A grateful mom, Besty, posted wonderful feedback on the 5-HTP and ADHD blog. She shared how 5-HTP benefits both her adopted daughters who had prenatal exposure to alcohol i.e. exposure to alcohol while in the womb. When using the supplement 5-HTP, an amino acid precursor to serotonin, both girls are happier, more focused and can now stay on task. Here is the feedback Besty shared on the blog:
After listening to Dr. Michael Murry’s interview on your Anxiety Summit, I decided to try 5-HTP on my 18-year-old daughter (a senior in high school) who was adopted at 5 years of age. She has always had some issues with focus, but she has never been medicated for this. She has had some learning struggles. She was exposed to alcohol in the womb, so some of her learning difficulty has been attributed to this.
She started 5-HTP in December and doesn’t ever want to miss a day on it. She says that she can better complete her assignments because it helps her to “stay on task”.
Even on days that she is not in school, she wants to take it, because it makes her feel happier.
Because she has done so well on it, her 23-year-old biological sister (also adopted) started on it. She was also exposed to alcohol while in the womb and has some learning struggles. She is in college. She also doesn’t want to miss a day, because she says that “it keeps her on her toes,” which she says means that it “keeps me focused,” when she is working on her school work.
I am so thankful that I learned about this therapy through your summit!
I thanked Besty for her kind words and for sharing this wonderful outcome both her daughters experienced. I love hearing stories like this and I am sharing this as a blog post so more folks are inspired and have hope.
Prenatal exposure to alcohol: the adverse effects, and impacts on serotonin and dopamine
This 2012 paper, Moderate prenatal alcohol exposure and serotonin genotype interact to alter CNS serotonin function in Rhesus monkey offspring, describes fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD):
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is associated with a range of adverse effects that can be observed in children prenatally exposed to alcohol.
- Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which includes growth retardation, craniofacial anomalies, CNS dysfunction, and cognitive and behavioral impairments, is the most serious of the FASD outcomes of prenatal alcohol exposure.
- Alcohol-related neuro-developmental disorder (ARND) is the term used to describe prenatally alcohol-exposed children with problems that are primarily neurobehavioral, including cognitive effects, hyperactivity, impulsivity, reduced attention span, and lack of inhibition.
It appears these young girls may fall into the ARND category with their reduced attention span and cognitive issues, and some possible neurobehavioral issues. I’m not, however, aware if a diagnosis was made. I’m also not aware if hyperactivity, impulsivity and lack of inhibition have been issues too.
This paper also discusses the research on prenatal alcohol exposure and deficiencies in the serotonergic neurotransmitter system, and the possibility that genetic factors might predispose someone to fetal alcohol effects during a sensitive period. These are primarily genes affecting serotonin production. The authors also report that prenatal exposure to alcohol also affects dopamine levels.
Addressing neurotransmitter imbalances with tryptophan, 5-HTP and tyrosine
We don’t often associate low serotonin with ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) and poor focus but the research and clinical outcomes like this one (and the other success story below with 5-HTP melts) is very promising.
If you are new to addressing neurotransmitter imbalances with targeted amino acids you may find these blogs helpful:
- Using tryptophan to address low serotonin eases worry, rumination, anxiety and negative self-talk. Keep in mind that some folks do better with tryptophan and some do better with 5-HTP.
- ADHD: 5-HTP melts have been a miracle for one of my adopted kids. I summarize the role of serotonin in ADHD, the interplay with dopamine and the use of oral tryptophan (a serotonin precursor similar to 5-HTP). And this is the blog post that Besty commented on.
- We typically consider the use of tyrosine to address low dopamine (one of the catecholamines), leading to better focus, good energy and better motivation so you are more likely to finish tasks. It also improves mood.
Questions I still have about the 5-HTP trials
I have these questions I posed to Betsy and hope to hear back as I feel these answers may be helpful as you navigate your trials with 5-HTP (for yourself or your loved ones):
- Which product are they using and how much is helping?
- Did your daughters make any other changes (diet or other supplements) at the same time?
- What have they tried over the years to help with focus and learning issues?
- Why did you initially decide to trial 5-HTP with your younger daughter?
- Did your younger daughter encourage her older sister to trial 5-HTP too?
- Did either daughter have any of the classic low serotonin symptoms too: worry-type of anxiety, ruminations, OCD, fears, PMS, irritability, insomnia, afternoon/evening cravings, anger issues, lack of confidence? And did the 5-HTP help with any of these symptoms too?
- Were some of the classic low serotonin symptoms a factor when it came to lack of focus? For example, did the worrying or feelings of fear or insomnia contribute to the inability to stay on task and keep focused?
I’ll report back once I get Besty’s feedback. But keep in mind that dosing/timing doesn’t really matter as the doses that work for her daughters are unique to their own biochemistry and needs.
Have you found that 5-HTP (or tryptophan) helps your child (who was exposed to alcohol in the womb) with focus and ADHD symptoms? Are they happier when using one of these serotonin precursors?
If you’re a practitioner working with children or adults who have had prenatal exposure to alcohol, have you had good results with 5-HTP or tryptophan?
Feel free to post your questions and feedback in the comments below.