As you transition into pregnancy, what you put into your body becomes extremely important. But equally as important is what not to put in your body. Because whatever we ingest (food-born illness, for example) is shared by the growing fetus. And that includes herbs.
While most of us think of herbs as remedies for various ailments, and even to help your fertility, once you become pregnant, if you're still on an herb regimen, it's crucial you consult with your doctor immediately. According to the NIH, "herbs may contain substances that can cause miscarriage, premature birth, uterine contractions, or injury to the fetus. Few studies have been done to measure the effects of various herbs on pregnant women or fetuses. "
As a result, we've put together a list of 5 herbs you may want to avoid during pregnancy below:
- Saw Palmetto. This small palm tree, native to the eastern U.S., has been used for chronic pelvic pain, bladder disorders, decreased sex drive, hair loss, hormone imbalances, and prostate cancer. The ripe fruit of saw palmetto is used in several forms, including ground and dried fruit or whole berries. It is available as liquid extracts, tablets, capsules, and as an infusion or a tea. When used orally, saw palmetto contributes to hormonal activity and during pregnancy, a disruption of hormonal balance could result in pregnancy complications.
- Ephedra. This is an evergreen shrub-like plant native to central Asia, and Mongolia; it also grows in the southwestern U.S. In China, people have used ephedra for centuries to alleviate colds, fever, flu, headaches, asthma, nasal congestion, and wheezing. Outside of short-term weight loss, ephedra’s effectiveness is weak, and one known side effect is increased blood sugar levels. During pregnancy, this could lead to gestational diabetes. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
- Echinacea. There are nine species of Echinacea, all of which are native to North America. Echinacea is used as a dietary supplement for the common cold and other infections with hopes to boost your immune system to more effectively fight the infection or symptoms associated with the infection. Many studies have been done on Echinacea and the common cold. The most common side effects of Echinacea are digestive tract symptoms, such as nausea or stomach pain. In addition, in very small amount, Echinacea purpura was noted to have ill effects on the sperm and egg – primarily a reduced ability of sperm to penetrate egg.
- Black Cohosh. Black cohosh is a plant native to North America. Currently, people use black cohosh as a dietary supplement for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. While research and data are extremely limited, black cohosh has also been used to alleviate menstrual cramps and to induce labor. As a result, unless your doctor recommends it and you’re near or late in delivering, it is suggested to avoid. Furthermore, black cohosh should not be confused with blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), which has different effects and is not generally recognized as safe. In one incident, black cohosh has sometimes been used with blue cohosh to stimulate labor, but this use was linked to severe adverse effects in at least one newborn.
- St. John’s Wort. Based on history, St. John’s wort has been used for centuries to treat mental disorders and nerve pain. Most recently, it is used as a folk or traditional remedy for depression, anxiety, and/or sleep disorders. It has also been noted to affect the efficacy of birth control pills. In addition to Echinacea purpura, St. John’s wort at very fractional doses has also been have ill effects on the sperm and egg. Another study evaluated human sperm and long term exposure to St. John’s wort, which demonstrated reduced sperm viability and potential mutations.
To be clear, the FDA urges pregnant women not to take any herbal products without talking to their health care provider first. Women are also urged to consult a trained and experienced herbalist (or other professional who is trained to work with herbs) if they want to take herbs during their pregnancy.