It’s turkey time: Is L-tryptophan safe during pregnancy?

Thanksgiving is almost here, and that means big plates of turkey, followed by turkey sandwiches and turkey soup and—well, lots of turkey. For many, that also means lots of napping. Turkey contains a chemical called L-tryptophan, which is involved in sleep regulation. It this chemical safe to consume for pregnant women?

Generally, yes. First off, turkey does contain tryptophan, but so does chicken, yogurt, eggs, fish, cheese and other meats. In fact, it has less tryptophan than chicken. It’s not the turkey that makes you sleepy during Thanksgiving. It’s eating lots and lots of turkey, plus potatoes, stuffing and pie, along with alcohol and watching too much football, that makes you sleepy. There isn’t enough tryptophan to present any health problems for pregnant women.

However, some women take L-tryptophan supplements to try to ease mood swings that come with premenstrual syndrome. The National Institutes of Health say that these supplements are “likely unsafe” in pregnancy, and that “Not enough is known about the safety of L-tryptophan during breast-feeding.” The NIH suggests women avoid using L-tryptophan supplements during pregnancy and breast-feeding. An extra slice of turkey on Thanksgiving, however, is perfectly fine.

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