Experts in Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Nutrition have faulted findings from studies that claimed that pregnant women who consume Hibiscus sabdariffa tea, popularly known as Zobo, stand the risk of having a miscarriage or premature labour.
The experts also faulted claims that the drink, which has become a relished delight, can put the foetus at risk of congenital birth defects and increase the chances of having babies with low birth weight.
Responses from the experts followed the conclusion reached by a team of researchers, who carried out a study on the safety of Hibiscus sabdariffa on female rats, that there are enough concerns to discourage pregnant women and lactating mothers from consuming Zobo.
According to a 2013 review on the study, titled ‘Hibiscus sabdariffa L: Safety and Efficacy during Pregnancy and Lactation’, published in peer-reviewed journal, Planta Medica, there was no scientific evidence to support the use of Hibiscus sabdariffa during pregnancy and lactation.
It, however, stated that there is in vitro evidence from animal studies that the seeds of Hibiscus sabdariffa have a lactogenic effect.
“Animal studies have also shown that there is delayed puberty, elevation of body weight, and Body Mass Index in female rats that consumed extracts of Hibiscus sabdariffa.
“Caution should be exercised with the use of Hibiscus sabdariffa during pregnancy and lactation till human research is conducted to determine its safety. There is a need to be cautious when using medications with Hibiscus sabdariffa,” the researchers advised.
In another 2016 paper published on the ‘Use, Safety, Efficacy, and Pharmacology of Hibiscus sabdariffa during pregnancy and lactation’, it was suggested that its use by women during lactation calls for in-depth understanding of its efficacy and potential for causing harm during pregnancy and lactation.
The lead researcher, Nkechi Enwerem of the Division of Nursing, Howard University, USA, said the seed and calyces of Hibiscus sabdariffa have been shown to possess some beneficial therapeutic effects and that there is no strong clinical evidence supporting the use of Hibiscus sabdariffa in pregnancy or during lactation.
“Based on in vitro studies, the aqueous seed extract of Hibiscus sabdariffa produced an increase in serum prolactin in a dose-dependent manner in lactating rats. At a dose of 1600mg/kg the extract, it produced a similar lactogenic activity as compared to Metoclopramide treated group,” she stated.
Enwerem further stated, “The consumption of the aqueous extract of Hibiscus sabdariffa calyces during lactation caused a decreased maternal fluid and food intake, increased postnatal weight gain and delays the onset of puberty in the female offspring of Sprague-Dawley rats.”
She, thereafter, warned that Zobo drink should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation.
However, the claims were countered by the gynaecologists, who said the findings lacked scientific evidence as they had not been proven in humans.
One of them, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital, Akwa, Anambra State, Dr. Stanley Egbogu, while speaking with PUNCH HealthWise said it is not known to gynaecologists that drinking Zobo has any effect on pregnant women or lactating mothers.
“Before you can confirm that in pregnant women, you need to extrapolate it in human beings first. Maybe in young ladies who are trying to get pregnant and then, try it in pregnant mothers and lactating mothers to see if it will affect breastfeeding.
“It’s not a known fact to gynaecologists that drinking Zobo has any effect on pregnant women or lactating mothers. We see it as one of those drinks. They should try and carry out the experiment on human beings first.”
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