Pregnancy can be a worrying time. Whether you’re a first time parent or not, the advice on what’s safe and what isn’t changes regularly as new research is performed, leaving some expectant parents confused about the best way to care for themselves and their new baby. Couple this with new and exciting research into medicinal herbs and plants, and the information can become contradictory, and sometimes factually incorrect, which could put you and your baby at risk.
This appears to be the case with adaptogens: plant-based substances which are thought to increase the body’s ability to cope with stressors, promote balance, and encourage optimal physiological function. Adaptogens are thought to work with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is central to the balancing of hormones and hormone receptors within the body, as well as how we respond to stressors and metabolise our energy. It is thought that adaptogens work with the HPA to increase the amounts of certain hormones when they are too low, or to restrict their creation if levels are too high, to encourage homeostasis.
There is currently very little research on the safety of adaptogens during pregnancy, so it is always wise to speak with a medical practitioner if you are considering using them. Below are some of the most common adaptogens, their properties and an indication of whether current research suggests they may have a negative impact during pregnancy.
Ashwagandha is believed to help reduce stress and the likelihood of stress-related weight gain, and has been used for centuries in traditional healing to relieve pain and inflammation. However, some studies have suggested that it might act as an abortifacient, thereby making miscarriage more likely, and should be entirely avoided during pregnancy. There are other studies which suggest that the use of ashwagandha in the weeks after birth can minimise the effects of postpartum depression and support lactation, although this likely warrants further study.
This bright yellow spice is believed to boost brain function and reduce the symptoms of depression. In small quantities, such as you might use in cooking, turmeric is believed to be safe during pregnancy. That means you can still enjoy its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Again, it is recommended that Lion’s Mane mushrooms are avoided during pregnancy as there hasn’t been enough research to determine whether it will have any negative effects. Lion’s Mane is believed to be able to reverse the effects of stress on our neurotransmitters, specifically those responsible for the production of dopamine and serotonin, and has a positive effect on overall brain function.
Cordyceps are believed to boost stamina, energy and reduce the physical impacts of stress on the body. They are widely used in traditional and herbal medicines for enhancing endurance and promoting healthy hormone function. There are currently no identified concerns regarding the use of cordyceps during pregnancy and lactation, and they are assumed to be safe to use with medical approval.
A source of antioxidants, helpful for stress relief and also believed to support liver function, chaga mushrooms are considered to be a powerful adaptogen. However, as with many adaptogenic mushrooms, the research into their effects of pregnancy is minimal and therefore, common advice is to avoid their use whilst pregnant.
Often used as an aid to relaxation, reishi mushroom is thought to improve immune function, as well as improve sleep and reduce stress. Whilst there have been no identified concerns for using reishi mushroom during pregnancy, there hasn’t been enough research into the safety of taking reishi during pregnancy, so it might be best to avoid it.
Maca has a history of being used during pregnancy and breastfeeding in Peru, where it is believed to support fertility and fetal health. However, it has to be said that again, there are very few scientific studies to determine the safety of maca throughout pregnancy.
There is a vast sum of research still to do in this area to determine the effects of specific adaptogens during pregnancy. For now, evidence suggests that their use during pregnancy is risky. Adaptogens are used to balance hormone levels within the body, but during pregnancy hormonal activity can be unpredictable, and an attempt to balance them may have a negative impact. Cortisol, for example, is one of the main hormones linked to stress and stress management, but levels of cortisol are increased in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy to aid in fetal lung and brain development, so adaptogens which have an effect on cortisol may have a negative impact on your child’s development.
However, whilst they might not be safe for use during pregnancy, many adaptogens are believed to be safe and beneficial for women in the weeks after birth. They can help reduce stress and the chances of postpartum depression, improve lactation and also promote general relaxation during your first few weeks parenting a newborn.
Always be sure to consult a doctor if you are considering using adaptogens during pregnancy, so that you can understand the risks from a medical perspective.