What risks do herbal products pose to the Australian community?

Adam Morton
Med J Aust 2017; 207 (3): . || doi: 10.5694/mja17.00153
Published online: 7 August 2017

I thank Byard and colleagues1 for their review of risks of herbal products to the Australian community, which highlighted the high rates of use in younger women with a tertiary education and in patients with chronic diseases or comorbidities. Refugee and migrant women represent a group with potentially high rates of use of herbal products as well as other traditional practices, particularly during pregnancy. Ethnobotany surveys found that 90% of women in eastern Ivory Coast and 80% of women in Mali used medicinal plants during pregnancy.2 A prospective cohort study found that 45% of women in China consumed Chinese herbal medicine during pregnancy and the postpartum period.3 The ingestion of soil, clay or chalk has been observed in up to 84% of pregnant women in African countries, and may be complicated by hypokalaemic paralysis, iron and zinc deficiency, lead poisoning, intestinal obstruction and parasitic infestation.4,5

  • Mater Health Services, Brisbane, QLD


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

  • 1. Byard R, Musgrave I, Maker G, Bunce M. What risks do herbal products pose to the Australian community? Med J Aust 2017; 206: 86-90. <MJA full text>
  • 2. Fawcett EJ, Fawcett JM, Mazmanian D. A meta-analysis of the worldwide prevalence of pica during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 2016; 133: 277-283.
  • 3. Tang L, Lee AH, Binns CW, et al. Consumption of Chinese herbal medicines during pregnancy and postpartum: a prospective cohort study in China. Midwifery 2016; 34: 205-210.
  • 4. Malan DF, Neuba DF. Traditional practices and medicinal plants use during pregnancy by Anyi-Ndenye women (Eastern Côte d’Ivoire). Afr J Reprod Health 2011; 15: 85-93.
  • 5. Nergard CS, Ho TP, Diallo D, et al. Attitudes and use of medicinal plants during pregnancy among women at health care centers in three regions of Mali, West-Africa. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed 2015; 11: 73.
  • 6. Abrahams PW, Davies TC, Solomon AO, et al. Human geophagia, calabash chalk and undongo: mineral element nutritional implications. PloS One 2013; 8: e53304.
  • 7. Hunter-Adams J. Interpreting habits in a new place: migrants’ descriptions of geophagia during pregnancy. Appetite 2016; 105: 557-561.
  • 8. Morton A, Menon A, O’Moore-Sullivan T. A young African woman with hyperglycaemia. Aust Fam Physician 2016; 45: 206-207.


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