If you wish to start taking cordyceps regularly during pregnancy, seek a Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner’s advice beforehand. You should inform your gynae, as well.
That’s because the popular Chinese herb may interact with Western medicines in unpredictable ways.
In 2015, a 58-year-old woman who underwent surgery for a benign brain tumour at Singapore General Hospital later died after developing extensive bleeding in the brain.
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A parasitic fungus, the herb contains adenosine, which impedes platelets in the blood from clumping together and forming a clot, thus increasing the risk of bleeding.
The herb is traditionally used to boost a person’s energy and strengthen his immune system.
It has been used to treat respiratory problems such as asthma and chronic bronchitis, and can be brewed in soups, ground into powder, or taken in tablet form.
The coroner’s inquiry found her death to be a medical misadventure. Although doctors had asked whether she had taken herbal medicine before surgery, she answered in the negative.
Her husband said this was possibly as she thought cordyceps was a health supplement, not a medicine.
TCM experts told The Straits Times that cordyceps may interact with Western medicines in unpredictable ways.
For instance, cordyceps may augment the effect of warfarin – a commonly prescribed blood thinner for people with heart conditions.
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Dr Lim Min Yee, a physician at Nanyang Technological University’s Chinese Medicine clinic, added that the blood-thinning effects of cordyceps are not common, and may show up only in people with underlying medical conditions.
“Cordyceps when taken by healthy people as a dietary supplement are generally considered safe when used in accordance with proper dosing guidelines,” Dr Lim said.
Physician Neo Min Jun, from the Eu Yan Sang Clinic, added that cordyceps are not suitable for those who are suffering from ailments such as flu, gastritis or high fever.
“It is a nourishing medicine and may not be suitable for all types of diseases,” she said.
It is safe for a healthy adult to take between five and 15g of cordyceps a day, she added, although this may vary depending on a person’s constitution.
A version of this article appeared in The Straits Times in 2016.