Both supplements of L-tryptophan and 5-HTP have been used in the treatment of depression, but the use of 5-HTP may offer the advantage of bypassing the conversion of L-tryptophan into 5-HTP by the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase, which is the rate-limiting step in the synthesis of serotonin. Tryptophan hydroxylase can be inhibited by numerous factors, including stress, insulin resistance, vitamin B6 deficiency, and insufficient magnesium... Moreover, 5-HTP easily crosses the blood–brain barrier, and unlike L-tryptophan, does not require a transport molecule to enter the central nervous system (Green et al., 1980; Maes et al., 1990). Besides serotonin, other neurotransmitters and hormones, such as melatonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and beta-endorphin have also been shown to increase following oral administration of 5-HTP. All of these compounds are thought to be involved in the regulation of mood as well as sleep and may represent mechanistic pathways stimulated by 5-HTP administration.

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The use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for physical and mental problems has increased significantly in the US over the past two decades, and depression is one of the leading indications for the use of CAM. This article reviews some of the lesser-known natural products with potential psychiatric applications that are starting to emerge with some scientific and clinical evidence and may constitute a next wave of natural antidepressants: Rhodiola rosea, chromium, 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and inositol. Background information, efficacy data, proposed mechanisms of action, recommended doses, side effects, and precautions are reviewed. We found some encouraging data for the use of these natural products in specific populations of depressed patients. R. rosea is an adaptogen plant that can be especially helpful in treating asthenic or lethargic depression, and may be combined with conventional antidepressants to alleviate some of their common side effects. Chromium has a beneficial effect on eating-related atypical symptoms of depression, and may be a valuable agent in treating atypical depression and seasonal affective disorder. Inositol may be useful in the treatment of bipolar depression when combined with mood stabilizers. Evidence for the clinical efficacy of 5-HTP is also promising but still preliminary. Although more well-designed and larger controlled studies are needed before any substantive conclusions can be drawn, the available evidence is compelling and these natural products deserve further investigation as a possibly significant addition to the antidepressant armamentarium. Copyright © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.