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Deep Sleep

5-HTP may offer help to the restless, but at what price?

Remember the supplement tryptophan? You used to find it in health food stores. People used it primarily to aid them in getting in a good night’s sleep. Then in the ’80s it was pulled from shelves and banned in the United States because supplements from a Japanese manufacturer were found to be contaminated, resulting in a rare but painful disease called EMS, or eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome. Enter 5-HTP.

The substance 5-HTP is manufactured by the body from L-tryptophan. According to Timothy C. Birsail, M.D., in the October ’01 issue of Prevention, ‘5-HTP is only moderately effective as a sleep aid. A few older studies found that 200 to 600 milligrams of 5-HTP increased the amount of REM, or deep, sleep.’ He recommended 100 to 300 milligrams at bedtime. Stomach upset may be a side effect in some users.

The bad news: Researchers tested eight samples of 5-HTP and found Peak X in all eight. Peak X is considered a contaminant and has been linked to EMS-like symptoms, though to date there have been no reported cases of EMS caused by the supplement. Still, researchers have serious reservations about it. Many experts advise that it’s just not worth the risk. IM

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