5-HTP for Children
Unlike conventional medications, there are not a lot of studies done to access the efficacy and safety of 5 HTP. Therefore, some experts are reluctant to recommend its use to children. However, quite a number of clinical studies done on 5 HTP have involved children. Read on to find out how well tolerated 5 HTP is for kids.
by Brad Chase
5 HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid extracted from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia. Although it has no dietary sources, 5 HTP is synthesized in humans from another amino acid, L-tryptophan.
5 HTP is converted to serotonin in the liver and tissues of the central nervous system.
Most of the health benefits of 5 HTP are due to its ability to raise serotonin levels in the brain. However, more serotonin is released from the enterochromaffin cells of the intestine.
The 5 HTP included in supplements is easily taken up into the central nervous system by crossing the blood-brain barrier. The conversion of 5 HTP to serotonin in the brain occurs in a single step and the reaction is catalyzed by the enzyme, 5 HTP decarboxylase and vitamin B6.
5 HTP is sold as a dietary supplement in most countries. Each gelatin or gelatin-free capsule of 5 HTP usually contains 50 mg or 100 mg of the active ingredient.
5 HTP supplements are used to treat medical conditions that can be improved by raising serotonin levels.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter released in the brain. It helps control mood, appetite and sleep. It also contributes to memory and learning.
Therefore, it acts through serotonin as an antidepressant, appetite suppressant and sleep aid. More specifically, 5 HTP is used to treat obesity and achieve weight loss, to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Other uses of 5 HTP supplements include the treatment of fibromyalgia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Most of the common side effects of 5 HTP are gastrointestinal disturbances. These include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and gas.
These side effects are mostly due to the effect of serotonin released in the gastrointestinal tract. Because some 5 HTP is quickly used to make serotonin outside the central nervous system, the severity of these symptoms depend on the dose of the supplement taken.
In high doses, 5 HTP may cause side effects relating to serotonin toxicity in the brain. The most common symptoms of those central symptoms are headache and mania.
Some people may be allergic to 5 HTP. Symptoms of allergy may include rash, itchiness and shortness of breath.
Although 5 HTP is well tolerated, it has been known to cause eosinophilic myalgia syndrome (EMS) although in rare cases. Therefore, care should be taken when giving 5 HTP supplements to children.
In addition, 5 HTP should not be given to children with liver disease. This is because the liver is responsible for detoxifying serotonin in the body, and any liver impairment will prolong the time serotonin acts in the body thereby increasing its side effects.
Children with Down syndrome should also avoid taking 5 HTP. This is because there are reports of seizures happening following 5 HTP supplementation. In one study, 15% of Down syndrome patient who took 5 HTP experienced seizures.
Some experts advise that 5 HTP should not be given to children given that there is lack of safety studies done in this age group.
However, there are numerous recorded cases of 5 HTP supplementation for children with and without the physicians’ prescriptions. Furthermore, there are many clinical studies in which 5 HTP supplements were given to children in the treatment of select diseases.
Therefore, it is right to assume 5 HTP supplements are safe for children and adolescents.
In one study published in the Archive of General Psychiatry in 1997, 0.8 mg per kg of 5 HTP was given to 90 prepubertal children (31 of which had major depressive disorder, 36 with high risks of developing the disorder and 23 normal control with low risk of developing the disorder).
The 5 HTP given to the children was delivered by infusion.
Besides showing that children with high risks of major depressive disorder showed same responses as those with the disorder, the study noted that 5 HTP was well tolerated and useful for treating depression in children.
In another study published in the journal, Drugs Under Experimental and Clinical Research in 1987, 48 children in elementary and junior high schools received 5 HTP in a double-blind, cross-over trial to determine the efficacy of 5 HTP in the treatment of headache caused by sleep disorder.
A 2004 study published in European Journal of Pediatrics, 45 children between the ages of 3 and 11 received 2 mg per kg of 5 HTP per day for 1 month.
This study was accessing the efficacy of 5 HTP in the elimination of night terror in children.
The result showed that in 93.5% of the children, 5 HTP eliminated night terror during supplementation. After 6 months, the follow-up data showed that the 1-month 5 HTP supplementation was able to maintain 83.9% of the children without night terrors.
The studies outlined above are only a representation of the studies done on 5 HTP supplementation in children. These studies demonstrate that 5 HTP can be safely given to children even to treat delicate disorders like depression and sleep disorders.
However, children doses of 5 HTP should be lower than adult doses. The regular adult dose for 5 HTP is 50 – 400 mg daily. Doses above 100 mg should not be taken at once but should be divided up and taken up to 3 times daily.
5 HTP may interact with other drugs being taken especially in children who are being treated for other medical conditions including depression, anxiety disorders, ADHD and migraine.
The list of drugs that may cause serious side effects with 5 HTP supplements include:
Besides carbidopa, the other drugs on the list above also act at serotonin receptors in the body. They mostly act by increasing the action of serotonin.
Therefore, since 5 HTP increases the level of serotonin, the combination of the supplement with any of these drugs can cause a type of serotonin toxicity called serotonin syndrome.
Serotonin syndrome can cause mild symptoms such as hot flashes, headache, sweating and shivering. These symptoms usually resolve 24 hours after withdrawal 5 HTP and the serotonin drug causing the reaction.
However, the serious symptoms of serotonin syndrome can be potentially fatal and require urgent medical attention. These symptoms include hypertension, hyperthermia, hyperactivity, hallucination, mania, tremors and even coma.
Therefore, as much as possible, the use of 5 HTP should be avoided in children also placed on serotonin drugs. Since the list of drugs that affect the serotonin pathway is long and exhaustive, 5 HTP supplementation should only be started after consulting a physician.
Even then, early signs of serotonin toxicity should be looked out for, and 5 HTP supplementation should be stopped if symptoms besides gastrointestinal disturbance presents in children.
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