Friday, August 31, 2001

Herbal remedy linked to birth defects

Pregnant women are being warned that birth defects could be linked to a commonly used herbal supplement.

American scientists have discovered that women taking one type of the supplement Ginkgo biloba had high levels of the toxin colchicine.

Colchicine is found naturally in a number of plants and is sometimes used to treat gout, but scientists said it does interfere with cell division and can prove fatal at very high doses.

Dr Howard Petty and his colleagues at Wayne State University, Detroit, studied routine tests of placental blood from 24 pregnant women and found five of them had "entirely unanticipated" levels.

Further studies showed that these women had been taking Ginkgo biloba, which is normally used to treat Alzheimer's and memory loss in older people.

Dr Petty said his team had only tested one type of Ginko biloba supplement, but declined to say which brand.

"It would be premature to generalise this to all manufacturers," but he said the problem could apply to other herbal medicines.

"Such supplements should be avoided by women who are pregnant or trying to conceive," said the report.

A spokeswoman for Britain's Royal College of Midwives said women must never assume that because remedies are "traditional" that they are necessarily safe.

Source BBC News


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