Saturday, December 08, 2007

Herbal Teas And Pregnancy

Is it safe to drink herbal teas while I'm pregnant? Many pregnant women carefully avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and unnecessary medications but think nothing of drinking cup after cup of herbal tea. If this sounds like you, take heed: Herbal teas can be harmful, especially if you drink too much of them. Most of the ingredients in herbal teas are safe, but many are not. Herbs are drugs and thus can be as potent as some medications. What's more, only a few of the herbs used for teas have been studied in pregnant women.
How can I tell which herbal teas are safe to drink during pregnancy? Although no U.S. regulations specifically address herbal teas, most of the herbs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers safe for food use are presumed safe for teas as well. For example, teas made from ginger, lime blossom, peppermint, roasted barley, rose hips, and thyme are probably safe to drink occasionally in small amounts while you're pregnant or nursing. However, drinking excessive amounts of any teas can cause health problems for you and your developing baby.
Which teas are not safe? Many of the herbs used for teas, when taken in large or medicinal amounts, can potentially stimulate the uterus and induce miscarriage. These include anise, catnip, chamomile, comfrey, ephedra (called ma huang in traditional Chinese medicine), European mistletoe, hibiscus, horehound, Labrador, lemongrass, licorice root, mugwort, pennyroyal, raspberry leaf, rosemary, sage, sassafras, stinging nettle leaf, vetiver, and yarrow.Although some midwives use raspberry leaf (also known as red raspberry leaf) to aid delivery, its effectiveness hasn't been proven. In any case, it should be used only near term and under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Avoid the rest of the herbs in this list during pregnancy and lactation.Note: You can still eat food that contains herbs like rosemary and sage, because the amounts used in food are generally much smaller than those used in tea — and not as potent (the brewing process for making tea concentrates the chemicals of the herbs).Among other reasons to avoid certain herbs used in teas:
• Coca (also known as mate de coca) contains small amounts of cocaine.
• Comfrey, kava root, skullcap, valerian, and woodruff may damage your liver.
• Lobelia contains nicotine.
Mate (or yerba mate) can contain as much caffeine as coffee.None of these herbs should be
taken while you're pregnant or nursing.
What about the herbal teas that are marketed for pregnant women? The same cautions apply to teas touted for pregnant women, which are sold in supermarkets and health food stores. While the makers of pregnancy teas promote their products as healthy for expectant moms, no clinical studies support these claims and the safety of the ingredients are not regulated.Pregnancy teas usually include ingredients such as alfalfa, fennel seed, lemongrass leaf, lemon verbena, nettle leaf, rosehips, and strawberry leaf. Not all of these are safe to take during pregnancy. For example, nettle leaf (also known as stinging nettle leaf), which stimulates the uterus and can cause miscarriage, and fennel (including the fruit, seed, and oil) should not be used in tea during pregnancy and lactation due to its potential estrogen-like effects.
How can I choose a safe herbal tea? If you enjoy herbal teas, check the packaging labels and steer clear of unsafe or unfamiliar ingredients. Or consider making your own concoction. Add honey, fruit juices, lemon rinds, cinnamon, or cloves to boiled water or decaffeinated black or green tea. Never make a tea from any plant unless you're 100 percent sure what it is and that you can safely take it while you're pregnant.

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Pictures by Lisa Warninger

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