DHEA and 5-HTP for New and Better Mood Function

"The honeymoon is over," so the expression goes. It's often over much faster when couples enter into nuptials hastily, without the tempered experience of knowing the other person. Alternatively, if two people have really gotten to know one another before they tie the knot, then the honeymoon is likely to go on and on. In such circumstances, a honeymoon can commemorate all the good things that two people know and enjoy about each other. It can also pave the way for deeper intimacy and greater marital synergy.

DHEA and 5-HTP have gotten to know one another, in a manner of speaking. Many nutritional supplement users have had considerable experience with both of these extraordinary natural compounds. They have used DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) as separate supplements on a daily basis since they were first introduced. And now, as the paths of DHEA and 5-HTP have continued to cross1 - giving us a new understanding of how the two work together to achieve similar and superior results in combating depression - it's time for them to "marry" and appear together in the same supplement.

With DHEA and 5-HTP, People Feel Better 

When serotonin deficiency exists, depression is far more likely to occur. The nutrient amino acid L-tryptophan is the precursor of 5-HTP, which is the precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin. In one study, when normal, healthy humans were deprived of L-tryptophan, a rapid lowering of mood occurred, resulting in greater distractability, similar to that of depressed individuals.2 In another study, depression occurred when supplies of serotonin were depleted.3 Also, when normal, healthy humans were given 5-HTP, mood-elevation characteristics developed similar to those that occur when antidepressants are taken.4 Indeed, 5-HTP has become very popular with the public for just this reason: people feel better when they use it.

As DHEA levels diminish with age, depression is far more likely to take hold.5 This is thought to occur because of the changing ratio between cortisol and DHEA. Only four years ago, Dr Owen Wolkowitz (see DHEA A Better Antidepressant - July 99) first published data showing that DHEA supplementation could alleviate major depression, a type of depression that is frequently age-related.6 In an Italian study of 84 nonagenarians (over 90 years of age) and centenarians (over 100 years of age), a direct correspondence was found between lower levels of depression and higher DHEA levels. The correspondence extended to unimpaired cognitive abilities and the absence of major age-related disease.7 More recent research, double-blinded and placebo-controlled, has shown that DHEA does indeed reduce depression.8 As with 5-HTP, people feel better when they use DHEA.

The More, the Merrier - Phenylalanine Joins In 

In this issue of Life Enhancement, in two different articles, we extol the virtues of DHEA and phenylalanine for the restoration and enhancement of mood function. In new and important research cited, DHEA and phenylalanine are found, by elevating our mood, to help raise the ceiling of our performance. This implies, as well, that they can also raise the floor, thus providing a safety net from rapid rebounding from aloft. Hitting the floor too rapidly can pound it into a depressive valley - not a nice place to visit, let alone live. Because both of these natural compounds are thought of as healthy "uppers" for enhanced energy, improved memory, and elevated sense of well-being, bringing them together in a formulation seems logical and desirable. But because DHEA and 5-HTP are "married," perhaps we should consider that phenylalanine is "best man" or "bridesmaid" (take your pick).

Invitation to Upswing 
One of the total "downers" of life is stress. A case can be made that stress is a principal cause of age-related degenerative diseases. As we age, our ability to effectively respond to stress significantly dwindles. Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can cause brain damage or lead to alterations in mood. Reduced levels of DHEA may contribute to that mood decline, since it normally acts as a cortisol antagonist. Brain serotonin, and other amines such as noradrenaline, either decline with age or are not utilized as efficiently. Their effectiveness can diminish in response to chronic stress, making the brain more vulnerable to malfunctions. What's a person to do, when the swing of the scythe is forever chipping away at them?

The answer, of course, is to get those levels of serotonin, DHEA, and noradrenaline back up to where they should be, thereby counteracting downswings in mood associated with aging. By helping to restore levels of DHEA, serotonin, and noradrenaline to healthier, more youthful levels, we can get our lives on the upswing.

The inscrutable Ambrose Bierce defined marriage as the state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two. While hasty and unwise elopements may indeed spawn this kind of addition, it seems appropriate and justifiable to think of DHEA, 5-HTP, and phenylalanine formulations as "2 plus 1 equals 4".

If you are using DHEA or 5-HTP or phenylalanine supplements, or any two or all three, we think you have a better marriage, one that will last a long time.


  1. Herbert J. Fortnighly review. Stress, the brain, and mental illness. BMJ 1997 Aug 30;315(7107):530-5.
  2. Young SN, Smith SE, Phil RO, Ervin FR. Tryptophan depletion causes a rapid lowering of mood in normal males. Psychopharmacol 1985;87:173-7.
  3. Smith KA, Fairburn CG, Cowen PJ. Relapse of depression after rapid depletion of tryptophan. Lancet 1997;349:915-9.
  4. Kaneko M, Oshima N, Numata Y, Honda K, Tachibana R, Watanabe A, Takahashi Y, Kumashiro H. Psychopharmacological and biochemical characteristics of 5-hydroxytryptophan responder in depression. Neurosci 1991;17(3):349-58.
  5. Namiki M. Aged people and stress. Nippon Ronen Igakkai Zasshi 1994 Feb;31(2):85-95.
  6. Wolkowitz OM, Reus VI, Roberts E, Manfredi F, Chan T, Ormiston S, Johnson R, Canick J, Brizendine L, Weingartner H. Antidepressant and cognition-enhancing effects of DHEA in major depression. Ann NY Acad Sci 1995 Dec 29;774:337-9.
  7. Ravaglia G, Forti P, Maioli F, Boschi F, Cicognani A, Bernardi M, Pratelli L, Pizzoferrato A, Porcu S, Gasbarrini G. Determinants of functional status in healthy Italian nonagenarians and centenarians: a comprehensive functional assessment by the instruments of geriatric practice. J Am Geriatr Soc 1997 Oct;45(10):1196-202.
  8. Wolkowitz OM, Reus VI, Keebler A, Nelson N, Friedland M, Brizendine L, Roberts E. Double-blind treatment of major depression with dehydroepiandrosterone. Am J Psychiatry 1999 Apr;156(4):646-9