by Miryam Williamson author and
1998, the Mayo Clinic issued a press release announcing that
had published a report saying they had found in samples of
bottles of 5-HTP the same contaminant that caused the amino acid
to be banned from sale in the U.S. in 1990. The press release formed
basis of articles in the Washington Post and New York Times.
An Associated Press version found its way into newspapers all over the
world. This article used to have a link to the Mayo Clinic press
but the clinic has removed that page so I can no longer send you there
to read it.
Sept. 5, 1998
is the letter I wrote to editors of the two newspapers, and some
and Post I wrote:
would be helpful to readers of such articles if the reporter would
the source of funding for studies such as the one reported by the Mayo
Clinic finding a contaminant in samples of [5-HTP].
competes in the marketplace -- with increasing success -- with Prozac
other serotonin-enhancing drugs. If a pharmaceutical company funded the
Mayo study, that would be highly significant information.
that letter I obtained a copy of the "report" on which the press
was based. Usually, people think of a scientists' report as
been accepted for publication after review by the writers' peers --
scientists. This report is actually a letter to the editor of the
Medicine (September 1998, page 983). No peer review was involved,
its accuracy is open to question.
report particularly suspect because L-tryptophan is manufactured by a
process, which was the source of the contamination in 1989. 5-HTP
is not manufactured by fermentation. I cannot imagine how the same
got into the 5-HTP unless it was placed there, inadvertently or on
to the editor says a woman was made ill by a contaminant in 5-HTP in
and that the contaminant they found this time was "between about 3% and
15%" of what was found at that time. That raises a question: why
did they wait seven years to write about it if they thought there was a
danger? Why do they write now when the amount found is so much less
at that time? I suspect the reason is that 5-HTP is growing in
cutting into sales of Prozac and other SSRIs.
no mention of having tested pharmaceutical grade 5-HTP, the kind you
from one of the compounding pharmacies listed on this web site.
conclusions are possible: Either they tested the pharmaceutical grade
found no contamination but chose not to mention that fact, or they
not to test it at all. In either case, one must wonder about the
scientific impartiality of the investigators.
a risk in taking 5-HTP? Of course there is. Nothing is
without risk: walking down a flight of stairs, eating a hamburger, or
a car involves some degree of risk. So does taking vitamins,
amino acids, herbs -- or prescription medicines. In any given
year, approximately 63,000 Americans die from taking prescription drugs
as their doctors prescribed them. That's about three times
number of people who die from intentional homicide. If anything
that number of people died, or even became ill, from taking nutritional
supplements, you can be sure the US government would ban them from the
are seeing the beginning of an organized attack on 5-HTP by the
companies whose profits are threatened by the success in treating
and depression of a substance they can't control or make money from. I
see this as the first step in an all-out attempt to get 5-HTP banned
over-the-counter sales, as L-tryptophan continues to be even though the
cause of the 1989 deaths is clearly known to be a contaminated product
sold by a single manufacturer -- who is, by the way, still doing
in the US.
suggest that you make up your own mind based on an analysis of risks
potential benefits. If you think there is less risk in taking a
drug or sleeping pill, then that's what you should do. Just don't let
science of this sort scare you into doing, or not doing, anything.
©1998, Miryam Ehrlich Williamson - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
March 14, 2001