By Dee Negron
Many pregnant and nursing moms want to stay as far away from synthetic medications as possible. As a result, they look into using herbs and other natural remedies as an alternative. Herbs can be a wonderful alternative and many are very helpful. The problem arises when the assumption is made that just because herbs are natural, they are 100% safe. This simply isn’t true. Herbs can be very powerful, some are potentially dangerous, and all should be taken while under the supervision of your doctor or a certified herbalist.
One of the herbs nursing women ask about most frequently is ginseng. Many new mothers find themselves stressed out and fatigued. They start to look for anything that will help them get through the next harried day and sleepless night. Ginseng seems to be the answer. However, most forms of ginseng are unsafe for nursing mothers.
There are two different categories of Ginseng: those that are true, or Panax ginsengs, and those that are referred to as ginsengs simply because they produce the same adaptogenic effects as true ginsengs. The true Panax ginsengs are Chinese Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, and North American Ginseng. The two other most common ginsengs are Siberian Ginseng and Indian Ginseng. Both of these have no true relation to ginseng.
Ginsenosides are one of the sets of chemical compounds in Panax ginseng. These ginsenosides make up the active ingredients in true ginsengs. Ginsenosides have quite a few effects on the body. They alter blood flow to the brain, raise blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels, and stimulate the immune system. Ginseng also contains several steroid compounds that mimic the effects of anabolic steroids. One in particular, Panaxtriol, has very similar effects to estrogen use, which is why Panax ginsengs are unsafe for prolonged use in premenopausal women and shouldn’t be used at all during pregnancy.
There have also been reported pediatric cases of tachycardia and hypertension that appear to be in direct correlation with the breastfeeding mother’s use of Panax ginsengs. However, as with most herbs, no official studies or research has been done to determine the extent of any effects Panax ginsengs, transferred through human milk, might have on an infant. Logic would allow, though, that because Panax ginsengs contain such strong chemical compounds, it would not be wise to expose a baby’s developing system to the effects.
If a nursing mother still wants to take a Panax ginseng she should use extreme caution. Watch the baby closely. Signs of adverse side effects would be nervousness, shakiness, heightened anxiety, insomnia, skin rashes, and diarrhea. She should also inform her baby’s pediatrician that she is taking Panax ginseng so that baby’s heartbeat and blood pressure can be closely monitored. The mother should also be aware that Panax ginsengs could contribute to a low milk supply.
It is highly recommended, though, that if a mother feels she needs help fighting stress and fatigue she choose something other than Panax ginseng. Siberian ginseng has the same adaptogenic effects on stress levels and fatigue that any of the Panax ginsengs have. It does not, however, contain the ginsenosides or steroids that Panax ginsengs do and is safe for nursing mothers. Indian Ginseng is also an adaptogen, and though not quite as effective, is also safe for nursing mothers.