Concerns about side effects are a primary reason many people turn to alternative medicine over pharmaceutical approaches. Pregnant women, it turns out, are no different. Studies show that up to half of women use herbal remedies during pregnancy, and many report it is partly because they hesitate to use medications.
But herbal alternatives can have side effects of their own, and some may not live up to the claims about them. Recently, researchers set out to find the remedies that have proven benefits, and those whose claims were unsupported. In their report, published in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, they identified more than 500 studies of herbal remedies used during pregnancy. Many studies had design flaws and other problems and, ultimately, only 14 randomized, controlled trials were deemed suitable to include in the report.
The researchers found that ginger was the most thoroughly studied remedy, and the one found most consistently effective. It relieved morning sickness better than a placebo, and was as good as Dramamine at doing so.
But the evidence for other popular herbal options was lacking. Cranberry, often used against urinary tract infections, a common occurrence in pregnancy, was found ineffective. There was no evidence that garlic helps with preeclampsia, or that raspberry leaf shortened labor. And while castor oil appears to be free of side effects, it has no ability to induce labor.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Though herbal remedies are commonly used during pregnancy, most, with the exception of ginger, have not been shown to work.