Recently, we had a pretty good class on teratogens and I thought I ought to highlight some important points today on how they can affect your baby. Read on if you already have a baby or planning to have one some day.
In simple terms, teratogens are external agents (natural or synthetic) that can adversely affect the developing fetus if it comes in contact with them via the maternal body.
These agents can cause a birth defect by permanently altering the structure and/or function of organs exposed to them during development.
There was reportedly 510,000 deaths in 2010 due to congenital defects. Of all the birth defects, teratogens constitute to about 10% and other factors include genetic defects, poor maternal nutrition, infection and environmental toxins.
Some environmental toxins like lead (found in paints), mercury (neurotoxin found in seafood), ionizing radiation, air pollutants, pesticides among others that the mother is exposed to are also potent teratogens.
In this post, we will focus on naturally occurring teratogenic substances that are derived from plants.
If a plant teratogenic toxin has to exert it effect, it has to be present in a high enough dose, have the ability to cross the placenta and manifest it’s effect during a specific time of gestation. These toxins can even cause fetal death or gross abnormalities. Based on their mechanisms, they can cause vascular disruption, oxidative stress, and can target specific receptors and enzymatic sites and cause endocrine and central nervous system (CNS) disruption and may affect a single anatomical feature or an entire system.
Factors that influence teratogenicity include:
The nature of the teratogenic agent, the dosage and route of delivery into the embryo/fetus, duration and frequency of exposure. In fact, it has also been found that if these teratogens were present in the maternal body even before conception and find their way into the baby during birth or delivery can also manifest their effects later in life.
Apart from various widely used herbs that are listed as probable teratogens, here’s a list of more common examples:
Asparagus racemosus : methanolic extracts can cause gross malformations in fetus, can increase the rate of re-absorption in fetus and may also cause intrauterine growth.
Malus domestica (Apple) seeds and Prunus cerasus (Cherry) seeds have cyanogenic glycosides that’s fatal to even adults.
Solanum tuberosum (potato), Solanum melongena (eggplant), Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato) : contain solanidanes and spirosolanes that are suspected teratogens that are present in the edible plant parts( see below for references). Apart from that, the green tubers that develop due to exposure to sunlight during their development contain glycoalkaloid solanine that can cause nervous disturbances apart from another toxin, chaconine.
Here’s a list of few plants with tremendous medicinal value or with other important uses that are known/suspected teratogens:
Astragalus – used in herbal medicine and also in traditional Chinese and Persian medicine
Colchicum autumnale – used as medicine and in cancer treatment
Datura stramonium – used for asthma treatment due to presence of atropine
Indigofera spicata – used as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory drug
Vinca rosea – contains vinblastine and vincristine used for chemotherapy
Sorghum – used as food, fodder and biofuel
Veratrum – used in cancer treatment but contains cyclopamine, a teratogen
Senecio (genera)- contains biocides in the form of alkaloids
Lupinus – food and health related uses
Further reading : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_toxins_and_fetal_development
UPDATE: 27 Oct, 2015
Some references for “Solanum tuberosum (potato), Solanum melongena (eggplant), Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato) : contain solanidanes and spirosolanes that are ‘suspected’ teratogens that are present in the edible plant parts.”
- W. Gaffield
- R. F. Keeler
I would also like to add that these chemicals (that are naturally found in nature) are suspected to behave like teratogens but in varying degrees as compared to other well known teratogens. The concentration of these chemicals may increase in some cultivars due to selective breeding processes. This all has been explained in the references I have added.
Here are the screenshots from the relevant sources that I have added about that point to the exact place where the requisite text is published.
©The Idea Bucket, 2013-2015. Submitted by Ananya.