Healthy women often think dietary supplements can fill in the gaps when diets run amuck. But pregnancy changes the picture, making some natural remedies look as risky as an episode of Extreme Makeover. Even dieticians, physicians, and naturopaths can’t seem to agree on what’s safe and what isn’t. And when prominent herbalists disagree over the effects an herb has – which even happens with common ones like garlic – you know that supplementing safely is a hard concept to pin down.
While women throughout the world have taken herbal remedies for thousands of of years, it’s a relatively new idea in the West. If you’re tempted to try a more natural approach to your supplement regime, do your homework first. Natural doesn’t always mean safe, and some herbs like sassafras, goldenseal, and pennyroyal can seriously harm a developing baby.
Herbal teas appeal to moms-to-be because they’re often caffeine-free. But the temperature of the water, the amount of leaves and the length of time the brew steeps can make each cup vary dramatically in potency. Also, there is not enough researched information to consider them all safe, says Dr. Amos Grunebaum, MD, FACOG of the departments of obstetrics, gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Medical Director of Web MD. “Citrus peel, ginger, lemon balm, orange peel and rose hips are known to be safe, though,” he says. “Red raspberry and ginger teas are also excellent and accepted cures for morning sickness.”
One thing all sides do agree on is that the current American regulatory situation fails consumers completely. “Herbal products are considered dietary supplements and are not regulated by the FDA”, says Dr. Grunebaum. “Manufacturers of are not required to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of their products before they reach the market and, as a result, the composition may vary greatly from one batch to another.” Raw herbs – plants, leaves roots, stems and grasses – are also completely unregulated on the market. Levels of active ingredients in an herb, quality variance in a batch of herbs and where strains are grown in different regions and under what conditions are anyone’s guess.