Researchers from Atlanta, Georgia and Boston report from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study.

First, the details.

  • 4239 American women who delivered infants without major birth defects from 1998–2004 were surveyed.

And, the results.

  • Prevalence of herbal use 3 months before or during pregnancy was 11%.
  • During pregnancy, prevalence was 9.4% and was highest in the first trimester.
  • Higher prevalence was associated with age greater than 30 years and education greater than 12 years.
  • The most common herbals early in pregnancy
    • Ginger
    • Ephedra
  • Throughout pregnancy
    • Teas
    • Chamomile

The bottom line?

Potentially 395,000 US births annually involve exposure to herbal products, concluded the authors.

So, what do we know about these herbals and the risk of birth defects?


  • Does not appear to increase the rates of major malformations.
  • It has a mild effect in the treatment of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.

But others have reported an increased risk of serious complications associated with taking ephedra.

  • Use of products containing ephedra showed an increased risk of with anencephaly — a lethal birth defect in which most of the brain and parts of the skull are missing.

1/18/10 21:24 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.