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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 287-292

Knowledge of herbal medicines among pregnant women attending some antenatal clinics in Eastern Nigeria

Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacy Management, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria

Date of Submission07-Jan-2021
Date of Decision01-Apr-2021
Date of Acceptance24-May-2021
Date of Web Publication17-Nov-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Adaobi Uchenna Mosanya
Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacy Management, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, PMB 410001, Enugu State
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijhas.IJHAS_3_21

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BACKGROUND: There are no studies assessing the knowledge of herbal medicines among pregnant women in Eastern Nigeria despite a universal increase in herbal medicines used by this population who usually are at risk from their adverse effects. The purpose of this study was to investigate the knowledge of herbal medicines among expectant mothers in Eastern Nigeria in order to estimate any need for education on the safety and effectiveness of herbal medicines use in pregnancy.
METHODS: A cross-sectional and descriptive method was adopted, and data were collected with a validated questionnaire between June and August 2018 in three health facilities in Nsukka among pregnant women who attended antenatal clinics. A total of 300 participants were conveniently sampled. Descriptive and inferential statistical analyses were performed using SPSS 23. For statistical significance, P < 0.05.
RESULTS: Out of the 300 respondents who gave their consent, 93.3% were married, 89.9% were within the age range of 18–34 years old, and 82.8% of them had postprimary education. The mean percentage knowledge score of herbal medicine was 63.196%. More than half of the women scored below the mean score and were considered to have poor knowledge (57.9%). The respondents' sociodemographics had a nonsignificant statistical relationship with the level of knowledge of herbal medicines (P > 0.05).
CONCLUSIONS: Most of the pregnant women assessed in this study had poor knowledge of herbal medicine and no association with their sociodemographic characteristics was observed.

Keywords: Child health, herbal medicine, maternal health, Nigeria, pregnant women, risk factors

How to cite this article:
Akunne MO, Anene-Okeke CG, Mosanya AU. Knowledge of herbal medicines among pregnant women attending some antenatal clinics in Eastern Nigeria. Int J Health Allied Sci 2021;10:287-92

How to cite this URL:
Akunne MO, Anene-Okeke CG, Mosanya AU. Knowledge of herbal medicines among pregnant women attending some antenatal clinics in Eastern Nigeria. Int J Health Allied Sci [serial online] 2021 [cited 2023 Dec 10];10:287-92. Available from: https://www.ijhas.in/text.asp?2021/10/4/287/330553

  Introduction Top

Herbal medicines are plant-sourced products with some therapeutic effects.[1] In some literatures, they are known as traditional medicines. For thousands of years even before the invention of conventional therapeutic agents, many cultures have relied on herbal medicines as remedies for different kinds of illnesses. Such uses have been as a result of perceived advantages. For instance, it is understood by many users that herbal medicines are benevolent, safer, and more affordable. In developing countries, between 70% and 95% of the population use herbal medicines while in Africa, they are utilized by more than 80% of the population.[2],[3] The global prevalence of herbal medicines use is between 65% and 80%.[4] Within this range is found the population of pregnant women. Many studies have been carried out globally to assess the prevalence of use of medicinal herbs among expectant mothers. The prevalence varies among many regions of the world. The use of traditional medicines among pregnant women in Africa showed prevalence as high as 80%. They were mostly used because of symptoms related to pregnancy.[5] In the Asian region out of the total of 2729 pregnant women surveyed, about 47% had used herbal medicine at least once in their previous pregnancy.[6] The prevalence of herbal medicine consumption during pregnancy in Europe, North America, and Australia was 29.3%.[7] In Quebec, Canada, the prevalence was 9%.[8] These prevalence shows that there were real and perceived benefits of herbal medicines for expectant mothers. Some of these uses are for the treatment of pregnancy-related symptoms as well as other chronic illnesses suffered by the pregnant woman. If a woman feels that herbal medicines are beneficial in supporting her health, her pregnancy, and growing fetus as well as labor and birth, she will definitely use it.[9] In fact, it has been observed that women who on learning that they are expecting become anxious about the safety of their unborn baby and may instinctively have relied on herbal medicines instead of prescription medication,[10] for the perceived notion that the former are natural and safer.[11] The unborn child, infants and children, the elderly, pregnant, and lactating mothers are usually at high-risk of adverse effects arising from the use of herbal medicines.[12] Some examples are preterm delivery, smaller head circumference of newborn, hypoglycemia, and uterine rupture.[13] A systematic review of controlled trials revealed a total of 14 randomized control trials evaluating five different herbal medicines. Among these, ten were on ginger with only one study each on garlic, raspberry, cranberry, and St John's wort.[14] Despite a global increase in herbal medicine use during pregnancy,[15] there are no studies assessing the knowledge of pregnant women in Eastern Nigeria regarding medicinal herbs. Health literacy is very important for women, especially with respect to health care in pregnancy. Therefore, the study aimed to assess the level of knowledge of pregnant women about herbal medicines and any possible relationship between their knowledge and their sociodemographic characteristics. This will help to estimate how much need they have for adequate and updated education on the safety and effectiveness of herbal medicines use in pregnancy.

