Natural Fertility Enhancement: Herbs for Fertility
Before the age of pharmaceutical drugs, herbs were relied upon throughout the course of history as "nature's medicine." However, with the dawn of modern age drugs, herbs temporarily took a back seat as a form of treatment. Nevertheless, holistic medicine has made a resurgence recently, perhaps caused by either the affordability of health care, or the desire of patients to become more involved in their medical treatment options.
Whatever the case may be, the patient's return to herbal medicine has brought about mixed reactions from the medical community. Perhaps the clinical research with St. Johns Wort and its effect on depression has led many in the medical community to think twice about the possible potency of herbs. But herbs remain a natural substance, not currently regulated by the FDA tests and the scrutiny of clinical studies, and because the potency of them can vary due to many factors, we can understand the medical community being hesitant to fully embrace the use of herbs.
What we bring to you in this compilation is our own research from multiple sources, cited at the conclusion of this text. What we attempt to do with this information is to mesh folklore with what is known in the reproductive field and what limited studies have shown about these herbs. Because clinical research is still lacking (and may well never be complete) we highly welcome comments to what is written here if there is better evidence to the contrary.
Who may benefit the most from herbal treatment?
Just like surgery is required for those with a "defective" reproductive parts (damaged tubes, mis-shaped uterus, etc.) herbs can only help those conditions where "medicine" could be administered. The most likely candidates who could benefit with herbal treatment include those with woman with annovulatory disorders, luteal phase defects, irregular cycles, men with "marginally low" sperm counts, and both men and women with unknown causes to their fertility impairment.
How do herbs "work"?
Herbalists have traditionally spoken in terms of "effects", such as - that herb "tones the uterus,” that herb is a "hormone regulator." What we attempt to do with this work is to mesh the seen "effects" of known herbal activity with the knowledge we have of the human reproductive system, and what roles known hormones and drugs play in helping conception occur.
Research on actual constituents is still very scarce, but the "mystery" components of some are slowly being revealed (as seen in Saw Palmetto where it is now known that the active ingredient in it, beta-sitosterol, inhibits the alpha-reductase enzyme and this action keeps testosterone from breaking down into dihydrotestoserone.) A wide majority of "fertility-promoting" herbs, however, contain "hormone-like" constituents - organic compounds that look very much like the natural hormones found in our bodies. Some of these are so close structurally that they actually can trigger the action of the receptor sites, which were designed for the natural counterparts to fill. When a natural hormone is lacking, it is thought that these phyto-hormones thus trigger these sites and hopefully create the action that is missing in the normal scheme of things.
On the other hand, some herbs contain actual drug-like components (as seen in Black Cohosh, which actually contains salicylic acid - aka aspirin). The real power of herbs, however, is that they usually contain multiple components, and this is what gives the herbs a unique "synergistic" effect.
The list of the herbs that follows has been known throughout time to help promote fertility. Most of these herbs either act as phyto-hormones (hormone-like compounds) that can trigger multiple receptor sites throughout the body, or that can act on the reproductive system in other ways as discussed above.
How do you take herbs?
Herbs come in many forms - capsules, tinctures (an extraction of the herbs, usually into an alcohol base) and teas. Most good herbal brands come with a recommended dosage that usually involves taking the herb 3 times/day for several months to keep consistent concentrations of the herb in the bloodstream. It is often hard to maintain this regimen of taking the herbs so often. However, a good regimen must be maintained in order to see optimum effects of the herbs. It is recommended to keep the herbs in a frequently visited spot (like the kitchen sink) and possibly another supply at work, if necessary.
Many knowledgeable herbalists and pharmacists insist on taking standardized herbs, that is, herbs that have a certain concentration of a give constituent in them. However, as we have seen, the active ingredient(s) in many of the herbs above are still unknown. What is recommended in this case is to use a brand of herbs that has been on the market for quite some time and has good credibility. Low price on an herb does not necessarily mean good or bad quality.
Precautions with herbs
As we are seeing more clinical data unravel regarding the medicinal properties of herbs, we need to respect the potency of them in return. Where a little of the herb may help, a lot may cause problems - always start off with recommended dosage and adjust slowly! Listen to your body's response to the effects of the herbs. Using a journal to track how your body feels from day to day. It is also recommended that you learn all you can about the herbs on your own -- side effects, etc. Advise your doctor of your herbal use, especially before you take them if you are on any other prescription medications. And by all means - Never mix herbs with fertility drugs!
