Korean ginseng, also known as Panax ginseng, Chinese ginseng or Asian ginseng, has been used for hundreds of years as a component of traditional Eastern medicine. Although used historically to treat conditions and discomforts associated with pregnancy, Korean ginseng's safety for expectant mothers is questionable. Pregnant women should avoid Korean ginseng teas and supplements unless otherwise directed by a qualified practitioner.
Use for Pregnancy
According to tradition, Korean ginseng is beneficial to pregnant mothers. The National Institutes of Health notes that healers have historically turned to Korean ginseng as a treatment for complications of pregnancy. It remains a popular choice among naturopaths seeking holistic solutions to disorders affecting pregnant mothers. However, the NIH does not cite any evidence suggesting that it is safe or effective for these purposes. Pregnancy complications should always be addressed by a qualified obstetrician or midwife.
Many discomforts are common, but not exclusive, to pregnant women. These include cognitive problems, attention deficit, fatigue, mood disturbances and decreased sex drive. These are a normal, natural response to the hormonal and emotional effects of pregnancy, but many women seek solutions to eliminate these disruptions. The UMMC notes that Korean ginseng may solve these problems in women who are not pregnant, but specifically advises against the use of Korean ginseng in pregnant and nursing mothers.
Risk of Birth Defects
In theory, Korean ginseng may increase the risk of birth defects. Because of this, the NIH strongly urges expectant parents to avoid the herb, labeling it as "possibly unsafe." Evidence of birth defects arises from small-scale labratory studies using rodent fetuses. When exposed to massive amounts of compounds in ginseng, the fetuses developed birth defects. However, a 2008 report in the "Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology" noted that these animals were given much larger doses of ginseng compounds than a human could realistically ingest.
The risk of bleeding is another serious concern regarding the use of Korean ginseng during pregnancy. The NIH regards Korean ginseng as an anticoagulant, noting that it can prevent blood from clotting normally. This could be a serious problem during or after childbirth, when excessive bleeding could threaten the life of the mother or baby. The UMMC expresses concern about Korean ginseng leading to vaginal bleeding, which is a significant problem when it occurs during pregnancy.