Due to potential health benefits and the general assumption that natural products are safe,
there is an increasing trend in the general population – including pregnant women – to supplement their
diet with flavonoid-based food supplements. In addition, preclinical studies aim to prevent developmental
adverse effects induced by toxic substances, infections, maternal or genetic diseases of the unborn
child by administration of flavonoids at doses far above those reached by normal diets. Because these
substances do not undergo classical risk assessment processes, our aim was to review the available literature
on the potential adverse effects of maternal diet supplementation with flavonoid-based products
for the developing child. A systematic literature search was performed in three databases and screened
following four exclusion criteria. Selected studies were classified into two groups: 1. Studies on the developmental
toxicity of single flavonoids in vitro or in animals in vivo, and 2. Studies on the developmental
toxicity of single flavonoids or on flavonoid-mixtures in humans. The data collected indicate
that there is a concern for the safety of some flavonoids within realistic human exposure scenarios. This
concern is accompanied by a tremendous lack of studies on safety of these compounds during development
making definite safety decisions impossible. Besides studies of survival, especially the more specific
developmental processes like nervous system development need to be addressed experimentally.
Before new high-dose, flavonoid-based therapeutic strategies are developed for pregnant women further
research on the safety of these compounds is clearly needed.
Keywords: Adverse effects, development, flavonoids, food supplements, herbal-based products, pregnancy, toxicity.
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