All You Need to Know About 5-HTP and Pregnancy


Bearing a child is one of the most beautiful moments any mother could experience. Pregnancy does come with some challenges, such as more limited mobility, body aches, and in particular, mood swings. After Googling a thing or two on how to reduce or overcome mood swings, you may have come across 5-HTP, which states to combat mood swings or depression from pregnancy by improving your mood.

It is always a smart move to know exactly what 5-HTP is before jumping to the conclusion of purchasing and consuming it. In this article, we’ve entailed all the fundamentals you need to know about 5-HTP, its safety for pregnant women, and the side effects that may come along with it.

What is 5-HTP?

5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan, has two sources. It can either be a dietary supplement formed from seeds of an African plant called Griffonia simpliciolia or your body that produces 5-HTP from tryptophan, an amino acid from the foods you eat.  5-HTP works by boosting your mood is by raising serotonin levels, a hormone that essentially stabilizes your mood, therefore reducing mood swings.

5-HTP is often sold as herbal supplements and is NOT approved by the FDA. Though they may potentially be effective in combating depression, 5-HTP should never be used as a substitute for prescribed medicines given by your local health care provider. If you are pregnant, 5-HTP is not a recommendable supplement to take as it may compromise your own safety, including the baby. Should you still choose to take 5-HTP, a professional consultation with your local doctor is highly recommended.

Is 5-HTP safe if you are pregnant?

In short, the answer is no. When it comes to taking any kind of supplement or medication that your doctor has not prescribed, it’s simply a huge red light. Doing so may harm the baby instead of helping it develop healthily.

Two well-established health institutions, including MedlinePlus and the University of Maryland Medical Center, have warned against taking 5-HTP during pregnancy. These supplements are classified as hazardous not just to pregnant women but also to children, those with liver disease, people with Down syndrome, and nursing mothers. One emphasized caution is taking 5-HTP with an antidepressant. A blend of these two medications causes serotonin syndrome, a condition that can be life-threatening.

So, for you and your baby’s sake, we strongly advise against taking 5-HTP supplements. If you are still having doubts, seek professional medical advice from your healthcare provider on whether 5-HTP supplements are safe for you or not.

Side effects of taking 5-HTP

Like most medications or supplements, there may be possible side effects that come along with taking 5-HTP. Since the FDA has not approved the supplement, there are only a few known side effects to this day. Some of these common and known side effects include:

  • Drowsiness or feeling loopy
  • Nauseousness
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of interest in sex

5-HTP may have ingredients one may be allergic to, which may result in the following allergic symptoms:

  • Swelling on lips, face, tongue, or throat
  • Hives
  • Having trouble breathing

And finally, if you experience any of the following symptoms, immediately contact your local health care provider:

  • Numbness
  • Rashes on skin
  • Bruising
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness

Please note that these are not all the side effects of taking 5-HTP, so should you experience any other symptom that is not included on the list, please consult with your local doctor. If you’d like, you can also report your symptom(s) to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

Drugs or supplements to stay away from

Using antidepressants while taking 5-HTP supplements is a huge no-no, as these may develop into serotonin syndrome (life-threatening). If you happen to be on any other drug medications such as painkillers, cough medicines, or treatment for Parkinson’s disease, ensure you let your doctor know as these may interact with 5-HTP. As mentioned, not all the side effects are known, so it’s best to play it safe.

In addition, you should also avoid other herbal supplements that cause drowsiness, such as California poppy, gotu kola, Jamaican dogwood, melatonin, valerian, yerba mansa, and more.

Supplements dos and don’ts during pregnancy

When you are pregnant, knowing and choosing what you intake is crucial in making sure that you and your baby stay safe and healthy throughout the time being. This is why taking any other supplements (whether it be dietary or herbal) and drugs that have not been approved by your health care provider should be avoided at all costs. This prevents the risk of harming your baby and any other complications that comes along with it.

However, there are some exceptions, especially when you have a nutrient deficiency. With your local doctor’s advice and approval, you may be allowed to take mineral supplements or prenatal multivitamin that packs in essential nutrients such as iron and folic acid to aid in the baby’s development. Fish oil supplements, particularly ones with an omega-3 fatty acid, may also be a good supplement to take, with your doctor’s formal approval, of course.

Pregnancy Depression

It is possible for people to experience depression during their pregnancy. If you do experience depression, even if it is at mild levels, you must inform your local doctor as soon as possible. This is extremely important, especially when it comes to the baby’s health. If you leave depression or antepartum depression untreated, this may increase the likeliness of health complications. These include premature birth, developmental issues, and lower-than-normal body weight at birth.

Thankfully, there are ways to treat depression, according to the level of depression experienced. Some ways to treat depression during pregnancy include having support groups, talking things out with fellow mothers who may be going through the same thing you are, and/or psychotherapy if you prefer more privacy. In more severe cases, medication may be a possible option to treat you safely, with health guidance approved by your doctor.

In mild cases of depression, you may be able to overcome depression during pregnancy by lifestyle changes such as incorporating some pregnant-friendly exercises and tweaks to your diet. As always, consulting with your doctor before making these changes is the best step towards safely overcoming depression and keeping both you and your precious baby safe and healthy throughout your 9 months together.

How to safely boost serotonin levels during pregnancy

Though you can’t find 5-HTP in any consumable foods, there are various available foods you can take that provide tryptophan. This amino acid naturally produces 5-HTP in your body. By eating foods that pack in enriched levels of tryptophan, it may be able to safely and healthily boost the serotonin levels in your body during pregnancy while mitigating the risks associated with taking herbal or dietary supplements.

Here are some foods that contain tryptophan that you may consider adding to your daily meal plan:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Milk
  • Turnip and collard greens
  • Pumpkin
  • Potatoes
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Cooked seaweed

In the case of seaweed, having them raw, especially when it comes to sushi, may pose a health risk for you and the baby as they may be contaminated with parasites. The best way to have them is to have them cooked, which may also mean temporarily avoiding sushi for 9 whole months. As the saying goes: “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Please note that not all bodies react the same to certain foods. Before you choose to consume or add any of these foods into your diet, we highly recommend you consult with your doctor about whether these foods are indeed safe and healthily suit you and your baby. This way, you can have that peace of mind, knowing you can overcome mood swings while ensuring your baby’s health is in check.

Closing thoughts

Maintaining a healthy body is the utmost priority for all mothers-to-be. One of the challenges that many pregnant women may face is combating depression or mood swings. 5-HTP is indeed a helpful chemical in your body to help boost your serotonin levels, which may therefore improve your mood swings. Though 5-HTP can be sourced by consuming it in the form of dietary or herbal supplements, these are not recommended, especially when you are pregnant. Doing so may pose health risks for both of you (allergic reactions, vomiting, etc.) and the baby (developmental issues, low birth weight, etc.).

There are safer ways to treat depression during pregnancy, including joining a support group, psychotherapy, and /or a lifestyle change. These include adding regular exercises or diet tweaks to improve your mood. A great and natural way to naturally produce 5-HTP and boost serotonin levels without the risks associated with 5-HTP supplements is by consuming foods that have tryptophan, such as chicken, turkey, potatoes, and so on.

Taking precautionary steps before making any changes to your lifestyle by consulting your local doctor is the best and safest way to go. This way, you can be one step closer to meeting your healthy and beautiful baby boy or girl.