5-HTP is a popular supplement with a variety of health benefits. It is easy to add it to your daily routine, especially products like Dr. Emil Nutrition’s 5-HTP Plus. This supplement is relatively new, having gone through a recent resurgence in popularity.
5-HTP is a safe supplement with few side effects. When you are pregnant, that will change. Food and supplements affect you differently when you are pregnant, and understanding how to reduce risk factors is an important part of having a healthy pregnancy and childbirth. In this article we will discuss:
- What 5-HTP is and why it is a popular supplement
- If 5-HTP is safe during pregnancy
- How supplements affect pregnancy
What is 5-HTP?
5-Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is a chemical the body makes from tryptophan. 5-HTP plays a role in the body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and behavior. 5-HTP is not in any of the foods we eat but it is a natural part of the body.
Its precursor, tryptophan, is found in certain proteins but eating extra foods with tryptophan does not have a significant impact on levels of 5-HTP in the body.
Why People Take it
People take 5-HTP supplements with the hope of boosting serotonin levels in the brain. Since serotonin helps regulate mood and behavior, 5-HTP may positively affect your mood, appetite, and sleep. These supplements may help treat a variety of conditions relating to low serotonin levels, including, but not limited to:
- Migraines and Other Headaches
One of the primary reasons individuals use 5-HTP is to improve mood and alleviate symptoms of depression. Serotonin is often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter because it contributes to feelings of happiness and well-being. Some research suggests that 5-HTP supplementation may enhance serotonin synthesis, leading to improved mood and reduced depressive symptoms. However, it's important to note that the effectiveness of 5-HTP as a standalone treatment for depression is still being investigated, and it may not be as effective as conventional antidepressant medications.
5-HTP is sometimes used to aid in the management of anxiety. Since serotonin is involved in regulating anxiety and stress responses, it is believed that increasing serotonin levels through 5-HTP supplementation may help reduce anxiety symptoms. However, further research is needed to fully understand its effectiveness and optimal dosage regarding the use of this supplement as an anxiety treatment.
Another popular use of 5-HTP is to support healthy sleep patterns. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. By increasing serotonin levels, 5-HTP may promote the production of melatonin, leading to improved sleep quality and duration. Some studies have demonstrated positive effects of 5-HTP on sleep, particularly in individuals with sleep disorders such as insomnia.
In addition to mood and sleep benefits, 5-HTP has been explored for its potential in managing other conditions such as fibromyalgia, migraines, and obesity. However, more research is needed to establish its efficacy and safety for these specific uses.
A 5-HTP supplement can provide relief for these conditions by increasing the body’s natural levels of serotonin. 5-HTP has fewer side effects than other medicines used to combat some of these conditions, but more research is needed to be certain that 5-HTP is effective. Preliminary research is promising, however the results are not conclusive.
The most common side effects of 5-HTP include nausea, dizziness, and diarrhea. It may also cause skin rashes, muscle pain or weakness, and even loss of interest in sex.
Besides the ones mentioned above, there are also other adverse side effects that may be associated with taking 5-HTP. For instance, in 1989 researchers found a contaminant called Peak X in tryptophan supplements. They traced an outbreak of eosinophilic myalgia syndrome. EMS is a disorder that causes inflammation in various parts of the body like muscles, skin, and lungs. EMS causes a buildup of white blood cells in the body that can cause additional complications.
The FDA pulled all tryptophan supplements off of the market. In rare cases, Peak X has shown up in certain 5-HTP supplements but in very low quantities. There are no reported cases of EMS developing from taking a 5-HTP supplement, but you should talk to your health care provider before adding this supplement to your daily routine.
Is 5-HTP Safe During Pregnancy?
There is a lot of research surrounding how to build healthy habits during pregnancy. In general, cutting out unnecessary parts of your routine, like 5-HTP supplements, other supplements, and certain foods, decreases the risk of complications during pregnancy.
Lack of Research
There is not enough research around 5-HTP and pregnancy to know for certain whether it is safe or unsafe to consume while pregnant. It is possibly unsafe to consume 5-HTP while pregnant. Although research is not conclusive, it is not worth taking the risk.
