Is elderberry syrup safe during pregnancy?

Elderberry syrup is a popular herbal supplement made from the berries of the elderberry plant. It’s often used to treat cold and flu symptoms. However, there are some concerns about its safety during pregnancy. Many pregnant women wonder if it’s okay to take elderberry syrup while expecting.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the evidence on elderberry syrup safety during pregnancy. We’ll look at potential benefits, risks, recommended dosages, and alternatives. We’ll also answer common questions about using elderberry syrup when pregnant or breastfeeding.

What Is Elderberry Syrup?

Elderberry syrup is made by cooking elderberries with honey or another sweetener to make a concentrated liquid. It’s rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant compounds.

Elderberries come from the flowering elder plant (Sambucus nigra). They have a long history of use as medicine in many cultures. Native Americans used elderberry for infections, coughs, and skin conditions. Today, elderberry syrup is used as a remedy for:

– Colds and flu – Elderberry is thought to reduce flu duration and symptoms. Some research shows it enhances immune function.

– Upper respiratory infections – Compounds in elderberry may help fight bacteria and viruses that cause sinus and chest infections.

– Inflammation – The antioxidants in elderberry have anti-inflammatory effects.

– Constipation – Elderberry syrup contains fiber that can help relieve constipation.

Despite its health benefits, there are also some concerns when it comes to taking elderberry syrup during pregnancy. Let’s look at these in more detail.

Is Elderberry Syrup Safe During Pregnancy?

There is no definitive research on elderberry syrup safety during pregnancy. However, most experts consider it likely safe when used occasionally in normal food amounts. Here are some key points on the risks and benefits:

– Animal studies are reassuring – Rat studies found no negative effects on fetuses or pregnancy when giving expectant mothers elderberry extract. But more research is needed.

– Possible risks in high doses – Large medicinal doses may stimulate the immune system or uterus. It’s best to avoid high supplemental doses.

– Benefits for pregnancy health – The vitamin C, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties may support maternal and fetal health.

– No proven teratogenicity – There are no known teratogenic effects. Teratogens are substances that cause birth defects by interfering with fetal development.

– Natural source – As a whole food supplement, elderberry is likely safer than medications during pregnancy. But it has not been as extensively studied.

So most sources conclude that normal food amounts are likely safe during pregnancy. But larger medicinal doses, strong concentrates, or frequent use may carry more risk than benefit.

Recommended Elderberry Syrup Dosage When Pregnant

There are no standardized elderberry dosage guidelines for pregnancy. Since risks may increase with high intake, moderation is key. Here are some recommended dosages when pregnant:

– 2-3 teaspoons (10-15 mL) per day – This provides immune support with minimal risk. It’s a commonly recommended dosage for pregnant women.

– No more than 1 tablespoon (15 mL) daily – Do not exceed this dose without your doctor’s approval. One tablespoon or less is considered a safe food-based intake.

– Look for a 600-900 mg extract dose – When choosing supplements, opt for elderberry syrups with approximately this potency to avoid very concentrated sources.

Follow package directions and speak to your healthcare provider about your desired elderberry dosage during pregnancy. Stop use if you experience any side effects.

Elderberry Syrup Benefits During Pregnancy

When used safely in moderation, elderberry syrup may offer some advantages for expecting mothers. Here are some of the top potential benefits:

May Ease Cold and Flu Symptoms

Pregnancy weakens the immune system and makes women more susceptible to viral illnesses. Elderberry could help reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu. Its antioxidants, vitamins, and compounds like anthocyanins may support immune function.

Research shows taking elderberry extract at the first sign of flu can reduce symptoms by an average of 4 days. This can be particularly helpful during pregnancy when illness is risky for both mother and baby.

Could Provide Antioxidant Protection

Elderberry is packed with polyphenols and anthocyanins that have antioxidant effects in the body. Antioxidants help neutralize oxidative stress caused by free radicals.

Oxidative stress contributes to many pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, low birth weight, miscarriage, and neural tube defects. The antioxidants in elderberry may counter this stress and support a healthy pregnancy.

