Herbal weight loss products and breastfeeding

By Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC

Many herbal weight loss products contain some form of ephedra. It might be listed in the ingredients as Ma Huang, Ephedra sinica, Sida cordifolia, ephedra, ephedrine group alkaloids, ephedrine, etc. Some of the weight loss products that have contained ephedra include Metabolife, Herbalife, OmniTrim, Trim Easy, Diet Pep, MetaboSafe, geniCiL, AM-300, power drinks like Ultimate Orange, etc.

I strongly urge you to avoid any products containing ephedra, whether or not you are nursing, as this can be quite dangerous. It is a natural treatment for asthma, but can cause a variety of heart-related problems including heart attack and death. Young people who didn’t know that they had underlying health problems have died with doses as low as 36 mg of ephedra. The FDA and Health Canada have issued several alerts regarding ephedrine-containing dietary supplements, and ephedra will be banned in the US in early 2004. Per Hale, there are no data available on how much ephedrine is secreted in human milk, however small amounts of a related drug (d-isoephedrine) is believed to be secreted into breastmilk.

Another caution with regard to herbal weight loss products – most of these products contain a combination of different herbs. If your baby is sensitive to one or more of these herbs, it would be very difficult to determine which is the problem.

Following are some of the other herbs commonly used in weight loss products:

  • Other stimulants – Ginseng, Caffeine (Guarana/Paullinea cupana, Kola Nut/Cola nitida, Yerba maté, Green Tea), Citrus Aurantium (Bitter Orange). Stimulants can affect baby’s sleep and feeding, and some may be dangerous to mom and/or baby.
  • 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is not recommended for nursing mothers as it could affect your infant’s neurological development and/or suppress lactation.
  • Chitosan is a fiber-like material from the shells of shellfish such as shrimp and crabs. There is no evidence that it aids weight loss, and it has the potential for serious allergic reaction in those allergic to shellfish.
  • Chromium Picolinate is a form of chromium. There is no evidence that it is effective for weight loss. See also:
  • Chromium Picolinate by Chris Woolston, M.S.
  • Fiber – Psyllium
  • HCA (hydroxycitric acid), also known as Tripotassium Hydroxycitrate, Appetrim hydroxycitrate, etc. One source notes that “since hydroxycitrate can inhibit production of cholesterol and consequently of steroid hormones, its use should be avoided in young children, as well as during pregnancy and lactation.” See also: Hydroxycitrate as a weight loss ingredient.
  • Herbal Laxatives and Diuretics – Senna, Aloe Vera, Flaxseed, Gotu Kola, Damiana, Uva-Ursi/Bearberry, Dandelion Root, Chickweed, Glucomannon
  • Iodine/thyroid-stimulating sources – Kelp, Bladderwrack
  • St. John’s Wort

Additional general information on herbal weight loss products:

More on weight loss @ kellymom.com

Can I diet while breastfeeding? @ kellymom.com


Eat Well,
Lose Weight
While Breastfeeding

by Eileen Behan, RD


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