In fact, all herbs should be discontinued upon the confirmation of a pregnancy. Finally, be realistic with your expectations of what herbs can do for you. Most herbs take 3-6 months to see maximum benefits. And remember - as much as we would wish it - there is no magical fertility pill!
With that having been said here is a list of commonly used herbs in fertility:
Vitex helps to lengthen luteal phase defects and helps to lower high prolactin levels, both of which cause infertility. However, vitex does not contain hormones - its benefits stem from its actions upon the pituitary gland - specifically upon the production of lutenizing hormone. This helps to increase the production of progesterone - thus helping to regulate the menstrual cycle. It also aids in decreasing prolactin levels. A breastfeeding mom, for example, would produce a high level of prolactin, thus the natural birth control effect. But in decreasing the prolactin levels - it may enable a woman to finally become pregnant.
Some say to take it from menstruation to ovulation - stopping once ovulation has been established and then continuing again if menstruation should occur. Others have said it is safe to take all month long - stopping if pregnancy should occur. On this argument - the effects vitex has on a woman’s hormones can benefit her throughout her entire cycle. Also, it may be a smart practice to discontinue any supplements during menstruation, to allow the body to completely cleanse itself.
Vitex is not a fast acting herb and may take several months to build up in your system. When using vitex to treat infertility you can take it up to 12 to 18 months - or until pregnancy occurs. Should pregnancy not occur in that time span, seek the advice of a health care professional for the next steps in achieving pregnancy. Another note of caution - you cannot take vitex while taking the fertility drug Clomid - or any drug like Clomid. It seems that vitex and Clomid counter act each other.
- Vitex helps minimize symptoms of PMS, regulate heavy, frequent or lack of menses.
- It helps to improve fertility in cases where fertility is the result of hormonal imbalances.
- Vitex is useful in treating peri menopausal and menopausal symptoms, in particular hot flashes, and menstrual irregularities such as flooding, clotting and irregular cycle. Post menopausal women who still feel cyclic mood swings can also benefit.
Vitex should not be taken during pregnancy or with hormone therapy.
Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) lowers cholesterol, helps to alleviate pms and most importantly, aids in the production of fertile quality cervical fluid. EPO is an essential fatty acid that contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA). It is converted to a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin E1 which has anti-inflammatory properties and may also act as a blood thinner and blood vessel dilator. The anti-inflammatory properties help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. We want to discuss the effects EPO has on pms and cervical fluid.
If you suffer from pms - this is a sign that you are deficient in the fatty acid contained in EPO. EPO can help the body to alleviate the pms symptoms. EPO does a world of good in treating aliments of all sorts.
EPO helps the body to produce more fertile quality cervical fluid also known as "egg white cervical mucus." This is because fertile cervical fluid is thin, watery, clear and "stretchy" and easily aids the sperm to swim through the uterus and into the fallopian tube, and to the egg. If there is a lack in this type of cervical fluid, it can impede and/or prevent fertilization. Some women are very dry, and have problems in producing an adequate amount of fertile quality cervical fluid. Drinking a lot of water and taking the EPO can certainly help in the production of fertile cervical fluid. Also, this type of fluid helps the sperm to stay alive for up to five days inside the fallopian tube, thus enabling conception to happen even if you don't have intercourse again by the time ovulation occurs.
EPO should only be taken from menstruation to ovulation. This is because EPO can cause uterine contractions in pregnancy. The dosage taken should be 1500mg to 3000mg per day. I usually took around 2000 mg of EPO. Since essential fatty acids are necessary, you can take flax seed oil in place of EPO after ovulation. This may be taken throughout pregnancy. Check the label to see the correct dosage.
There are many remedies out there to help with fertility, but few are as good as EPO. EPO is excellent for women because of the help it gives in alleviating pms symptoms, and even menopausal women can benefit from taking it. I have heard of many praises to EPO and the fact that it definitely increases the fertile type cervical fluid. This may take a month or two to build up, and produce the results you are looking for. It is imperative that you chart your fertility symptoms and signs, so you can know when you have ovulated. By knowing this information, you can discontinue the EPO after ovulation and start the flax seed oil. Unless you are very regular, charting your fertility signs is the best tool to determine where you are in your cycle.
