Pregnant women often worry about whether the foods they eat could trigger a miscarriage, and spicy foods flavored with cayenne pepper can be of particular concern. Fortunately for women with a craving for etouffee, kung pao chicken or any of the various types of curry flavored with this popular spice, there is no link between consuming foods made with cayenne and miscarriage risk.
The causes of miscarriage vary widely, and some seem to have no discernible cause at all. In most cases, miscarriage occurs as a result of a physical problem with the baby or mother, such as a birth defect or chromosomal abnormality in the fetus, a weak cervix or a maternal disease that makes her body unable to properly support the developing baby. In general, food and drink, including spices, such as cayenne pepper, do not affect whether a pregnancy will end in miscarriage. The only exceptions to this are alcohol and heavy caffeine use, which can increase the risk of miscarriage.
Native to South and Central America, cayenne pepper has a 9,000-year history as a flavoring for foods and as a traditional medicine. It is sometimes sold as a dietary supplement aimed at treating ailments, such as cluster headaches and psoriasis, and to control pain, and is also available in powdered or whole form as a food ingredient. Cayenne can be taken orally or used topically, especially for pain relief. The component called capsaicin is what gives cayenne peppers their distinctive spiciness, but the peppers also contain vitamins A and C and multiple phytochemicals that help boost health.
Cayenne in Pregnancy
While the safety of large doses of cayenne pepper during pregnancy has not been evaluated, it is not listed on the American Pregnancy Association's list of herbs to avoid. The organization lists topical use of cayenne pepper and an appropriate food use of cayenne pepper as safe during pregnancy. A list of herbs to avoid during pregnancy issued by Pregnancy Today puts cayenne pepper in the category of uterine stimulant, but also mentions that food doses of herbs and spices don't cause problems. To be on the safe side, you should avoid taking large-dose supplements of cayenne, but feel free to indulge in spicy meals as often as you like.
While consuming foods flavored with cayenne pepper won't cause a miscarriage, it could trigger heartburn during pregnancy, so you might want to avoid it for this reason. If you do find yourself craving a tasty Cajun dish or a spicy Sichuan meal, you might actually be giving your developing baby a little-known benefit. Because the flavor of cayenne and other spices makes its way into the amniotic fluid, this could familiarize your unborn baby with flavors you love, increasing the likelihood that your baby will enjoy those types of foods later in life, too.
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Cayenne; November 2008
- American Pregnancy Association; Natural Herbs & Vitamins during Pregnancy; November 2007
- BabyCenter; Is It Safe to Eat Really Spicy Foods During Pregnancy?; C. Archie and M. L. Polan
- "Pediatrics": Prenatal and Postnatal Flavor Learning By Human Infants; J.A. Menella, et al.; June 2001