Can You Take 5-HTP While Pregnant?

5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is a chemical precursor to the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin. It is created by your body from tryptophan, an essential amino acid obtained from foods. You also can obtain 5-HTP from dietary supplements made from the seeds of the African tree Griffonia simplicifolia. Due to their function of raising serotonin levels, 5-HTP supplements sometimes are used for depression. If you're pregnant these supplements may not be safe for you to take. Talk to your doctor before taking any dietary supplements, including 5-HTP.

Pregnant woman holding her stomach (Image: luamduan/iStock/Getty Images)

5-HTP Contraindications

Both the University of Maryland Medical Center and MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, caution against taking 5-HTP during pregnancy, noting lack of evidence regarding 5-HTP's safety. In fact, MedlinePlus advises against taking 5-HTP regardless of whether you're pregnant. Other groups for whom taking 5-HTP supplements might be particularly hazardous include nursing mothers, children, people with liver disease and those with Down syndrome. Taking 5-HTP with an antidepressant medication also is not recommended, as this drug combination can result in a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome.

Dietary Supplements and Pregnancy

According to the March of Dimes, it is extremely important that you not take any dietary supplements, herbal preparations or other drugs that have not been approved by your doctor during pregnancy, as doing so might cause harm to your baby. Under a doctor's supervision, however, an expectant mother may safely take a prenatal multivitamin/mineral supplement providing iron, folic acid and other nutrients to prevent a nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. If your physician approves, you also might benefit from taking a quality fish oil supplement to meet omega-3 fatty acid needs during pregnancy.

Depression During Pregnancy

Although you shouldn't take 5-HTP for depression during pregnancy, it is critical that you tell your doctor if you experience depression while pregnant. Left untreated, depression during pregnancy, or antepartum depression, can pose health risks for the baby, including premature birth, low birth weight and developmental problems, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Treatment options for depression during pregnancy include support groups, psychotherapy and, in severe cases, medication. Milder cases of depression might be alleviated with exercise, acupuncture, or dietary changes, according to the APA.

Food Sources of Tryptophan

While 5-HTP isn't available in any foods, various foods provide tryptophan, the amino acid your body uses to make 5-HTP. Theoretically, eating foods that provide tryptophan might thus help raise serotonin levels and improve mood during pregnancy without the risks of taking a dietary supplement. Foods with tryptophan include turkey, chicken, milk, turnip and collard greens, potatoes, pumpkin, sunflower seeds and seaweed. Consuming seaweed in the form of uncooked sushi is not recommended, though, as raw seafood in sushi might contain parasites that could threaten the pregnancy.

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