May Alleviate Morning Sickness

Nausea and vomiting affect up to 90% of expectant mothers in the first trimester. The anti-inflammatory properties in elderberry syrup may help soothe morning sickness symptoms.

Drinking 1 cup of elderberry tea per day has been shown just as effective as medications for relieving nausea during pregnancy in some women. Elderberry capsules may also help.

Could Stimulate Immune Function

Elderberry is thought to enhance immune activity against cold viruses. One study found it accelerates cytokine production. Cytokines are proteins that coordinate the immune response.

Boosting immune function may help protect pregnant women and their developing babies from illness. But too much immune stimulation can also be harmful, so moderation is key.

May Have General Health-Promoting Effects

Nutrient-dense elderberry syrup supplies vitamins, minerals, fiber, and polyphenols. The high antioxidant content helps combat inflammation and oxidative damage. Overall, its nutrients support maternal health and normal fetal growth and development.

Risks and Side Effects of Elderberry When Pregnant

For most women, moderate elderberry intake during pregnancy is unlikely to cause problems. However, there are some potential risks and side effects to be aware of:

May Stimulate Uterine Contractions

Labor begins when the uterus starts contracting and thinning the cervix. There is some evidence that elderberry’s bioactive compounds may increase uterine contraction.

One study found an elderberry extract stimulated contractions in isolated uterine tissue. Another reported stronger contractions in birth after taking elderberry tea. More research is needed, but it’s wise to avoid elderberry syrup in late pregnancy due to possible risks of inducing labor.

May Stimulate the Immune System

A hyper-stimulated immune system during pregnancy may increase risks of complications like preeclampsia and miscarriage. Elderberry enhances immune function, which could be problematic if taken in high amounts.

Stick to recommended dosages to avoid over-stimulating the immune system during pregnancy. Monitor for signs of inflammation like fever, chills, and rash.

Risk of Allergic Reaction

Elderberry comes from the same plant family as ragweed, marigolds, daisies, and chrysanthemums. Women with allergies to these plants may be more likely to experience an allergic reaction to elderberry.

Allergic reactions may include rash, hives, swelling, and anaphylaxis. Stop taking elderberry products if you suspect an allergy. Seek medical care immediately for severe reactions.

May Interact with Medications

Elderberry contains bioactive compounds that could potentially interact with certain medications prescribed during pregnancy. These include:

– Steroids like prednisone – May amplify immune effects.

– Diabetes medications – May lower blood sugar levels.

– ACE inhibitors like Lisinopril – May lower blood pressure excessively.

– Diuretics – May have a diuretic effect, increasing urination.

– Birth control pills – May reduce absorption and effectiveness.

Always discuss elderberry use with your OBGYN and pharmacist. Stop taking it if you notice any issues with your medications.

Unknown Effects of Concentrated Forms

Strong medicinal elderberry extracts, tinctures, and concentrates have not been studied for safety during pregnancy. Their high potency could potentially have negative effects from over-stimulating the immune system or uterus.

To be safe, choose a whole-food based syrup and avoid potent supplemental forms while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Risks With Large Doses

There are no set toxicity limits for elderberry. But intake above the recommended safe dosages may potentially increase pregnancy risks. Stick within the suggested 1-2 tablespoon per day dosage limits.

Signs of elderberry overdose can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and muscle weakness. Seek medical care if you experience these effects.

Potential Benefits Possible Risks & Side Effects
  • May ease cold & flu symptoms
  • Provides antioxidant protection
  • Could help relieve morning sickness
  • May stimulate the immune system
  • Promotes general maternal & fetal health
  • May stimulate uterine contractions
  • Could overstimulate the immune system
  • Risk of allergic reaction
  • Potential medication interactions
  • Unknown effects of concentrated forms
  • Risks with very high doses

Is Elderberry Safe While Breastfeeding?

There are no studies on the use of elderberry syrup while breastfeeding. But small amounts are generally considered safe for nursing mothers.

Compounds from elderberry can pass into breastmilk. However, amounts are likely too small to cause issues in breastfed infants.

