The root of the Panax ginseng plant, also known as Chinese, Korean or Asian ginseng, has a long-standing history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. This medicinal herb has been historically classified as an adaptogen, or a compound that enables the body to adapt to stress. Although used occasionally to treat pregnancy complications, Panax ginseng is not recommended for use by pregnant women.
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Historically, midwives and herbalists practicing TCM have recommended Panax ginseng root to treat several common complications associated with pregnancy. The National Institutes of Health acknowledges Panax ginseng root's enduring popularity as a treatment for pregnancy-related disorders and discomforts. Although there is no solid evidence supporting its use, midwives may recommend Panax ginseng for specific disorders related to gestation, childbirth and postpartum recovery.
Some expectant mothers might use Panax ginseng root to self-treat pregnancy-related discomforts. For example, fatigue, insomnia, sexual dysfunction and mental problems are common complaints associated with the hormonal and emotional challenges related to pregnancy. However, while the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that Panax ginseng root may ease these disruptions, it does not say it should be used by expectant mothers.
Both the National Institutes of Health and University of Maryland Medical Center recommend against the use of Panax ginseng during any stage of pregnancy. The NIH cites limited evidence that it can cause birth defects in developing fetuses. Additionally, the UMMC notes a risk of vaginal or uterine bleeding caused by Asian ginseng's anticoagulant, or blood-thinning effects. Because of these potential risks, most practitioners recommend avoiding Panax ginseng during all stages of pregnancy.
More studies are needed to prove whether ginseng is actually a hazard to developing fetuses. "The Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology" conducted a systematic review in 2008, concluding that there is no tangible evidence of birth defects associated with Panax ginseng. In laboratory tests, animal embryos did show signs of birth defects after mass exposure to isolated ginseng compounds, but the journal noted that doses this high would be impossible for a human to achieve through normal supplement consumption. Until scientists know how significant this risk is, it is best to use ginseng during pregnancy only under a qualified practitioner's guidance.