  Methods Top

Study design and setting

A cross-sectional and descriptive method was adopted, and data were collected between June and August 2018 in three health facilities in Nsukka among pregnant women who accessed the clinics for antenatal services.

Selection of participants

Three hundred respondents were conveniently selected from the study sites. The respondents included in the study were pregnant women enrolled for antenatal clinic services who gave oral consent for participation.

Method of measurement

The instrument used for data collection was a validated questionnaire. This was developed in English language by a team of drug experts. However, for the participants who had no formal education, the questions were translated to the vernacular. The questionnaire items were obtained after careful and extensive literature search. The questions were based on the source and type of medicinal herbs, the doses, and some herbal medicines' outcomes on both the mother and the unborn child in the womb. The face and content validity were assessed by experts and researchers.

A pilot study was conducted using twenty respondents who were not included in the actual study. Afterward, few adjustments were made where necessary to arrive at clear, unambiguous, and comprehensive questions. The final questionnaire was divided into section A and section B. Section A contains respondents' demographic characteristics such as age, educational level, occupation, monthly income, and marital status, while section B contains ten items assessing respondents' knowledge of herbal medicine.

Data collection and processing

The questionnaires for the study were given to the respondents at their visit to the hospital for antenatal services with the help of trained research assistants. The questionnaires were completed and returned almost immediately without delays.

Statistical method used

The respondents' demographic characteristics and level of knowledge were analyzed and results presented as frequencies and percentages. Descriptive and inferential statistical analysis was done using IBM Statistical Product and Services Solution (SPSS) for Windows, Version 23.0 (IBM Corp, Version 23.0, and Armonk, NY, USA). For statistical significance, the value was P < 0.05. Chi-square test was used to evaluate the association between demographic characteristics and level of knowledge. Respondents whose responses were above the mean percentage knowledge score showed good knowledge of herbal medicines, and responses below the mean score demonstrate poor knowledge.

Ethical guidelines

The Health Research Ethics Committee of the three health facilities granted the ethical approval for this study. Informed consent was received orally from each respondent.

  Results Top

A total of 300 expectant women attending antenatal clinic took part in this study. Majority of the respondents assessed were from the community health center (51.3%). Greater percentage was between the ages of 18 and 34 years (89.9%). Most were married (93.3%) and majority of the respondents had received postprimary education (82.8%) or work as civil servants (44.2%). Details are shown in [Table 1].
Table 1: The sociodemographic characteristics of respondents

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[Table 2] shows the percentage scores of the respondents' responses on the questions about herbal medicines. About 97.7% of the women got correctly the answer to the question “Herbal medicines are plant-based substances while most participants did not answer correctly the question “Garlic can lower the blood lipid level during pregnancy” (35.7%).

The mean percentage knowledge score of herbal medicine was 63.196. [Table 3] shows that more than half of the women scored below the mean score and were considered to have poor knowledge (57.9%).
Table 2: Knowledge of herbal medicines (n=300)

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Table 3: Categorized percentage score (n=266)

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There was no association between the respondents' sociodemographics and the level of their knowledge of medicinal herbs (P > 0.05) [Table 4].
Table 4: Association of level of knowledge with respondent's sociodemographics

