozac® and Zoloft®, among others. These drugs increase serotonin activity by essentially reusing the already present serotonin molecules over and over again, something you don't necessarily want to do, because it violates the natural order of neurochemical metabolism; this may be an explanation for the deleterious side effects of SSRIs. By contrast, the 5-HTP molecule, a metabolite of tryptophan and a precursor to serotonin, essentially replenishes serotonin via supplementation.
Even though I can find no studies in which 5-HTP has been tested for its ability to lessen the side effects or withdrawal effects of SSRIs, I believe this to be plausible. Furthermore, 5-HTP has been tested against an SSRI for depression, and it proved to be similar in efficacy, but with fewer side effects. Loss of libido and inability to achieve orgasm are common side effects of SSRIs.
I suggest you get your own doctor's guidance, since you may have a medical problem for which he or she is treating you. Many doctors will phase out the old drug while phasing in the new one. The amounts to phase out or in, and the appropriate time periods for doing so, vary depending on a person's individual body chemistry and tolerances. Many doctors accomplish the task over a period of a few to several weeks.
Suggestion: See my book on many of these subjects, The 5-HTP Archives (available from Life Enhancement Products). I hope this has been helpful for you.