Are herbal remedies safe to use for mental diseases during pregnancy?

More often than you think, women receive mental health care during pregnancy and first year after giving birth. This comprises 17% of women in Switzerland. Unfortunately, the medication prescribed and administered for this purpose may also enter the bloodstream of the foetus (with unknown effects). Although this foetal exposure affects more than 10% of pregnancies, abstention from drug therapy can have adverse effects.

Herbal remedies, like hop, valerian, lavender, California poppy and St. John’s wort could be an alternative treatment option. Data from testing on the use of these herbal medicines in pregnancy is limited or not available. It is also unknown if these remedies are safe to use during pregnancy.

A first step in investigating safety of herbal treatment is to test it in a test-tube environment, so we did this on cultured human cells. Our research was focused on the effects of these five specific herbal extracts on cell function, genetic material, development of cells, and on important metabolic cell functions like glucose consumption and lactate production.

The challenge now is how to translate these results into the situation in the human body, where these preparations are metabolized in intestine and liver and are cleared afterwards. Hence, after intake, allergic reactions and/or other pregnancy-related effects might occur, which are not ruled out by the test-tube experiments.

Collaboration between the University Hospital of Zürich (Obstetrics Division, Research Group Perinatal Pharmacology and Biochemistry, P. Simoes-Wüst) and the University of Basel (Division of Pharmaceutical Biology, M. Hamburger and O. Potterat) facilitates the use of a wide palette of experimental models. We have established and validated a platform technology, including protocols by which to analyse the cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of immunocompetent T and NK cells as well as the activity and functional parameters of human primary immunocompetent T and NK cells. This platform is ideal for fulfilling the objectives of the current project and assessing these important safety aspects.

(Source: Planta Med 2021. Deborah Spiess, Moritz Winker et al.;

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