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  Discussion Top

The study assessed the herbal medicines' knowledge among pregnant women in Nsukka town accessing antenatal clinics. In Eastern Nigeria, one study had been carried out to assess the knowledge of herbal medicines in Nigeria, however among a different population.[16] This limits the scope of comparisons we could make with respect to our studies. Suffice it to say, we will make the use of relevant studies to discuss our results. The age of most of the respondents fell within the category of 18–34 years old. This observation is comparable to similar studies conducted among pregnant women with respect to their use of herbal medicines.[13],[17] About 83% of the respondents had received postprimary education. Something similar was observed from a study among pregnant women in Northern Nigeria.[18] Most of the respondents had poor knowledge of herbal medicines. This is worrisome. An even higher rate of poor knowledge was observed in a study among pregnant women in Malaysia. About 90% of the respondents had poor knowledge of herbal medicines.[19] To have such minimal knowledge of herbal medicines among this vulnerable group will pose a serious danger to their health and their fetuses' health. This may have been caused by a low exposure to competent and good sources of knowledge about herbal medicines. As there are few available evidence-based efficacy and safety research on medicinal herbs used in pregnancy, they may rely on informal sources of information such as the internet, health food stores, or recommendations from relatives and friends.[10] It has been demonstrated that inadequate information was given to women about the use of medicinal herbs during pregnancy. When the health-care professionals were consulted by the women for information regarding herbal medicines, no information was given in 85.7% of the cases.[20] This may have led to harmful use of the herbal medicines. It was found among pregnant women in Southern Ethiopia that women who had sufficient knowledge of herbal medicines were 63% less likely to use herbal medicines during pregnancy than those without.[21] A relationship was found in another study between prior knowledge about herbal medicines and self-medication among pregnant mothers. Prior knowledge accounted for 32% of the reported herbal self-treatment.[22] The level of knowledge about the safety of some of the commonly used medicinal herbs in this region was low. For instance, most of them believed that the use of kola nut is good, therefore should be recommended during pregnancy and that Ginseng can be used by pregnant mothers with high blood pressure. Kola nuts, which contain caffeine,[23] are shown in previous studies to be consumed by pregnant women.[24],[25] It is commonly used in the eastern part of Nigeria and readily available in the markets. Among the regular reasons for its use are for the cure of catarrh, cough, and cold.[26] Other uses include suppression of hunger and fatigue, digestive aid before meals, and for headache.[27] A number of uses in pregnancy are for controlling nausea and vomiting, common cold, and pedal edema.[25] Nevertheless, pregnant women diagnosed of restless leg syndrome were more likely to have consumed kola nuts than those who were RSL negative (0.023).[28] Ginseng should be avoided in pregnancy by all means,[29] and even so in pregnant women with high blood pressure. It causes high blood pressure, uterine bleeding and can lead to androgynous babies.[30] In this study, very few of the respondents were aware of the efficacy of garlic in lowering blood lipid. A randomized trial among primigravidas demonstrated that garlic effectively reduced the incidence of hypertension (P = 0.043) and reduction of total cholesterol (P = 0.038).[31] Only about half of them know the usefulness of Dongoyaro (Azadirachta indica) in the treatment of malaria in pregnancy. An extraction obtained from boiling the leaves is taken orally by pregnant women for malaria treatment.[32] In fact, many previous studies have also shown mistaken notions by pregnant women about herbal medicines' safety in pregnancy.[11],[33],[34],[35],[36],[37],[38] Unfortunately, to the best of our knowledge, no clinical trials have been done in Nigeria to ascertain the safety and effectiveness of the commonly used medicinal herbs in pregnancy.

None of the respondents' sociodemographics were significantly associated with their knowledge of herbal medicines. This observation might have been caused by a low statistical power of the sample to detect any divergence between the women with good or poor knowledge of herbal medicine with respect to their sociodemographics. Perhaps the knowledge of the pregnant women regarding herbal medicines was so poor that their sociodemographic characteristics had no impact on it.

  Conclusions Top

Our findings suggest that most of the pregnant women assessed in this study had poor knowledge of herbal medicine. Many were married with children, had post primary education. The respondents' social demographics were not associated with their knowledge of herbal medicines.

Limitations and recommendation

Our study had some limitations that deserve consideration as it will help in better understanding and interpretation of the implication of its findings and serve as gaps for future research. The respondents were conveniently sampled; the sample size was small and disproportionate, hence may not be a true representation of the target population even though three health facilities were used. Therefore, the setting need to be broadened as the assessment was carried out only in Nsukka. In addition, our study adopted a cross-sectional design, hence may have problem of recall bias among respondents as the data were collected at one point in time.

Despite this, our assessment is the first study among pregnant women in Eastern Nigeria. It has also demonstrated that there is obvious gap in knowledge which can be worked upon to improve local as well as global readiness for the appropriate use of herbal medicines by pregnant women. The results from this study will serve as a spring board for further studies and initiatives for creating awareness among pregnant women regarding the rational use of herbal medicines in pregnancy. Moreover, in order to prevent potential harm that the use of herbal medicines may impose on pregnant mothers and their unborn babies, health-care providers should utilize the opportunities of antenatal briefings to educate the women using information from evidence-based research regarding herbal medicines. Furthermore, clinical trials should be carried out on the common medicinal herbs used in Nigeria to provide sufficient evidence on their effectiveness and safety in pregnancy.


We acknowledge the support of the chief medical directors of three centers used for the study. We also appreciate all the pregnant women who consented to participate in the study.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]


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