Nov 27

In Africa, one out of every sixteen women dies from post-partum bleeding immediately after giving birth. In some African regions, the toll is as high as one in eight. Poverty and a lack of proper, nearby hospital facilities are forcing a significant number of women to seek help from traditional healers who use herbs to control post-partum bleeding. However, some of those same herbs are also used by many to induce abortions. In a recent study by researchers at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, herbal plants used by African traditional healers were tested for their ability to cause uterine contractions that can stop post-partum bleeding as well as induce a miscarriage.

Two Discoveries: the saving and ending of lives Among the researchers in the study is Anna K. Ja ̈ger, an Ethno Pharmacologist who searches throughout diverse countries and cultures for herbal therapies used by traditional healers. Her goal is to identify herbal remedies and test them for efficacy as potential drugs to use for treating disease.

Ja ̈ger and her colleagues identified twenty-two herbs that are used by local African healers for controlling post-partum bleeding. Extracts of the herbs were tested for their effects on rat tissue in culture plates. “Half of the plants we tested made the uterus tissue contract strongly whereas 11 of the extracts induced contractions with short intervals. Seven of the plants worked in both ways,” stated Ja ̈ger.

What they also discovered was that some of the herbs are also used by the local women as birth control to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Seeking help from the same healers who treat post-partum bleeding, herb leaves are either inserted directly into their vaginas or used to concoct a tea. Strong uterine contractions induced by the herbs result in a forced miscarriage. Many African women have to resort to this treatment due to anti-abortion laws in their regions.

Blood Thinning Dangers Some herbs that historically have been used to induce pregnancy-ending contractions also have the potential to be fatal for the women attempting to terminate their pregnancy—particularly herbs that are known as “blood thinners” or anticoagulants with blood thinning properties. One example is the herb black cohosh, or Actaea racemosa. Black cohosh is known under a variety of names in folk medicine such as black snakeroot, rattleroot, rattleweed, bugbane, bugwort and squawroot.

Black cohosh is a member of the buttercup family. Its roots and rhizomes are the medicinal part of the plant and have been used by Native Americans to treat a wide range of menopausal and menstrual-related conditions such as menstrual cramps, hot flashes, bloating, vaginal dryness and mood swings. A tall perennial plant, black cohosh can be found growing wild in the central and eastern United States.

Its use as an abortificant is based on its potential ability to stimulate uterine contractions. However it is also known to act as an anticoagulant or blood thinner that can cause severe hemorrhaging following an induced abortion. The present danger of black cohosh is that it is commonly used as an herbal supplement that is easily available in capsule, tablet and extract forms, or as a dried root for tea. Because it is a “natural” herb touted by nutritional supplement businesses in advertisements, it is also sometimes mistakenly considered to be totally safe.

Because black cohosh can act as a blood thinner, it is contraindicated with other anticoagulants or blood thinners such as Warfarin, a.k.a. Coumadin. Newer drugs with blood thinner properties such as the experimental drug, apixaban (Eliquis) and Pradaxa (dabigatran) are likely contraindicated as well.

Last thoughts The ramifications of new drugs and treatments that hold promise for saving a life as well as ending one are apparent. Differing societal values and a need for new therapies to treat and to cure will eventually come to a debate about how we will use what the Danish researchers have discovered. The irony of medicines that can both save and can kill is not lost on us: medicine is a messy business. But, then again… so is living.

Similar Posts:

Tags: African , African Abortion

Leave a Reply