Black cohosh is used primarily for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Black cohosh, a phytoestrogen, is the most promising herbal remedy to treat mood swings, hot flashes and vaginal dryness associated with menopause. Phytoestrogens are non-steroidal, plant-derived substances that bind or activate estrogen receptors in various areas of the body. In post-menopausal women, phytoestrogens typically act as weak estrogens.
An improvement in overall menopausal symptoms, reduction in hot flashes and stimulation of vaginal changes were observed in a series of clinical studies in more than 800 women. Few or no toxic effects were observed.
Red Clover (trifolium pretense):
May restore and balance hormonal function. Red Clover contains isoflavones (estrogen-like compounds) which promote estrogen production and which may enhance fertility in women and boost estrogen levels in women with estrogen deficiencies. In addition, the Red Clover contains calcium and magnesium which can relax the nervous system and improve fertility.
Siberian Ginseng (eleutherococcus senticosus root):
It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to reinforce the body's vital energy (what the Chinese call chi). Siberian ginseng may positively affect hormone levels, tone uterine muscles, support healthy uterine function, and enhance fertility.
Dong Quai is an ancient Asian herb. Although not containing any known phyto-estrogens, Dong Quai does seem to act like an estrogen "modulator" which activates or suppresses estrogen receptors within the pituitary to even out the hormones that pulsate to the ovaries and bring on ovulation. Dong Quai is also believed to increase metabolism within the uterus and ovaries and has been attributed with helping to build a receptive uterine lining. Among its many active ingredients, Dong Quai also contains constituents that are thought to have immune enhancing and anti-tumor activity as well. However, due to its vasodilatation effect, dong quai should be discontinued when a pregnancy is confirmed.
Native to the Mediterranean region and parts of Asia and cultivated worldwide, licorice appears to modulate estrogen, similar to dong quai. Licorice has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and glucose-balancing effects. Licorice contains saponins, a cortisone-like constituent, among a vast array of over 40 other constituents. Japanese study showed positive results in treatment of oligomenorrhea due to elevated androgen levels, as seen in PCO patients.
Precautions: A study in the Journal of Hypertension shows that a moderate amount of licorice, 50 to 100 grams, raises blood pressure about 5 mm of mercury. If your blood pressure is normal, this shouldn't concern you, but if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, this rise can increase your chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke. Licorice root contains a chemical called glycyrrhizin acid that has almost the same chemical structure as the hormone aldosterone, produced by your adrenal glands, that cause your body to retain the mineral, sodium and to lose the mineral, potassium,/ which can raise blood pressure. Some diuretics also cause your kidneys to lose large amounts of potassium. So, taking licorice with a diuretic can cause you to lose enough potassium to cause muscle fatigue and irregular heart beats. avoid if the patient has hypertension, kidney disease or during pregnancy.
False Unicorn Root:
Although there currently is no clinical data on this herb, there is much folklore about it as a female and male fertility promoter. It is said to contain "precursors of estrogen," which could be the premise behind it aiding both sexes. It has been claimed to be a uterine tonic, diuretic, and exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. It possibly also contains progesterone-like constituents, since it apparently is also useful to help prevent miscarriage, delayed periods, and painful periods.
Korean Ginseng contains over a dozen hormone-like constituents in it that have been known to help increase sperm formation, testosterone levels and sex drive in animal studies. It also has a tradition in helping female fertility as well.
Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa):
The pharmaceutical industry has used wild yam for decades in the production of steroids and hormones such as progesterone and cortisone. In its natural form, this herb may help prevent habitual miscarriage due to hormonal imbalance.
Tribulus (tribulus terestris):
Used to treat sexual dysfunction as well as infertility. Balances and improves hormonal profiles.
Saw Palmetto (serenoa repens):
A natural steroid that tones and strengthens the reproductive system. This herb has the added benefit of increasing libido, a consequence that can be helpful when trying to conceive! (Note: Some studies have found that Saw Palmetto may decrease sperm count but evidence is far from conclusive.)
