January 28, 2010

Herbal Use Popular Amongst Pregnant Women

According to a new study, roughly 1 in 10 pregnant women in the U.S. expose their unborn baby to herbal products.

Researchers say that these findings are potentially concerning because the data on the safety of herbal use during pregnancy is lacking.  Also, the prevalence of the exposure was at its peak in the first 3 months of pregnancy, which is a critical period of development.

"If we assume that our study sample was representative of the 4.2 million births each year in the United States, our findings project that 9.4 percent, or potentially 395,000 U.S. births annually, will involve exposure to at least one herbal product during pregnancy," lead author Dr. Cheryl S. Broussard, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, told Reuters Health via email.

The study was based on data from 4,239 mothers in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study who delivered live born infants with no major birth defects from 1998 to 2004. 

There were 462 of the mothers studied that reported using herbal products in the 3 months before or at some point during pregnancy.  The prevalence of herbal use during pregnancy was highest during the first trimester.

The study did not include the 86 mothers whose only use of herbs was herbal teas, but the prevalence of herb exposure before or during pregnancy was 8.9 percent.

According to Reuters, the most commonly reported products used during early pregnancy were ginger, which helps ease morning sickness, and ephedra, an herbal stimulant that was banned in the U.S. in 2004 after reports linked it to heart attacks, strokes and at least 155 deaths.

The products that were most commonly used were herbal teas and chamomile, which is also supposed to ease morning sickness.

The report said that herb exposure was most common amongst women older than 30 with more than 12 years of education.

Iowa had the lowest rate of herbal used of the states studied, while Utah had the highest with 16.5 percent.

"The fact that use of herbal products was greatest during the first trimester raises concerns about fetal safety, because this is a critical period of fetal organ development," Broussard noted.

"Providers should inform patients that it would be prudent to err on the side of caution regarding use of herbal products just before and during pregnancy because little is known about their potential risks."


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