The use of medicinal
herbs and other dietary supplements are becoming increasing widespread
throughout Western society as health, energy and anti-aging aids.
Questions have been raised about the effectiveness, long term safety
and purity of these substances for the general adult population.
But the urgency of concern is multiplied when pregnancy, lactation
and early human development are on the line.
Just as there
are concerns and strict recommendations for the use of pharmaceutical
and over-the-counter drugs during pregnancy, there are critical
cautions advised on the use of over-the-counter dietary supplements.
The safety of medicinal herbs and dietary supplement for infants,
during pregnancy and while nursing is seldom established. They have
not been widely or scientifically tested in these groups, and their
effects on early human development are unknown. Subtle changes in
early cell division or rapid cellular growth could result in major
alterations to any one of a number of human cell types or organ
in particular, have raised consumer safety issues. Primarily grown
in China where agricultural standards are poor, herbs are suspicious
for pesticide and even heavy metal contamination. Even when agricultural
safety standards are assured, some medicinal herbs are known to
bind or compete with nutrients for absorption in the digestive tract.
Where this occurs, the mother's absorption of vitamins and/or minerals
can be significantly reduced, effecting her blood levels and fetal
supply. In other instances, herbs and dietary supplements are known
to mimic human biochemical activity. Changes in blood clotting ability
or maternal hormone activity are two concerns, among others.
The bottom line is
"in too many cases, we do not know" the full effect of dietary
supplements and medicinal herbs on fertility, pregnancy, embryonic or
fetal development. Breastfeeding infants may also be effected. What we
do know is there are potential dangers and problems. Usually, only severely
negative effects are observed and reported. But certainly, as with all
biochemically-active substances, subtle changes in cellular systems, growth
and development can occur with these chemicals.
Until each of
these supplements are thoroughly tested and found safe for use during
pregnancy and lactation, the most cautious approach is urged. Dietary
supplements, Chinese herbs and western medicinal herbs should be
avoided during active preparation for pregnancy, during pregnancy
and while breastfeeding an infant.