Herbal Medicine and Supplement Use during Pregnancy: a cautionary note

Many women underestimate the potential negative impact of over-the-counter products. Herbal medicines are any plant derived product taken as a preventative or curative treatment. Dietary supplements are defined as products taken by mouth including vitamins, minerals and herbal or botanical products. Currently, the supplement industry is valued at over $133 Billion per year with a projected growth of 8.8% annually. Women of reproductive age make up a large portion of these consumers.

Think before you drink

Are you sure that your supplements are safe?

Estimates are that nearly half of women take dietary supplements during pregnancy and about 30% continue their use into the postpartum period while breastfeeding. Studies indicate that it is naïve to assume these products do not have a negative impact upon pregnancy. Yet it is only after concerning data has emerged that warnings for supplements are issued. Take for instance the recent recall of Periwinkle.


A supplement ingredient called vinpocetine, but also marked as periwinkle extract or vinca minor, has been advocated for many purposes including weight loss, boosting energy or improving memory—all common concerns of reproductive age women. Yet last week, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that based upon data from the National Institute of Health that this product has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage. Some other potential problematic supplements include the following:

  • Almond oil—used topically to treat stretch marks—may increase the risk of preterm labor
  • Chamomile—may increase the risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight
  • Raspberry leaf—often used to induce labor—is associated with an increased risk of c/section
  • Licorice root (glycerrhizin)—increased risk of preterm birth and blood pressure problems as well as possible developmental issues


In closing, if you’re pregnant or hoping to become pregnant it’s best to discuss any supplements that you choose to use with your OB/GYN provider.

Stay informed,


Robert Greene, MD, FACOG

Conceptions Reproductive Associates of Colorado

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