Are herbal supplements safe during pregnancy?

Should you take herbal supplements during pregnancy?
Should you take herbal supplements during pregnancy?

Pregnancy comes with discomforts – try hauling around a tiny person for 40 weeks and see if your back doesn’t hurt! And it doesn’t help that pregnancy limits the medications you can take for colds, flu, and allergies. But is it OK to treat your aches, pains, and sniffles with herbal supplements?

I say no for two reasons: they aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your symptoms may indicate a more serious condition.

FDA-regulated products vs. “natural” remedies  

Often, people choose herbal supplements thinking they are “natural” and therefore assumed to be safer than typical over-the-counter medications. Unfortunately, herbal supplements may do more harm than good for moms and their babies. Studies show up to 45 percent of pregnant women may be using herbal supplements during pregnancy, and it’s likely that most don’t realize the risks.

When products are regulated by the FDA, they are put through rigorous tests to ensure all ingredients are listed on their product labels. The FDA also makes sure that product labels don’t claim to include ingredients that aren’t really in their products.

Herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA like other medications. Often, their full list of ingredients is unclear. For example, an herbal supplement might contain Echinacea, but might also contain other ingredients not listed on the label that do nothing for health – and may even be harmful.

OxyEliete Pro supplement
OxyElite Pro supplement

And it’s not just during pregnancy that people should be wary of herbal supplements. In the past few years, we’ve seen unusual reports of liver failure in the general population. Unregulated dietary supplements have been pinpointed as the cause in some cases. In fact, the NFL Players Association tweeted a warning to players in 2013 about the risk of acute hepatitis and liver failure due to the weight loss supplement OxyElite Pro. The FDA pulled the Texas-made supplement from the market in late 2013.

This year, the New York State Attorney General’s office tested store brand herbal supplements from several major retailers. The tests revealed that 79 percent of the examined herbal supplements were found to include no DNA of the herbs they claimed to contain. Many also included ingredients that were not listed on their labels. Hidden ingredients may be harmful to people who have allergies and also could pose a risk to a pregnant mother and her baby.

Remember, it’s always OK to call your doctor if you’re unsure about taking a product. It’s our job to help you have the safest pregnancy possible.

Self-medicating with natural products during pregnancy

Another concern about taking herbal supplements during pregnancy is that self-medicating can cover up symptoms that may indicate a more serious problem. What seems like a typical headache could signal high blood pressure; lower back pain could indicate early labor.

And pregnant women may suffer more severe consequences of viral infections, so instead of reaching for an herbal supplement, consult your doctor to see how you should treat your illness.

We urge you not to downplay pain or symptoms or try to mask them with over-the-counter products – even products that claim to be natural or plant-based. The best way to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery is to keep an open dialogue between patient and obstetrician. When your doctor is in the loop about a patient’s physical condition, supplement use, and diet, he or she can more effectively make recommendations for care – including cold symptom and pain management.

For more information about nutrition and supplement needs during pregnancy, request an appointment here or call 214-645-6300.

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