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Herbs and Supplements

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 systems.

Chinese herbs, 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.

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