Introduction

Phytomedicine is becoming increasingly popular for treating many different problems. The amount of information on this use is substantial and indicates that up to 50% of the general population have tried at least one herbal product [1-4]. However, phytomedicines have the potential to elicit the same types of adverse reactions as synthetic drugs, since they consist of whole extracts or, more commonly, of defined parts of plants (root, rhizome, leaf, flower head) that contain numerous active molecules [5]. Moreover, in most countries herbs are sold as unlicensed food supplements or are available to consumers as over-the-counter items in various preparations not regulated with the same scrutiny as conventional drugs, with risks of contamination or adulteration with poisonous metals, non-declared herbs or conventional medicines.

The safety of phytomedicines becomes particularly important in some subpopulations of patients such as pregnant women and children, which are more vulnerable to the effects of drugs but also of natural products for their physiological characteristics. Despite the fact that available data are insufficient to justify herbal use during pregnancy and in paediatrics, exposure to herbal products is frequent in these subjects [6, 7], often on a self-treatment basis [8, 9].

In this review we will discuss some aspects of herbal use in pregnant women and children, with the aim of alerting customers and health-care professionals to the fact that these compounds are not entirely free of risk in these subjects.

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