A Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, Dr. Morenikeji Olaniyi, has warned pregnant women against indiscriminate use of unevaluated herbal medications, noting that they contain dangerous ingredients that can lead to kidney failure, obstructed labour and neonatal death.
Olaniyi, who is a fertility specialist at the Bridge Clinic Fertility Centre, said though medications are made from herbs, consuming the raw, undiluted preparations can harm the foetus and impede the growth of a baby, even after delivery.
She noted that it is easy for harmful chemicals from such herbs to cross the placenta through the umbilical cord into the baby’s bloodstream.
Olaniyi spoke against the backdrop of a report titled, ‘Herbal Medicine Use During Pregnancy and Untoward Effects,’ by Tariku Laelago, published in IntechOpen, an open access peer-reviewed journal.
The report says that untoward effects of using herbal medicine in pregnancy include heartburn, premature labour, miscarriage, increased blood flow and allergic reactions.
The report noted that different studies revealed that using herbal medicine during the first 12 weeks and the last 12 weeks of gestation is dangerous for the foetus.
“Pregnant women should consult doctors or pharmacists before using any herbal medicines. The untoward effects of using herbal medicines during pregnancy need further investigation for many herbs.
“Thus, researches, especially a clinical trial study, should be conducted to identify untoward effects of herbal medicine use during pregnancy,” it advised.
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH Healthwise, the consultant said most people suffer from kidney failure due to the indiscriminate use of herbal medications.
Olaniyi said generally, consuming herbs is inimical to the health of everyone, irrespective of age and gender. “It is not healthy for anybody. The problem is that naturally, in this clime, people take everything in excess.
“When a pregnant woman is given herbs, the baby is going to be taking part of it. It’s not healthy because it can also affect the baby’s kidneys.”
She said that because some people escape the adverse effects of taking herbs doesn’t mean they can’t cause harm.
“You see a pregnant woman in labour being administered herbal concoction. At the end of the day, they come up with obstructed labour and are moved from traditional birthing homes to a government approved health facility sometimes when it is already too late.
“You even see some of them presenting with dead babies, having gone through labour for hours, and we might eventually carry out a caesarean section to bring out the dead baby. Naturally, herbs are not healthy for anybody,” she maintained.
The consultant noted that there are recommended medications for pregnant women, which are usually supplements.
“Supplements prescribed or given by a physician, alongside a good, normal diet, is what every pregnant woman requires. That is why, when a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding, there are drugs they are not given or advised against taking,” she said.
According to a report by Oman Medical Journal, published in the US National Library of Medicine, herbal medicines, including herbal preparations and finished herbal products, contain active ingredient parts of plants or other plant materials perceived to have therapeutic benefits.
It noted that about 80 percent of the population worldwide use a variety of traditional medicines, including herbal medicines, for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of illnesses, and for the improvement of general well-being.
The report explained that pregnancy is a condition associated with immense physiological alterations resulting in many pregnancy- related problems that include nausea, vomiting, constipation, and heartburn, adding they usually result in pregnant women self-medicating with herbs.
It, however, warned that such medications should be used with extreme caution.
It stated, “Herbal products are preferred over prescription medications due to the belief that herbs are safer for the fetus than modern medicine. Despite the fact that evidence on the safety profile of herbal products is inadequate to substantiate their use in pregnancy, it is increasingly used by expectant mothers.
“The prevalence of herbal medicine utilisation in pregnancy ranges between seven and 55 per cent in different geographical, social and cultural settings, and ethnic groups.
“Medications, herbs, and supplements should be used with extreme caution during pregnancy as they can result in deleterious outcomes for the mother and fetus.
“The use of herbal medicines in pregnancy constitutes a major challenge for health care providers as most of them are not made aware of their use.
“Injudicious use of herbs or interaction of these herbs with prescribed medications can have unknown effects in pregnancy or cause serious complications in the foetus”