Herbal Roulette: Taking Supplements While Pregnant

According to a recent study presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Manchester, England, 60% of woman may be risking the health of their babies by taking herbal remedies while pregnant. The study was authored by Lone Holst, a researcher in Norway, who studied 578 women giving birth in the UK. In the study population, 49% knew nothing about the safety risks of the products they were taking, and had taken the products on the advice of their family or friends, rather than their healthcare providers. In pregnant women over 40, 72% of women had used herbal preparations during their pregnancy.

The reasons for caution are many. Unlike prescription drugs, herbal preparations are not tested for safety and efficacy. Moreover, the active ingredients often vary from the amounts stated on the label. Manufacturers also fail to test the products to be certain that toxic contaminants are not present, and intentionally “spike” their products with pharmaceuticals to make the concoctions are more potent, without disclosing this to the consumer.

Even in the best of circumstances, it is difficult to test a single active ingredient for safety and efficacy. Diet supplements and herbal preparations are manufactured with a “kitchen sink” approach using the dangerous notion that a combination of ingredients are better for you, than a single, active ingredient. In fact, the interactions between these ingredients, and between the ingredients and other medications that the consumer may be taking, is not known and can be a set up for disaster and cause fetal harm.

Inadvertent toxicities can also occur. For example, warnings have been recently published for women to make certain that no vitamin A toxicity occurs in the fetus from the mother taking excessive doses of vitamin A when using muliple supplements. Vitamin A is a known teratogen capable of causing birth defects.

Some thoughts for you:

Don’t take diet supplements or herbal preparations during pregnancy unless you have discussed the product you are using with your health care provider.

If you do intend to take such products, investigate the company making the products by seeing if their products have any safety testing or the company uses “good manufacturing practices.” Check the product and company out by googling them, or researching them on websites offered by Consumer Labs, the FDA, or the FTC.

Make certain that your health care provider knows what you are taking and how much. Be certain to have this discussion if you are otherwise already on medications to avoid dangerous interactions.

Don’t assume that, because it is supposedly “all natural”, that it is safe for your unborn child.


Sources:

Presentation to the British Pharmaceutical Conference, September 7, 2008

Toxic Metals in Ayurvedic Supplements

Spiked Supplements

Vitamin A Toxcity