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Do No Harm: Avoidance of Herbal Medicines During Pregnancy

Marcus, Donald M. MD*; Snodgrass, Wayne R. MD, PhD†

Current Commentary

Herbal medicines are regarded by the public and some health care providers as gentle and safe, but there is no scientific basis for that belief. The active ingredients of plant extracts are chemicals that are similar to those in purified medications, and they have the same potential to cause serious adverse effects. This commentary summarizes recent data on the poor quality control and toxicity of herbal remedies and on the pharmacologic activities of ginger, which is used for treatment of morning sickness. There are no rigorous scientific studies of the safety of dietary supplements during pregnancy, and the Teratology Society has stated that it should not be assumed that they are safe for the embryo or fetus. Obstetricians should advise women not to expose their fetuses to the risks of herbal medicines.

There are no rigorous studies of the safety of herbal remedies; it should not be assumed that they are safe for the mother or fetus.

*Departments of Medicine and Immunology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; and †Departments of Pediatrics and Pharmacology-Toxicology, Texas Poison Center, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas.

Address reprint requests to: Donald M. Marcus, Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, 1 Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX 77030; e-mail: dmarcus@bcm.tmc.edu.

Received November 22, 2004. Received in revised form January 24, 2005. Accepted January 26, 2005.

© 2005 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists