7 Ways to Boost Your Immune System During Pregnancy

Plus, 6 tips to kick out colds and ‘flus faster

During pregnancy, our immune system becomes both more and less active. More active, as our bodies are alert to anything that might endanger our growing offspring (like strong smells, protecting us from eating food that is “expired” or otherwise unsafe). And less active, as our bodies must also nurture and host a being with different genetic markers than our own without reading it as foreign. The hormones associated with pregnancy, estrogen, progesterone, and hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin) are all known to impact our immune system, although the exact mix of which immune reactions are turned up, and which are turned down has yet to be fully pinned down. There are various hormone receptors in our immune cells and tissues, allowing for a complex interplay between the hormones of pregnancy and the functioning of our immune system (Schumacher et al 2014). My suspicion is that – like most health factors – it depends on the person how it plays out. This study on the ‘flu explains why pregnant folks may have more severe symptoms, finding an overall enhanced immune response to Influenza A viruses (Kay et al 2014).

boost-your-immune-system-during-pregnancy

What does this mean for your pregnancy? Some people find they sail through pregnancy with no trouble from common colds etc. Some of us, though, are blessed with the sort of immune system in pregnancy resulting in more viral infections, and more severe symptoms with these infections. If that wasn’t bad enough, there is an intimidating list of things you aren’t supposed to ingest during pregnancy. So, even if you normally have a great routine for kicking out germs fast, during pregnancy it may be off limits. What’s a gestating person to do??

 

7 Ways to Boost Your Immune System During Pregnancy

 

Get more sleep.

You are tired, right? Growing a person is hard work, physiologically. It is also a time of big emotional transition, whether you are going from one kid to two, and worrying about spreading yourself even thinner, or you are on the brink of becoming a parent for the first time and letting go of aspects of your old self. So, sleep more. Go to bed earlier. Take naps if you can.

Eat nourishing food.

Minimize sugar, as it suppresses your immune system (I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but… best to know and make an informed choice). Eat whole foods, eat lots of deeply coloured veggies, eat clean protein and good fats. If you are struggling with nausea, make the best choices you can tolerate, ensure they include protein, and eat more often. Yes, I know you just said you are nauseous. But, eat. One of the causes of nausea in pregnancy is low blood sugar, and snacking – even as often as hourly – can do wonders. I really liked these Zucchini Salmon Fritters when I was pregnant. And this radicchio & parsley salad is full of bright flavours, is nutrient-dense, and offers a change from the usual salad greens. PS: if you are going to live the pregnant-lady-eating-a-plate-of-pickles stereotype, as I did, eat lacto-fermented kosher-style dill pickles. That way, you get a side dose of good bacteria along with the satisfying salty-sour flavour and crunch.

Laugh.

It really and truly boosts your immune system to laugh (eg Bennet et al, 2003; Berk et al, 2001). So get together with people whose sense of humor matches yours. Watch funny movies. And on a related note, be conscious of your media consumption – many people find themselves much more easily impacted by negative news stories and ongoing world trauma when pregnant. Consider whether you need to read details of the Big Sad News of the week. Consider clicking less. Consider changing the radio station to music for a nervous system break.

Feel your feelings.

All of them. Pregnancy is a time of big transition, and transition means letting go of one thing to embrace something new. Even if you are tremendously excited about this new thing (a baby!), our ego self may need a chance to catch up and grieve what was. When we shove them back down, our emotions tend to come out as physical symptoms or emotional tidal waves. The emotion associated with the lungs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine is grief. Additionally, sinus congestion can be seen as unshed tears. So, a lingering cough may be nudging you to let out some sadness. For me, I needed to grieve another layer of the many months I didn’t conceive, and the toll this took on me emotionally, while I was pregnant. Only then could I feel actual joy about the pregnancy that I had wanted my entire life. What grief do you need to feel and release?

Probiotics.

What a bacterial blessing these offer! Taking supplemental probiotics (eg Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. bifidus) enhances your microbiome, decreasing incidence and severity of cold symptoms (eg Leyer et al 2009; Pregliasco et al 2008; Smith et al 2012). Further, probiotics in pregnancy protect your little one, resulting in lower rates of allergies and asthma (Elazeb et al 2013), and even less antibiotic intervention during labor, as it decreases likelihood of group B Strep. In addition to eating fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and brine pickles, which are natural sources of beneficial bacteria, I recommend a professional quality probiotic supplement during pregnancy.

Vitamin D.

This hormone-like vitamin helps with fertility, and then keeps on helping by keeping you healthier during pregnancy. People who take vitamin D get fewer colds, and have milder symptoms when they do get colds (Goodall et al 2014).

Zinc.

See below. This is an affordable and effective way to boost your immune system’s resilience.

If you do catch a bug, what can you do to shake it faster and keep your symptoms milder?

 

6 Strategies to Kick out Colds and Flus Faster During Pregnancy

Immune Herbs:

some safe in pregnancy choices include Echinacea species, Elder, Astragulus, reishi. Consult with your ND or herbalist to determine which herbs are appropriate for you.

Higher doses of your immune-support supplements:

Consider upping your doses of Zinc, probiotics, & Vitamin D* until your symptoms resolve. Zinc, especially, is effective when taken starting in the first 24 hours after symptoms develop. The studies (Singh & Das, 2013) use lozenges, but in practice we find 15-50 mg capsules are effective. Take Zinc with food to prevent nausea, up to 100 mg a day.

Homeopathics.:

There is nothing like the relief of a correctly prescribed homeopathic.

 

References

Bennett et al. The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003. Mar-Apr;9(2):38-45.

Berk et al. Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter. Altern Ther Health Med. 2001 Mar;7(2):62-72, 74-6.

 

Goodall, Emma C et al. Vitamin D3 and gargling for the prevention of upper respiratory tract infections: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Infect Dis. 2014; 14: 273. doi:  10.1186/1471-2334-14-273

 

Kay et al. Enhanced natural killer-cell and T-cell responses to influenza A virus during pregnancy. 2014. PNAS. p 14506–14511; 111: 40. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1416569111

 

Nancy Elazab, Angelico Mendy, Janvier Gasana, Edgar R. Vieira, Annabelle Quizon, Erick Forno. Clinical Trials Probiotic Administration in Early Life, Atopy, and Asthma: A Meta-analysis of Clinical Trials. Pediatrics. 2013.

 

Leyer GJ, Li S, Mubasher ME, Reifer C, Ouwehand AC. Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children. Pediatrics. 2009;124:e172–e179. [PubMed]

 

Pregliasco F, Anselmi G, Fonte L, Giussani F, Schieppati S, Soletti L. A new chance of preventing winter diseases by the administration of symbiotic formulations. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2008;42(Suppl 3 Pt 2):S224–S233. [PubMed]

 

Singh M1, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013. Jun 18;(6):CD001364. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub4.

 

Tracey J. Smith, Diane Rigassio-Radler, Robert Denmark, Timothy Haley, Riva Touger-Decker. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG® and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis BB-12® on health-related quality of life in college students affected by upper respiratory infectionsBritish Journal of Nutrition, 2012; 1 DOI:10.1017/S0007114512004138

 

Festive Tree-Celebrating Salad

Tu Bishvat is a minor Jewish holiday that holds special appeal for tree-loving nature worshippers like me. It is described as a new year for the trees, and while it coincides with spring in the middle east, here in Toronto it is celebrated in the depths of winter, providing a welcome festive focus to January or February.

Friends of mine host a Tu Bishvat seder dinner every year. We start by going around the table and sharing which is our favourite kind of tree and why. I always have trouble choosing, but will pick one to highlight some of the medicine trees have to offer, like willow or hawthorn. They ask each guest to bring a food contribution in keeping with the tree theme.

I have brought this dish for several years. It is a yummy salad, providing a perfect counterpoint to rich winter food with its nutrient-dense ingredients, and bitter, sweet, and fresh flavours. But more tree-relevantly, it contains the fruit of two trees (avocado, pomegranate), the nuts of one tree (pecan), and the heart of another (palm). It also happens to feature red and green, making it in keeping with the colour theme of a certain December holiday 🙂 In our household, we think it pairs well with roast for Christmas dinner, too!

Consider this salad for a festive occasion in your life this winter.

arugulaPecanspomegranate on boardavocado1

Festive Tree-Celebrating Salad

vegan, paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free

Salad:

  • 1 box baby arugula or 2 bunches arugula, washed & chopped
  • 1 sweet bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 English cucumber, cut into quarter rounds
  • 1 can heart of palm, drained and sliced in rounds
  • 1 medium haas avocado, diced
  • Seeds of 1/2 -1 pomegranate
  • 1/4 cup pecans, lightly toasted

Combine ingredients in a large bowl and toss well with dressing to coat.

For pretty presentation, toss arugula with dressing before adding the other ingredients artfully into the serving bowl or individual salad bowls.

Dressing:

  • Olive oil – ~1/4 cup
  • Lemon juice – ~1 lemon
  • Dijon mustard – ~ 2 tsp
  • Sea salt – ~ 1 tsp
  • Maple Syrup – ~2 tsp
  • Garlic, pressed – ~ 1 small clove

Combine dressing ingredients in a small jar and shake to emulsify.

Taste and adjust quantities as needed to please your palate.

Easy Peasy Fancy Hot Chocolate

Dairy-free, Vegan, Gluten-Free (it is a drink!)

This hot chocolate is fantastically warming, delicious and flavourful without being too sweet. What a great treat for a cozy winter afternoon!

Easy Peasy Fancy Hot Chocolate

Easy Peasy Fancy Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • ~5 cardamon pods, crushed
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • ~3 cloves
  • 3 chilli flakes (or more, to taste)
  • Water (~1 L)
  • Cocoa powder (~1/4 cup)
  • Non-dairy milk (almond/hemp/rice/soy/coconut)
  • Maple syrup

 

 

Add spices to a pot of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 min. Add cocoa powder and whisk. Simmer a bit longer. Ladle into mugs with your choice of non-dairy milk and a tbsp of maple syrup. 


(photo from “overacupofhotchocolate” on tumblr)

Lamb & Beef Koftas

(Adapted from a Kofta Kebabs recipe at allrecipes.com)

Koftas

Koftas

These spicy (as in flavourful) meat balls offer a delicious alternative to meatloaf, burgers, and other common ground meat dishes. A great source of iron and protein, the spices make koftas easier to digest, and also easier to stomach for those who don’t always enjoy red meat (but need the iron). This makes them a great choice during pregnancy or post-partum, when there is often a need for extra iron. They also freeze well. I make a triple batch of these from time to time and freeze them in two-portion bags. Then, dinner is as simple as reheating koftas in a steamer, and making a salad or two.

Gluten-free, paleo, dairy-free, grain-free, egg-free, nut-free.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ pound ground lamb

½ pound ground beef

3 tablespoons grated onion

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

 

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

In a mixing bowl, mix the ground meat with the garlic, salt, onion, parsley, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne pepper, ginger, and pepper. Form the mixture into equal size balls.

 

Place meat balls on a cookie sheet.

 

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until meat is done enough for your palate. Your kitchen will smell delicious.

 

Serve with Radicchio-Parsley Salad and Dilly Umeboshi Beets for a colourful, liver-loving, paleo meal.

 

Marinating in Gratitude

Feeling good is good for you. More specifically, feeling good emotionally & spiritually is beneficial to your mental AND physical health. While this may seem straightforward, there is a gap between knowing this truth, and being able to actually get there. Right? Without elaborating, it can sound suspiciously like telling someone who is depressed to smile. I assure you I would never say that! One thing that makes a measurable difference to health – that is possible no matter what your current circumstance – is having an active, authentic gratitude practice.

As we approach Thanksgiving here in Canada; and as we celebrate the arrival of our little one in my family; I thought I’d share some new research findings on the health benefits of gratitude. Of course, I’d also like to offer some concrete suggestions for how to incorporate more gratitude into your life.

How can we “marinate in gratitude” more often – and why would we want to?

gratitude-heartWell, both physically and emotionally, “a grateful heart is a healthy heart”. Practicing gratitude is associated with increased well-being, less fatigue, improved sleep, decreased inflammation, and fewer symptoms of stress.

Recent studies to add to the evidence:

Managing Workplace Stress, Depression

Taking stock of thankful events reduces stress and depressive symptoms. In this 2015 study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers looked at stress and depressive symptoms in health care workers at 5 hospitals. The participants were divided into 3 groups. The gratitude group wrote down something they were thankful for in their work twice a week, the hassle group wrote down hassles, and the control group did not note hassles or good things. Assessing participants’ mental health and stress at the end of the four week study, researchers concluded that a gratitude practice was an effective intervention for managing stress and depression in health care workers.

Heart Health, Inflammation, Fatigue, Sleep, Mood

Another interesting 2015 study found that practicing gratitude – in the form of writing down gratitudes most days for 8 weeks – improved health outcomes in people with stage B heart failure. Not only did a gratitude practice result in better mood, better sleep and better energy, but it led to a measurable decrease in inflammatory markers associated with heart disease progression. And all from an intervention that is free and has no negative side effects!

Gratitude Practices

Writing

gratitude journal paperMany people choose to write down one to three things they are grateful for from their day. Some days it may be that only the snuggles you had with your cat move you to true gratitude. And, that is ok. Other days, you may find your gratitude expands to include helpful strangers and supportive friends, a moment of noticing sunlight filtering through the leaves, or even access to clean drinking water. The important thing is that it is something you are authentically moved by, and feel thankful for. Let yourself feel that. You may choose to start or end your day with this exercise. If you know that you are unlikely to keep it up without encouragement, why not take it to social media, and post your gratitude(s) each day?

Out Loud: Sharing with Loved Ones

1) In bed: Share 3 gratitudes from your day with your partner before you go to sleep. What a nice way to shift into a better headspace at the end of a stressful day! And what a great way to support each other in this health-promoting practice.

2) Over dinner: This is a great way to connect with kids and create a simple family ritual. Some people will frame it as “best thing that happened to you today”, which is more concrete for younger kids. No matter how you label it, going around the table and sharing something positive from your day can be a great way of shifting attention to the good things, and celebrating that. Some days it might open up a conversation about something challenging that is happening, too, and this is also important.

Read more about gratitude’s gifts here.

Gratitude’s Gifts

Gratitude’s gifts are several. It gifts us with a moment or few of heart-uplifting, thankful, good feelings. Psychological studies find that practicing gratitude enhances well-being. If we share that gratitude with another, it makes us feel (measurably!) even better. As well, hearing someone express their gratitude for you is delightfully affirming.

With a nod to the arrival of Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, it feels timely to share inspiring research findings on gratitude and well-being.

Practicing gratitude is good for your mood.


There are many books on the subjects of gratitude, thankfulness and wellbeing, and there is a whole field of psychology – Positive Psychology – studying this sort of thing. Cool, right? Think yourself into happiness. Easy? Sort of.

Now, don’t swallow the shaming, blaming kool-aide, please. Whenever I talk about this kind of research, in the realm of “thinking positive thoughts is good for you”, I mean AUTHENTIC positive thoughts. Lying to yourself is never good for you. Never. There is even research on that, in women with breast cancer. Realistic thoughts, even if they are negative, are associated with a better prognosis.

I learned the authentic thoughts lesson well some years back, when I was living in a leaky, mouldy, basement apartment, going through a breakup, and broke. Truly, those things all suck (yes, in a first world problems kind of way). I couldn’t summon gratitude for the fact that I had shelter, for instance, though I dutifully tried to be more “positive”. But I hated that apartment. And the mould was making me sick, and the darkness wasn’t helping me heal my heart. In that case, I COULD be, and WAS grateful for the unending support of my family, whose faith in me buoyed me when I didn’t have that faith in myself, and who were solidly there for me when I needed them. This was authentic for me at the time. And you know, changing my thoughts and – with great mental discipline – shifting to more positive thoughts, really helped me get out of that apartment and out of that hard phase in my life. Practicing gratitude was an important part of this process.

In honour of the true spirit of Thanksgiving, of gratitude for the gifts in our lives, I invite you to make space for gratitude more often. What would happen if you shifted from focusing on the daily annoyances, to daily gratitude? This study found that a gratitude intervention measurably improved mood for study participants, as well as improving their sleep. Cool, right? Taking a moment to find something you are authentically grateful for, be it the scattered autumn beauty of coloured leaves on the pavement, or the huge support a friend provides, or the delightful curiosity of your child, taking a moment to bathe in that feeling will make you happier, and it may help you sleep. Isn’t that something to be grateful for? 🙂

This thanksgiving, I hope you will be inspired to intentionally practice gratitude. Write a letter to someone far away, share your gratitude around the table, keep a gratitude journal, or simply be present to gratitude.

I invite you to share your approach and your results over on my Facebook page. May we inspire one another with our stories.

PS: Here is a great short video on the power of sharing your gratitude, from the folks at SoulPancake.

Zucchini Salmon Fritters

In my first trimester of pregnancy, I needed to eat every hour or two to keep my blood sugar level

Zucchini-Salmon Fritters (photo from taste.com)

Zucchini-Salmon Fritters
(photo from taste.com)

and keep nausea at bay. I did have some hilarious food cravings (celery and of course the stereotypical dill pickles). But, I was also aiming to stick to my usual conscious, careful, diet while upping certain nutrients for baby-growing. These fritters satisfied my winter need for more oil, AND they contain easy to digest vegetables (I have yet to have a client who is sensitive to zucchini!) and omega-3-rich protein that can be stored in the pantry. Win-win-win. I ate them with pickles, naturally.

Make up a big batch and grab them for snacks/lunch/dinner. Pregnant or not, they make a nice, nutritious change from the usual dinner options.

Adapted from Gluten Free Gigi

 

Recipe type: Main Dish, Fish

Prep time:  10 mins

Cook time:  6 mins

Total time:  16 mins

Serves: 3-4

 

This recipe is free from gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, tree nuts. It is also toddler-friendly, a novel way of using up the garden’s zucchini abundance, and a great way of making canned fish (and good omega 3 fatty acids) exciting.

 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 (6-ounce) can wild caught salmon, drained
  • 1/3-1/2 cup tapioca flour or cooked quinoa (or sub almond flour for paleo version, but then not nut-free)
  • 1 teaspoon capers, drained and minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill (or use 1-2 teaspoons fresh dill, if you have some on hand)
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder (add a couple tablespoons minced fresh onion, if you prefer)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder (use ½ – 1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic, if you prefer)
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • Oil for greasing skillet
  • Lemon wedges and fresh parsley, optional garnish

Instructions

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine zucchini, eggs and tapioca flour/quinoa.
  2. Break salmon apart with a fork and add to the bowl, along with remaining ingredients.
  3. Stir to combine, making sure ingredients are well-mixed. (Mixture will look a bit liquid-y, but that’s okay.)
  4. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and grease lightly.
  5. Once the skillet is hot (but not smoking), use about a heaping ⅓ cup of the mixture for each patty/fritter. (You can make these as small or large as you like, of course. I fit 3 larger fritters in the skillet at a time).
  6. Cook patties 2-3 minutes per side until brown and crisp on the outside.
  7. Serve immediately.

 

Great paired with Parsley-Radicchio Salad, and homemade sauerkraut. And, especially if you are pregnant, kosher-style dill pickles.

 

Bring on Spring / Lettuce is Boring Radicchio & Parsley Salad

In keeping with the seasons, I don’t eat much in the way of raw salad-type vegetables in the winter.parsley-bunch This salad was an exception last winter, during the first trimester of my pregnancy. It is a great break from boxed mixed greens, and is packed full of fresh flavour and fantastic nutrition. Also, it answers the eternal question of what to do with the rest of the bunch of parsley when you use 1 tbsp in a recipe. Now you know: make salad!

If you haven’t used radicchio before, it is the pretty little purple hued vegetable in the lettuce radicchiosection of the produce store. It is classified as a bitter (but i think it sweet as well), making it an excellent ally to digestion and liver function.

This salad is: Liver Loving, Energizing, Detox-supporting, Cleanse-friendly, Nutrient-dense, Paleo, Vegan, Gluten Free (it is a salad!), Nightshade Free (if you omit the red pepper), Nut-free, and most importantly, Tasty.

 

Ingredients

Salad:

½ a head of radicchio, chopped

1 bunch of parsley, chopped

1 bunch/bag of spinach, stemmed (optional)

½ an English cucumber, sliced or cubed

1 red pepper, chopped

 

Dressing:

Juice of ~1 lemon

Olive oil ~1/3 cup

Celtic Sea Salt ~1 tsp

Optional: 1-2 tsp Dijon mustard; 1 clove garlic, pressed

 

Wash all vegetables well. Add the first two or three ingredients to a salad bowl and mix. Top with cucumber and pepper.

 

Mix dressing ingredients in small jar, close lid and shake to blend. Dressing ratio should be approx. 2/3 lemon juice to 1/3 oil, or half and half if you prefer a less acidic dressing. Adjust ingredients to taste.

 

Pour dressing over salad, toss, serve.

 

This salad is a great accompaniment to zucchini-salmon fritters or beef & lamb koftas.

Goldenrod vs. Ragweed: Don’t Blame an Innocent Bystander for Your Seasonal Allergies!

Late summer – with its sunshine, abundance of harvest-ready produce, flowers, and extra fun squeezed into evenings, weekends & precious days off – is marred for many by the return of hayfever. Allergy symptoms are seriously blech, to use a technical term. If you are still suffering, ask me about natural solutions for your allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergies, or read more here.

 

And in the meantime, enjoy the beauty of late summer flowers without fear of sneezing by learning which plant is really to blame.

 

This is goldenrod (Solidago canadensis and other Solidago spp), a beautiful yellow flower offering great herbal medicine.

Goldenrod in Bloom

Goldenrod in Bloom

Goldenrod’s aerial parts are used as a tonic for mucus membranes, meaning it is often found in herbal formulas for such things as sinus infections, bladder infections, and even to treat seasonal allergies! It has been used historically as a kidney tonic, and also for the skin. Note the leaf shape to help identify the plant before it flowers. Note, also, that it grows fairly tall on a single stalk. Goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be airborne – rather, it is pollinated by insects. Thus it is an innocent bystander, falsely accused as far as seasonal allergies are concerned.

 

 

This is ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya).

Ragweed in bloom

Ragweed in bloom

It has less showy green flowers, and a very different leaf shape. Ragweed pollen is lighter and IS airborne. If you suffer from hayfever, ragweed is not your friend! While ragweed and goldenrod do grow in similar environments, ragweed is usually shorter than its pretty medicinal companion, and can be differentiated long before flowers and pollen based on the leaves. With this information, you can weed it out of your yard to decrease your local pollen exposure.

 

 

 

Here is another picture of ragweed that I took, this time with goldenrod in the background to drive home the innocent bystander point:

Ragweed (foreground) vs Goldenrod

Ragweed in the foreground, getting goldenrod into trouble

 

 

 

And here is a side-by-side from the folks at The New England Academy of Herbal Medicine:

Ragweed vs Goldenrod

Ragweed vs Goldenrod

 

 

 

So, now you know, right? Ragweed has pretty leaves and small flowers with light pollen that causes “blech” symptoms. Goldenrod has pretty flowers with heavy, innocent pollen, and long skinny leaves off a tall main stalk. Spread the word: Enjoy goldenrod’s lovely late summer blooms, and help stop the false accusations!

Red Raspberry Leaf in Pregnancy

Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus): Myths & Facts, Safety & Efficacy, Mechanism of Action

Red raspberry leaf tea is perhaps the best-known herbal medicine used in pregnancy. It has a long

Red Raspberry Leaf & Berries

Red Raspberry Leaf & Berries

tradition of use in both Europe and North America.  Many women have heard it is “good for you” and so they drink it.

Did your mom drink it when she was pregnant? Mine did. It is an excellent choice of herbal ally during pregnancy. Considering how useful it is, and how popular, I think it should be better understood.

MYTH: Red raspberry leaf induces labor.

NOT TRUE! NOT TRUE!

Fact: Red raspberry leaf is safe and useful throughout pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters. It does not induce labor.

This misunderstanding stems from the fact that Rubus ideaus is used to prepare for labor. The herb is a wonderfully effective uterine tonic, meaning it has a toning, strengthening, and nourishing effect on the tissue and function of female reproductive tract (Hoffman, 2003).

Via its mineral content (especially calcium) and various polypeptides, it enhances the ability of the uterus to contract when labor begins, and can make labor more efficient.

The herb affects smooth muscles, meaning it has gentle action beyond the uterus in the smooth muscles lining the digestive tract. As a herb for digestion, it is most often used when stool is loose, but can also be part of a formula to address constipation.

Red raspberry leaf is also rich in tannins, lending it a whole other realm of actions. Tannins astringe,

Rubus idaeus

Rubus idaeus

or pull together tissue. Think of the feeling of black tea – also rich in tannins – in your mouth. It is a little bit drying, but also toning & tightening, making it great for skin and mucous membranes. Tannins are a good fit when there is excess fluid, as in diarrhea or certain kinds of gut inflammation, and can also be used to address bleeding. Indeed, a red raspberry leaf mouthwash is used for bleeding gums. Further down in the body, Rubus idaeus tea is used for postpartum uterine bleeding as well as bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.

Red raspberry leaf plays a role in supporting fertility as well, as it is thought to help thicken the uterine lining (Gilbert, 2015).

Actions

Uterine Tonic (also tones pelvic floor); Partus preparator; Astringent; Nutritive

Uses

Pregnancy; Fertility; Painful periods; Diarrhea; Constipation (mild); Decreasing excess bleeding (eg postpartum, but also gastrointestinal, as a mouthwash for bleeding gums)

Note: some references list Red Raspberry leaf as a galactagogue, aka promoter of lactation, but this is not a primary action of the herb, and for most folks, not the best herb for this action. The herb is also listed as a nausea treatment in pregnancy, but clinically, nausea would not be my reason to choose Rubus ideaus. The herb may also lower blood sugar if it is elevated, but, again, this is not a primary action of the herb.

What is a partus preparator?

An herbal combination used traditionally to help someone prepare to give birth, usually taken in the last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy. The combination is designed to tonify the uterus, encouraging efficient contractions, as well as being mildly soothing and astringent. While the herbs used vary considerably, common choices include Red Raspberry Leaf, Blue Cohosh, Black Cohosh, Partridge Berry, Cotton Root and Spikenard.

Blue Cohosh in particular does not have a good safety profile. There have been case reports of infants with bleeding in the brain or heart attacks (Romm, 2010) – and this herb should be used only with the advice of a trained herbal clinician.

In fact, modern herbal medicine practitioners are now divided as to the efficacy or necessity of a partus preparator formula, and may prefer to select specific herbs to meet the needs of the individual pregnant client. Many practitioners will use homeopathics and acupuncture rather than a partus preparator formula.

Constituents of Red Raspberry Leaf

Flavonoids, tannins (8-14 %), polypeptides, minerals (eg calcium, iron, phophorus).

Some sources reference an alkaloid, fragrine, but recent research has not confirmed its presence.

Dose

Most commonly taken as a tea: 1 tsp to 2 tbsp per cup, steeped 10 min to overnight depending on desired action. (Longer steeping will result in a stronger medicinal action, as well as higher mineral content). 1-4 cups per day.

Studies have found efficacy with certain extracts in tablet form as well.

Tincture: 2-4 ml (1:5 in 40% alcohol), 3 times per day.

Preparations

Check out this Pregnancy Tonic Tea featuring Red Raspberry & Nettle Leaves.

Or become a kitchen herbalist with this fancy/simple Red Raspberry Leaf Vinegar.

Research

I will refer below only studies on pregnant women, leaving out studies on rats, guinea pigs, cats, rabbits, and isolated uterine muscle as these do not replicate the complex physiology of a pregnant human drinking a herbal infusion.

It is worth noting that from the studies on isolated uterine muscle, red raspberry leaf appears to have a tonic effect – that is, it increases tone of relaxed smooth muscle, and induces relaxation where muscle tone is already high (Mills & Bone, 2005; Mills, Duguoa et al 2006). It is also noteworthy that Rubus ideaus has an apparent relaxing effect on the muscle of the small intestine (specifically the ileum), at least in Guinea pigs (Rojas-Vera J1Patel AVDacke CG, 2002).

Although nearly two thirds of US midwives report prescribing Red Raspberry leaf to their clients red raspberry leaf with teapot(McFarlin et al 1999), and many, many women self prescribe the tea, there have been relatively few human studies.

One randomized controlled trial of 192 women with low-risk single pregnancies compared red raspberry leaf tablets (2 x 1.2 g per day) to placebo from 32 weeks gestation onwards. There were no adverse effects for either mothers or babies.

Those who took the herbal tablets had a shorter second stage of labor, as well as lower rates of forceps delivery (Simpson et al, 2001).

Another study involving 108 women (57 in treatment group, 51 in control group) confirmed that the herb is safe. They also noted lower rates of pre and post-term gestation – meaning fewer babies were born too early or late – as well as less likelihood of obstetric interventions, including caesarian section, and vacuum or forceps delivery (Parsons et al 1999).

Safety & Concerns

Considered safe in pregnancy and while breast-feeding.

Due to the high tannin content, the herb may interfere with absorption of iron and other minerals, similar to black tea. So, take supplemental iron at a different time than you drink your tea. Note that the herb itself contains iron along with other minerals. In balance as they occur in nature, this mineral content is considered well-absorbed.

 

References

 

Boon, Heather & Smith, Michael. 2004. The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to the 50 Most Common Medicinal Herbs. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose, Inc.

 

Gilbert, Cyndi. 2015. The Essential Guide to Women’s Herbal Medicine. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose, Inc.

 

Gladstar, Rosemary. 1993. Herbal Healing for Women. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

 

Hoffmann, David. 2003. Medical Herbalism: The Science & Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, a division of Inner Traditions International.

 

McFarlin B, Gibson M, O’Rear J, Harman P. 1999. A national survey of herbal preparation use by nurse-midwives for labor stimulation. Review of the literature and recommendations for practice. J Nurse Midwifery, 44:205-216.

 

Mills, Simon & Bone, Kerry. 2005. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. St Louis, MO: Elsevier – Churchill Livingstone.

 

Mills, Edward, Dugoa, Jean-Jacques, Perri, Dan, Koren, Gideon. 2006. Herbal Medicines in Pregnancy & Lactation: An Evidence-Based Approach. London & New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

 

Rojas-Vera J1, Patel AVDacke CG. 2002. Relaxant activity of raspberry (Rubus idaeus) leaf extract in guinea-pig ileum in vitro. Phytother Res. Nov;16(7):665-8.

 

Romm, Aviva. 2010. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. St Louis, MO: Elsevier – Churchill Livingstone.

 

Simpson M, Parsons M, Greenwood J, Wade K. 2001. Raspberry leaf in pregnancy: its safety and efficacy in labor. J Midwifery Women’s Health, 46:51-59.

 

Weed, Susun. 1986. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Publishing.

 

Wood, Matthew. 2009. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.