Posted by Claudia Grazioso on August 1, 2011
More and more often, people are turning to natural supplements to treat various illnesses. Frequently that’s a good thing — honey instead of over-the-counter cough syrup? I’m in. Fluids and bed rest instead of decongestants? Sounds good. And a lot of people are trying herbal supplements for things like depression and anxiety. Specifically, some people are moving away from traditional Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Zoloft and trying things like St. John’s Wort instead. Though many people report favorable results, it is important to note that 100 percent natural doesn’t always mean 100 percent safe, especially when taken during pregnancy.
St. John’s Wort, also known as Hypericum perforatum, has developed quite a following as an herbal antidepressant. It has also been used as an overall mood stabilizer and to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as well as general anxiety. People who are reluctant to try prescription drugs are more comfortable taking something they can buy at a health food store, reasoning that, well, it must be healthier. After all, it grows in nature as opposed to being concocted in a lab and, in the case of St. John’s Wort, was even used by the ancient Greeks. But when it comes to pregnancy and St. John’s Wort, there is still a lot that we don’t know… And what we do know isn’t great.
In some studies, mothers who take St. John’s Wort while pregnant had a higher rate of miscarriage than mothers who took regular antidepressants or no antidepressants at all. In animal studies, St. John’s Wort has been shown to increase uterine muscle tone, and it’s thought that this can bring on contractions and result in pre-term labor or miscarriage. Although the increase in miscarriage wasn’t extremely high, it is still cause for concern and most doctors feel that further study is warranted. At this time, St. John’s Wort is not recommended for pregnant women, or women who wish to become pregnant.
Some doctors are also concerned that since St. John’s Wort is a sold as a supplement, the proper dosage might be hard to determine, and many feel that it might be a more potent herb than originally thought. All of these concerns are especially heightened when considering taking an antidepressant supplement during pregnancy.
Finally, while more study is also needed on the safety of breastfeeding while taking St. John’s Wort, at this time most health care practitioners warn women not to mix the two. So far problems like increased cases of colic, lethargy and drowsiness have been noted in infants whose mothers took St. John’s Wort while breastfeeding. Most doctors feel that adequate testing still has not been done, and there could be complications and health risks we’re unaware of.
If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, don’t self-medicate with supplements. Talk to your doctor about a safe and viable plan for both you and your baby.