Ginseng has been widely consumed for centuries and is known for its supposed health benefits. The herb is thought to help boost the immune system, fight off fatigue, and lower stress.
Ginseng teas and supplements might sound like the perfect remedy for a difficult pregnancy. But unfortunately, there’s little evidence to support these claims. More importantly, the safety of ginseng during pregnancy isn’t well-established. In fact, research suggests that ginseng may be unsafe to consume while pregnant.
Here’s a look at the risks of consuming ginseng during pregnancy and the professional recommendations for keeping you and your baby safe.
Types of ginseng
The term ginseng can refer to many different species. The most common types of ginseng found in stores are Asian ginseng and American ginseng.
Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) is native to China and Korea. It has been an important part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolis) grows mainly in North America, especially Canada.
The ginseng root is dried and used to make:
Note: Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) comes from a different botanical family than American and Asian ginseng and isn’t considered true ginseng.
Uses of ginseng
The root of ginseng contains active chemicals called ginsenosides. These are thought to be responsible for the herb’s medicinal properties.
Though the evidence is limited, ginseng has been shown to:
- lower blood sugar in people with diabetes
- prevent or minimize cold or flu symptoms
- stimulate the immune system
- improve menopausal symptoms
- treat erectile dysfunction
- reduce muscle injury after exercise
You may also hear that ginseng can:
- prevent dementia
- enhance memory and mental performance
- increase strength and stamina
- improve digestion
- treat cancer
However, little to no evidence currently exists to support these claims.
Ginseng does contain anti-inflammatory compounds called antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals in the body. They have been shown to protect against certain types of cancer and lower the risk of heart disease.
Safety of using ginseng during pregnancy
Ginseng is likely safe for most nonpregnant individuals when taken in the short term, but it can cause some side effects.
When taken by mouth, ginseng can cause the following side effects:
- trouble sleeping
- dry mouth
- vaginal bleeding
- changes in blood pressure
- rapid heartbeat
- allergic reactions
Ginseng also has the potential to interact with other drugs, such as those used for diabetes. If you’re taking other medications or supplements, be sure to check with your doctor before taking ginseng.
Warnings about ginseng during pregnancy
Researchers warn that women should be cautious about using ginseng in the early stages of pregnancy. The warning is largely based on a study in the journal Human Reproduction that showed that a compound in ginseng called ginsenoside Rb1 led to abnormalities in rat embryos. The study found that the higher the concentration of ginsenoside Rb1, the greater the risks. A study in mice reached a similar conclusion.
Research about the effects of ginseng in pregnant women is limited. It’s difficult to do a proper controlled study in humans when there’s safety and ethical concerns. Scientists often rely on studies in animals such as rats and mice to test the safety of drugs and herbal supplements. Studies in rodents don’t always translate directly to humans, but they can help alert doctors of potential problems.
A literature review published in the Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology looked at all the evidence for Panax ginseng. Experts found that it may be safe to consume during pregnancy. But based on the repeated evidence of safety concerns in mice and rats, the authors concluded that pregnant women should avoid the herb just in case, especially during the first trimester.
Is ginseng safe to take while breast-feeding?
The safety of ginseng isn’t clear in breast-feeding women, either. While the warning might change once more research is conducted, experts recommend avoiding ginseng until after you finish breast-feeding.
Other herbal teas
Like ginseng, most herbal supplements and teas haven’t been studied for safety in pregnant women. For this reason, it’s best to exercise caution. The United States Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate the safety and effectiveness of herbal teas and products. Certain herbs can have side effects for you and your baby.
When consumed in large amounts, some herbal teas may stimulate the uterus and cause a miscarriage. Be on the safe side and avoid herbal teas and remedies during your pregnancy, unless instructed by a doctor.
Be sure to read ingredient labels so you’re always aware of what you’re eating or drinking. Product names can be misleading. The following may not be safe for pregnant women:
- energy drinks
- other beverages containing herbs
Ginseng is not usually recommended as a safe herb to take while pregnant. Though the evidence against it isn’t conclusive, some research suggests that it can be harmful to your developing baby. In other words, it’s just not worth the risk.
Read ingredient labels to be aware of what’s in the foods you are eating while pregnant. Always ask your doctor before drinking any kind of herbal tea or taking any supplements during your pregnancy.
Are ginseng and other herbs dangerous for your baby-to-be?
Like many medicinal treatments in pregnancy, there are conflicting reports about the safety of ginseng in pregnancy. It’s difficult to ethically do the proper studies to truly evaluate safety of most drugs or herbal treatments in pregnancy. Ginseng has been shown to be potentially dangerous to the fetus, particularly in the first trimester. Although the studies showing this were not done in humans, they’re convincing enough to warn against its use, at least during the early part of the pregnancy.Michael Weber, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.