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Experts say consumption of zobo can lead to miscarriage

Claim: A health influencer claims drinking zobo (Hibiscus sabdariffa) leads to miscarriage. 

The consumption of hibiscus sabdariffa, also known as zobo, can lead to miscarriage. Experts believe that, although studies so far were on animals, there is need to take caution with its consumption during pregnancy while human studies are being awaited.

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Zobo, a popular Hausa name given to the drink made from Hibiscus sabdariffa, has been known to have many health benefits and has become part of cocktails at events and parties in Nigeria.

Recently, a health influencer, Dr. Udomoh (@Nigerian Health Blog) in a Twitter post, claims the consumption of zobo leads to miscarriage.

If you are pregnant, please don’t drink ZOBO. There are verified reports of women who had a miscarriage after drinking zobo” the Twitter post read.

Screenshot of the Twitter post by Dr Udomoh.

The claim, with over 600 retweets generated mixed reactions. A Twitter user @thebrandOma wrote she had zobo during her last pregnancy but was not affected by it. 

“My last pregnancy I drank zobo like water cause my former neighbour kept her zobo in my freezer to chill before going to sell, but recently I heard this at the clinic I realised maybe my body didn’t react to it but I still avoid it,” she narrated

Another user @tesemofcolor wrote that her two pregnancies were not affected even though she drank zobo but knew someone who wasn’t as lucky.

“Me too drank zobo during both my pregnancies and carried to full term. i know someone who had a miscarriage because of it though, bodies are just different but you’re right to avoid it to be safe” she narrated. 

Dr Udomoh subsequently added to his tweet; “No two pregnancies are the same. Women are also different in make up….Some other women who take zobo have had a miscarriage. I know a woman who doesn’t want to see zobo during her pregnancy cos she said it caused her last two miscarriages”.

Screenshot of Dr Udomoh’s subsequent tweet.

Many questioned if this was just a coincidence or there is a science to it, hence the need to verify the claim. 

Verification

DUBAWA found reports by Nimedhealth.com.ng and Guardian which agrees with this claim.

Also, this study by Enwerem and Azuine on hibiscus sabdariffa’s safety and efficacy during pregnancy and lactation noted that while there was no scientific evidence to support the use of hibiscus sabdariffa during pregnancy and lactation there is in vitro evidence from animal studies that the seeds of Hibiscus sabdariffa have lactogenic effect. 

The study therefore recommends a need to be cautious with the use of hibiscus sabdariffa during pregnancy and lactation until human research is done.

Screenshot of the study.

Experts’ opinion

Grace Odoma, a matron at Novelty hospital Abuja, agrees with this claim, noting that zobo contains an agent that inhibits the production of oestrogen which is vital to fertility.

“Oestrogen is a female hormone which helps to regulate the secretion of gonadotropin hormone which is required for fertility to take place, also it helps in maturation and maintenance of the uterus which houses the foetus. 

“This zobo contains an agent that inhibits the production of oestrogen  how ever leading to numerous side effects such as low birth weight, miscarriages ( preterm labour for 24 weeks gestation) and can cause abortion leading to bleeding as the uterus will contract uncontrollably leadiing to excess loss of blood,” she explained.

A gynaecologist at the National Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Jeremiah Agim, provided links to two studies that shows that Hibiscus sabdariffa (zobo) relaxes the uterus instead of causing contractions. He said some argue that it is the pineapple in the zobo that causes the contraction. While this study shows that pineapples have contractile effect on rat and human pregnant myometrial muscle in vitro. Further studies are needed to fully establish this claim.

Another health official, Dr. Lynda Effiong-Agim, a medical Officer at Chivar Specialist Hospital Abuja, also agrees with other experts, noting that the study on rats alone is enough to be cautious with its use during pregnancy. 

“It should be avoided in pregnancy… animal studies have shown the relationship between consuming zobo (hibiscus sabdariffa) and miscarriage. Although human studies are yet to be conducted, that alone is enough reason to be cautious,” she said.

Conclusion 

Although studies linking Hibiscus sabdariffa to miscarriage were carried out on rats, experts believe it may be enough for women to take caution with its use during pregnancy while we await human studies on the subject.

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