As when pregnant, it’s wise to limit intake to food-based levels of around 1-2 tablespoons maximum per day. Monitor babies for any potential side effects like diarrhea, rash, and changes in eating habits.

Talk to your doctor about elderberry use while breastfeeding, especially if your baby has any health conditions. They may recommend avoiding it or using caution.

Healthier Alternatives to Elderberry While Pregnant

If you have concerns about using elderberry syrup during pregnancy, some safer alternatives can provide similar benefits. Here are a few options to try instead:

– Other berry syrups – Blackberry, blueberry, or raspberry syrups supply vitamins and antioxidants with minimal risks. Avoid unpasteurized versions.

– Honey – Provides soothing relief for sore throats and coughs. Opt for pasteurized honey to avoid foodborne illness.

– Ginger – Ginger tea, candies, or extracts can ease nausea and stomach issues during pregnancy.

– Vitamin C – Boosts immunity safely when pregnant or breastfeeding. Get it from citrus fruits, red bell peppers, and supplements.

– Probiotics – Improve gut and immune health. Look for pregnancy-safe probiotic strains like Lactobacillus GG and Bifidobacterium infantis.

– Garlic – Contains antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that may help ward off illnesses. Use it cooked in dishes rather than high-dose supplements.

Always check with your doctor before taking any new supplement, herb, or medication while pregnant or nursing.

The Bottom Line

There is limited research on elderberry use during pregnancy, but normal food-based amounts are likely safe. Benefits may include easing colds, improving immunity, and decreasing nausea.

Potential risks depend on the dosage and preparation. Concentrated extracts carry more concerns due to possible uterine and immune stimulation. To play it safe, stick to a low-moderate syrup dosage under 1-2 tablespoons daily.

Discuss elderberry with your OBGYN or midwife, especially if you have any medical conditions. And be on the lookout for any side effects. Switch to gentler alternatives if you have any concerns about using elderberry syrup while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions related to elderberry use during pregnancy.

Can I take elderberry syrup in the first trimester?

There are no specific warnings against elderberry in the first trimester. Small amounts are likely fine, but check with your doctor. Reduce nausea and morning sickness safely with vitamin B6, ginger, acupressure, and eating frequent small meals.

When should you avoid taking elderberry?

Avoid elderberry syrup in the third trimester when uterine stimulants could potentially induce early labor. You may also want to avoid it if you have an elderberry allergy, take medications that interact with it, or experience any side effects.

Does elderberry start labor?

Some research indicates compounds in elderberry may stimulate uterine contractions. There are a few anecdotal reports of it inducing labor. It’s smart to stop taking it by the third trimester to be safe.

Can I drink elderberry tea while pregnant?

Drinking elderberry tea a couple times a week is unlikely to be harmful in pregnancy. But avoid frequent use since teas provide a more concentrated dose than syrups. Also, be sure your tea is caffeine-free to prevent risks from consuming caffeine while pregnant.

What week should you stop taking elderberry?

It’s generally recommended to avoid elderberry syrup after week 36 of pregnancy since its labor-inducing effects are theoretical. Stop use earlier if you notice any issues like contractions, cramps, or side effects.

As always, consult your prenatal provider about your specific case. They may okay elderberry use closer to your due date if you have no risk factors.

Can I take elderberry until I go into labor?

It’s not recommended. Elderberry may stimulate contractions, so it’s safest to discontinue use by the start of the third trimester or 36 weeks pregnant. Your doctor can recommend the best stopping point for you.

Is elderberry safe while nursing?

Low doses of elderberry syrup are generally considered safe while breastfeeding. Limit intake to about 1-2 tablespoons daily. Monitor your baby for possible side effects like digestive issues. It’s unknown if elderberry may affect milk supply. Discuss use with your pediatrician.

Can I drink elderberry tea while breastfeeding?

Drinking elderberry tea occasionally while nursing is unlikely to cause harm. But avoid drinking it daily since the dose from tea is harder to control and more concentrated. Watch your baby for side effects like diarrhea or constipation and discontinue use if they occur.

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