What are teratogenic plants and how can they affect your baby?

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.

potatoes also feature in the list of teratogens; these are home grown and a couple of them have the greenish tinge marking the presence of glycoalkaloid, solanine
potatoes also feature in the list of teratogens; these are home grown and a couple of them have the greenish tinge marking the presence of glycoalkaloid, solanine

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.”

Toxic Plants

Advances in Potato Chemistry and Technology

Structure-activity relations of teratogenic natural products

  • 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.


Author: Anya

Founder at The TechGirl Journal & The IDEA Bucket ; Anya lives in California while working in the field of Computational Genomics. TechGirl Journal is focussed on the lifestyle of a girl in STEM and tips on how to build a business and a career in tech with a focus on skill-development, interviews, internship, personal projects, and pet-peeves! The IDEA Bucket is focused on small business ventures and practical, urban lifestyles. For specific inquiries, you can e-mail: hello@techgirljournal.com

5 thoughts on “What are teratogenic plants and how can they affect your baby?

  1. Potatoes, Tomatoes and Eggplants are a very common part of staple diets all over the world. Can you please provide reference/citations that point to credible research that claim that these are teratogenic?


    1. Hi, I have added some references to the article. Please check the updated post 🙂

      And I would like to point to a very clearly mentioned phrase “suspected teratogens” which supports the fact that the chemical nature of the compounds present in them and their interaction with the mammalian cells in certain conditions have been found to be similar to known teratogens.


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