Can Weight Loss and Energy Supplements Cause Miscarriage?

Herbal supplements can promise you the moon. But can they be dangerous?
Pregnant woman taking an energy supplement.

Getting pregnant can be fantastic news. But it can also be a double-edged sword (yeah, we’re talking about you weight gain and exhaustion!) For some women, the fear of seeing an extra 25 to 35 pounds on the scale and the threat of “baby brain” is enough to make them reach for herbal supplements promising to counteract the not-so-glamorous rites of pregnancy.

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One of the ingredients in many benefit-boasting supplements is vinpocetine. It’s found in weight loss, energy and memory improving health products. Vinpocetine is also referred to as periwinkle extract, Vinca minor or a similar variation.

But now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has suggested that pregnant women (and those trying to become pregnant) should avoid vinpocetine. It warns that the ingredient can cause miscarriage and decreased fetal weight.

“We’re advising pregnant women and women who could become pregnant not to take vinpocetine,” the FDA warning states. “We are also advising firms marketing dietary supplements containing vinpocetine to evaluate their product labeling to ensure that it provides safety warnings against use by pregnant women and women who could become pregnant.”

Ob/Gyn Erin McKelvy, MD, says the FDA warning about vinpocetine is significant because it sheds light on questioning if any herbal health products and supplements are safe for pregnant women.

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Supplements don’t have FDA regulations like prescription drugs do,” says Dr. McKelvy. “And a lot of these supplements come as a proprietary blend, which could mean that any amount of an ingredient might be in it.”

Proprietary blends can be dangerous, even for those who aren’t pregnant. Products with this label disclose the ingredients, but not the amount. So a supplement you’re taking can have 1% of the active ingredient you’re looking for, or on the reverse side, it could have five times as much. Either way, you never know exactly what you’re getting – and that can lead to negative side effects.

Taking supplements? Talk to your doctor

“When people buy cars or houses they research them,” explains Dr. McKelvy. “You don’t usually just show up one time and buy a big item like that. You come back, you ask questions, you search online. So when it comes to pregnancy, women should be doing the same amount of preparing and asking questions.”

Dr. McKelvy recommends that if you’re thinking of becoming pregnant, it’s a good idea to see your doctor for pre-pregnancy counseling. This visit will give you the chance to tell your doctor about the medications you’re taking and to discuss if any supplements or herbal health products should be stopped.

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Still concerned about weight gain and if that human being you’re growing is zapping all your energy? Still can’t seem to give up a supplement? It all comes down to talking with your doctor. They can review the product and can recommend safe and approved medications and alternatives.

There’s other things out there that we can suggest and recommend, says Dr. McKelvy. We don’t want anyone to be an emotional wreck stressing whether or not they did harm to their child by something they ate or drank.

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