L-Carnitine plays a vital role in the process of sperm development, in promoting proper maturation and morphology of sperm, and in ensuring the maintenance of sperm quality and vitality
Grapseed Extract is a vital antioxidant that scours damaging free-radicals from your system. Free radicals cause oxidative damage to the body - a literal 'rusting' of tissues and cells. This damage can impact male reproductive function and disrupt fertility health. Studies indicate that supplements rich in antioxidants can dramatically improve male reproductive health.
Maca Root and Asian Ginseng:
These are herbal ingredients that have been scientifically demonstrated to improve sperm production and motility.
Beta-carotene is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects sperm from free radical attack. It’s also a precursor to Vitamin A, a key player in ensuring proper sperm maturation.
This trademarked extract contains over 40 identified constituents and comes from bark of Maritime pine found on the coast of South France. It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. It is one of the few clinically studied herbs and it has been shown that it helps extend the life of Vitamin C in the body, helps increase blood flow and restricts blood vessels. A smaller clinical study indicated that it helps improve morphology of sperm.
Vitamins and Minerals for Fertility
Vitamin C and Fertility:
According to a study conducted at the University of Texas Medical School at Galveston, insufficient amounts of vitamin C in a man’s diet can lead to agglutination of sperm. Agglutination occurs when sperm cells clump together, thus inhibiting maximal progression or movement of the sperm. According to Dr. Earl Dawson M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at the U of Texas at Galveston, vitamin C is also helpful in smokers who have increased amounts of abnormally formed sperm. Cigarette smoke is absorbed through the lungs and enters the circulatory system (bloodstream). Once the toxins reach the bloodstream they find their way to the semen and this can lead to less than optimal sperm count and function. It is believed that vitamin C helps to neutralize the toxic effects of cigarette smoke on the sperm. When sperm stick together (a condition called agglutination), fertility is reduced. Vitamin C reduces sperm agglutination, (3) increasing the fertility of men with this condition. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 60 milligrams per day for an adult male. According to Dr. Dawson intake of 200 to 1000 milligrams per day had a beneficial effect on sperm.
Women should avoid mega doses of vitamin C because it can dry up cervical fluid, preventing sperm from reaching the egg. Limit the amount you take to the dose included in your prenatal vitamin.
Vitamin E and Fertility:
Vitamin E is essential for fertility and reproduction. Deficiency in rats has shown that it leads to absorption in the female and loss of fertility on the male. This potent antioxidant plays important roles in male sperm production. It is known that a lack of vitamin E inhibits the formation of sperm. Low vitamin E levels can cause a decline in the formation of key sex hormones and enzymes responsible for sperm production. Although potency is not affected, fertility is improved due to its protective effect on sperm cell membranes. Supplementation with Vitamin E may also aid in improving sperm motility. Dose: 400 IU daily. Talk to your doctor prior to starting Vitamin E, particularly if you are currently taking aspirin or other blood thinners.
A study conducted at the University of Padua in Italy and published in the Journal Science states that a diet low in selenium could be a cause of male infertility. Selenium acts to help prevent oxidation of the sperm cell, thus aiding in maintaining sperm cell integrity. Good sources of selenium can be found in red meat, liver and seafood. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for selenium is 70 micrograms/day for an adult male.
This mineral is involved in over 200 proteins and enzymes and is essential for male fertility. Zinc is involved in the activation of key sperm enzymes, and moves into the prostate with the assistance of testosterone. A lack of zinc causes a lowering of testosterone, shrinks testicle size and produces misshapen and less healthy sperm, among other negatives. Upon restoring a daily dose of 15 milligrams, testosterone and sperm count levels rebounded to acceptable levels within 12 months. Take zinc with a full glass of water.
This is a B Complex vitamin that is synthesized in the body. PABA is believed to increase the ability of estrogen to facilitate fertility and increases the ability of some infertile women to become pregnant. A clinical trial reported that 12 of 16 previously infertile women were able to become pregnant after supplementing with PABA over several months.
Folic Acid (Folate):
Folic Acid taken prior to conception can prevent birth defects like spina bifida and neural tube defects as well as other fetal malformations like cardiac defects.