If Pregnant, Be Cautious About Ginseng

Ginseng, one of the most frequently used herbal supplements in America, is often touted for its health-promoting qualities. It increases stamina, improves stress tolerance, helps treat mild diabetes, and wards off certain infections. But if you’re pregnant, you may be wise to avoid the beneficial herb, according to a new study published in the medical journal Human Reproduction (2003, vol. 18, no. 10).

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shatin found that ginseng (Panax ginseng) may be dangerous if taken in the early stages of pregnancy. In question is ginsenoside Rb1, a chemical in ginseng that could damage maturing fetuses. However, researchers harbor some doubts about the study’s outcome because tests were done on rats, making it difficult to know whether the results can be extrapolated to humans. Also, Louis Chan, PhD, lead author of the study, says a recent survey found that ginseng use is common—up to 10 percent of Asian women take it while pregnant—but no survey to date has confirmed a correlating number of fetal abnormalities. Until more is known about the effects of ginseng on pregnant women, the researchers of this study recommend women of reproductive age use the herb with caution.

—Christine Spehar