When you are pregnant you have to be careful about what kinds of medications and herbal supplements you take. Even compounds that are normally safe can potentially be dangerous for your baby and increase the risk of pregnancy complications or birth defects. Early research on the safety of echinacea suggests that it does not pose any risks for pregnant women, but more work needs to be done to unquivocally say that it is safe.
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Echinacea is an herbal supplement derived from the stems, leaves and roots of the Echinacea purpura plant, also known as purple coneflower. Products made from this plant contain a number of potentially biologically active ingredients, including polyacytelene flavonoids, alkamides, glycoproteins and derivatice of caffeic acid, the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists states. The types of concentrations of these different substances varies widely between different echinacea products.
Echinacea is commonly used as a booster for the immune system. The stress that pregnancy puts on the body can drain its reserves and make you more prone to minor illnesses, such as colds and other upper respiratory infections. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, echinacea contains substances with antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal activity, which would help you fight off infections, though the effectiveness of echinacea for treating infections is still under debate.
Safety for Pregnancy
To date, the only major study that has been done testing the safety of echinacea for pregnant women was published in a 2000 issue of "Archives of Internal Medicine." This study examined the effects of echinacea on 206 pregnant women, including 112 who took the herb during the first trimester of pregnancy. Women taking echinacea did not have an increased risk of having a miscarriage or fetuses with chromosomal abnormalities or birth defects compared to women who did not take echinacea.
Limitations of the Study
Although this study suggests that echinacea is safe for pregnant women to use, it is the only study of its kind, which means its results have not been duplicated. As mentioned before, different echinacea preparations may vary significantly in the composition and concentration of the compounds that they contain. This means that although echinacea may be safe for pregnant women, there is not enough data to definitively conclude that there are no risks associated with its use. If you are pregnant and want to take echinacea, talk to your doctor first.