If you are taking 5-HTP to help with symptoms of depression, you must tell your doctor if you experience depression while pregnant. Depression during pregnancy can pose health risks to your baby during and after birth.
Support groups and therapy are safe treatment options for depression during pregnancy, and in severe cases, medication can be prescribed. If you are taking a 5-HTP supplement and are worried about removing it from your routine, contact your doctor and they can help you get a plan in place.
An Unnecessary Risk
There are many advisories and warnings about what parts of your lifestyle should change if you are pregnant. Pregnancy is very complicated, and it is crucial to minimize risk factors where you can.
Taking a 5-HTP supplement has its benefits, but we recommend you stop taking 5-HTP if you are pregnant. If you are worried about losing its benefits, talk to your doctor about other ways to safely and healthily manage the symptoms without taking 5-HTP.
Supplements and Pregnancy
5-HTP is not the only supplement that is unsafe during pregnancy. We do not recommend taking any supplement during pregnancy unless you have discussed it beforehand with your doctor.
There are still many unknowns when it comes to how supplements affect the body. As with 5-HTP, it is better to be safe than sorry when considering supplements.
Besides pregnancy, many doctors and other medical professionals have also advised that taking 5-HTP supplements while you’re breastfeeding can be possibly unsafe for you and your baby. Generally, breastfeeding may make you feel tired and sleepy due to several reasons, including poor sleep quality, being preoccupied with your baby, using prescription medication, anemia, and the release of hormones like prolactin and oxytocin.
Because of this, you might consider taking 5-HTP supplements to help treat insomnia and other related conditions. Unfortunately, consuming 5-HTP may not be good for breastfeeding mothers.
As such, it’s best to look for other ways to minimize the post-partum fatigue associated with breastfeeding. For example, you can ask someone to help you with the household chores. If your baby is old enough to eat healthy baby food, you can make their mealtime much easier with nutritious baby foods from Serenity Kids and other similar providers. Consequently, you can avoid taking 5-HTP just to treat the post-partum fatigue associated with breastfeeding.
Amino Acids in the Body
Amino acids and 5-HTP have significant implications for overall health, particularly during pregnancy, due to their roles in various physiological processes.
Amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of proteins and play essential roles in fetal development, maternal health, and overall pregnancy outcomes. They are involved in the synthesis of enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and structural components necessary for proper growth and development of the fetus. During pregnancy, the demand for amino acids increases to support the formation of new tissues and organs in the developing baby.
Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, assumes particular importance during pregnancy. It serves as a precursor for the synthesis of various vital molecules, including serotonin and 5-HTP. Tryptophan is required for the production of proteins in both the mother and the growing fetus. Adequate intake of tryptophan ensures proper protein synthesis and helps support the healthy development of the baby.
5-HTP, derived from tryptophan, plays a significant role in the production of serotonin—a neurotransmitter with diverse functions in the body. During pregnancy, serotonin is crucial for mood regulation, sleep patterns, appetite control, and overall well-being. It also participates in the development of the fetal nervous system, affecting important processes such as brain maturation.
It is important to include enough protein in your diet during pregnancy to provide enough amino acids to your growing baby. While your need for protein grows during pregnancy, the typical diet provides enough protein. This means taking 5-HTP may be unnecessary if you already get enough protein and amino acids from your typical diet plan.
It's important to note that any dietary or supplementation changes during pregnancy should be discussed with a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance on appropriate nutrient intake, including amino acids, and help ensure the well-being of both the mother and the developing baby. Following professional advice and maintaining a balanced diet are crucial for a healthy pregnancy.
Too Much is Dangerous
Amino acids are consumed every day, but the amount you consume from a healthy diet is much less than the amount found in an amino acid supplement like 5-HTP. If your doctor allows you to take 5-HTP during your pregnancy, make sure to know the right dosage and other instructions. This way, you can minimize the risk of overdose and other adverse side effects. Consuming an abnormally large amount of one amino acid can negatively affect you and your child during pregnancy. In case of an overdose, seek emergency medical attention immediately.