Natural Health Products And Premature Births

In Canada, some 50% of all pregnant women are using prescription medication. However, some of them are choosing to use natural health care products, instead. There is a public consensus that "natural" equals "safe," but a new study found that in some cases, the opposite seems to be true.

Quadruple Risk

Research conducted by Professor Anick Bérard of the Université de Montréal's Faculty of Pharmacy along with master's student Krystel Moussaly of the Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center showed that the risk of premature birth was multiplied by four when flaxseed oil was consumed during a woman's last two trimesters of pregnancy. Berard says that too many people don't realize that natural health products are chemical products and as a consequence, don't stop to consider the risks and benefits of these items in contrast to equivalent treatments available by prescription only.

The two researchers embarked on one of the largest studies ever performed by reviewing data on 3354 Quebec women. The first stage of the study determined that almost 10% of women during the years 1998-2003 had taken natural health care products at some point in their pregnancies. This was in contrast to the figures representing the number of women who had used these products before (15%) and after their pregnancies (14%). The increase in the numbers signifies that an approximate one third of the women ceased using natural health care products for the duration of their pregnancies.

Strong Correlation

The most popular natural products favored by the pregnant women were found to be chamomile (19%), green tea (17%), peppermint (12%), and flaxseed oil (12%). Bérard and Moussally then made an attempt to link the use of these products to premature births. Only one of these products was found to have a strong correlation to the risk of premature birth: flaxseed oil. Bérard commented, "In the general population, the average rate of premature births is 2 to 3 percent. But for women consuming flaxseed oil in their last two trimesters that number jumps up to 12 percent. It's an enormous risk."

The high risk of premature birth was found to correlate only to the consumption of the flaxseed oil, while those women who consumed the seeds themselves suffered no ill effects. While the researchers cautioned that more studies need to be done in order to verify these findings, Bérard stated that prudence is advisable and women should be cautious about the use of flaxseed oil during their pregnancies.

Some physicians now advise their pregnant patients not to consume flaxseed oil since omega-3 oil is available through other sources and because flax seed, like soy and many other vegetable sources, may contain phytoestrogens, plant-based estrogens which can effect overall hormone levels in pregnant women and lead to complications of pregnancy.


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