Key Takeaways From This Article:
- Some research indicates that some kinds of herbs may offer certain fertility benefits, but the studies involve the administration of controlled doses of the herb.
- Herbal medicine may improve fertility, but successful cases often involve the administration of herbs in combination with other herbs, vitamins, or treatments.
- Studies have been performed on ginseng, chasteberry, green tea, cinnamon, and turmeric to evaluate their potential fertility benefits.
Herbs have been used for centuries for a variety of medicinal purposes. Various herbs have been used in ancient Chinese medicine, ancient Ayurvedic medicine, and throughout Europe to naturally improve fertility. Some of these herbs are still taken today. According to a 2018 consumer study on dietary supplements, the Council for Responsible Nutrition found in a survey that 75% of adults in the U.S. take dietary supplements. The journal Spermatogenesis reports that 29% of infertile couples used complementary medicine and in this group 17% worked with an herbal therapist to improve their chances of conceiving. Many herbs and supplements have been touted for their fertility benefits, but which ones really work? For couples trying to conceive, or for couples struggling with fertility issues, it can be difficult to know which herbs are really beneficial, and which ones are just hype.
Scientific research regarding the efficacy of herbs and supplements can be challenging to perform because much of the research is confined to animal studies and data from animal studies may not directly correlate to how a given herb might affect human fertility. However, there are several herbs for which there is more robust research available, where studies indicate that the herbs might show promise for patients struggling with getting pregnant. Nevertheless, individuals should exercise caution before taking any herb on its own, because many herbs and supplements work best when administered in combination with other treatments or as an herbal blend. In studies that showed positive results, patients also received regular daily doses, something that can be difficult to achieve when taking an herb in the raw, or when taking an herb without guidance. For example, according to Complimentary Therapies in Medicine, Chinese herbal medicine may be able to improve female pregnancy rates, but in the studies, patients were administered formulas based on their individual needs. For example, some herbs are better for men and others are better suited for women. Ginseng helps with sperm count and motility, but this herb may not have similar fertility benefits for women.
That noted, let’s take a closer look at some of the herbs for which there is research regarding their fertility benefits.
Ginseng. In traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng is used as an aphrodisiac and has been used to treat erectile dysfunction. According to the journal Spermatogenesis, research indicates that ginseng may be able to improve male sperm counts and may be an herbal remedy for some men suffering from erectile dysfunction. One study found that men who consumed 900 mg of Korean red ginseng three times daily saw improved sexual performance, something essential for traditional methods of conception to occur. Studies on both animals and humans also indicated that ginseng could improve sperm count. This is important because research indicates that sperm counts in men are declining throughout the world, though researchers don’t know why. Ginseng may improve sperm performance as well. According to the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, Korean red ginseng was found to improve sperm concentrations, motility, and viability. Essentially, sperm was strong, mobile, and high in concentration–also key for conception. Will taking ginseng alone lead to pregnancy? While ginseng appears to improve sperm quality and count (important factors for conception to occur), ginseng isn’t recommended for women looking to conceive. Different herbs, like chasteberry, should be looked at more closely.
Chasteberry. Chasteberry was used for thousands of years by the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans for treating a range of gynecological conditions. According to American Family Physician, chasteberry is “widely used in Europe” today to treat conditions including PMS, irregularities of the menstrual cycle, and uterine bleeding. In Germany, chasteberry is widely prescribed by family physicians and gynecologists to treat PMS, regulate the menstrual cycle, and control “dysfunctional uterine bleeding.” Side-effects of taking chasteberry were minor and the herb showed no herb-drug interactions. What’s the best dose of chasteberry? When used as an herbal blend, results have been encouraging. Chasteberry is included in FertilityBlend, a nutritional supplement designed to improve fertility in women. Stanford University School of Medicine gave 53 women who had struggled to conceive for the last 6 to 36 months FertilityBlend. 26% of the women were pregnant after three months, compared to only 10% of women in the control study who were not given FertilityBlend.
Green Tea. Green tea has been touted for its various health properties, but recent studies indicate that green tea’s antioxidant effects might have fertility benefits. According to Reproductive BioMedicine Online, green tea’s antioxidant effects may improve the viability of both sperm in men and eggs in women. Should couples trying to conceive drink more green tea? It can’t hurt. But, fertility is a complex process, so couples looking to conceive should be cautious when choosing one herb as a cure-all.
Cinnamon. In traditional Chinese medicine, cinnamon is used to treat a wide range of ailments. Could cinnamon have benefits as a fertility herbal supplement? There is some early evidence that cinnamon could help women suffering with polycystic ovary syndrome in maintaining regular menstrual cycles, which could potentially help with family planning and conception. In a controlled trial study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers at Columbia University found preliminary evidence that cinnamon could be a treatment option for women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Of course, this study is early, and more research needs to be done, but adding a little cinnamon to your green tea couldn’t hurt.
Turmeric. In recent years, we’re seeing more hype about the health benefits of turmeric. In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric has a history of medicinal uses that date back 4000 years. According to Herbal Medicine: Biomedical and Clinical Uses, in the last 25 years, more rigorous scientific studies have looked into the potential medical benefits of the spice. What does modern science say about the use of turmeric as a fertility supplement? Three recent studies indicate that turmeric may improve ovulation, prevent certain pregnancy complications, and may serve as a substance capable of preserving sperm. Research published in the Journal of Reproduction and Fertility indicates that turmeric could improve ovulation in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome, which could potentially help them conceive. Researchers writing in the journal Biomarkers and Genomic Medicine also note that curcumin could also reduce inflammation associated with the development of preeclampsia, a potentially deadly pregnancy complication. Finally, research published in the journal of Microbiology, Biotechnology, and Food Sciences indicates that curcumin could preserve in vitro sperm cultures in animal studies, but more research needs to be done on whether turmeric actually could improve male sperm counts or motility in humans. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, curcumins are being closely studied for their wide range of health benefits, and in the future we might see more conclusive evidence for their potential fertility benefits. Until then, adding a little turmeric to your meals can’t hurt.
These are just some of the fertility herbs for which research has been performed. For thousands of years, humans have been using herbal remedies for fertility and to address other health issues. Today, more couples are looking for herbal alternatives to help them get pregnant. However, the reasons why a couple might have difficulty getting pregnant can be complex. And sometimes doctors can’t always find a specific cause. In cases where there is no clear medical reason for a couple’s infertility, some couples are looking to herbal remedies or are using herbal daily supplements along with in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI). However, research on the benefits of herbal remedies for fertility involve patients taking very controlled quantities of a given herb or supplement. This is why couples with an interest in herbal remedies for infertility are wise to seek the advice of an herbal therapist, doctor, or use a fertility blend on which research has been conducted.
- Council for Responsible Nutrition. 2018 CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements.
- https://www.crnusa.org/resources/2018-crn-consumer-survey-dietary-supplements. Accessed 28 January 2020.
- “Turmeric.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2016,
- https://nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric/ataglance.htm. Accessed 24 January 2020.
- Bambang Rahardjo, Edy Widjajanto, Hidayat Sujuti, Kusnarman Keman, “Curcumin decreased level of proinflammatory cytokines in monocyte cultures exposed to preeclamptic plasma by affecting the transcription factors NF-κB and PPAR-γ,” Biomarkers and Genomic Medicine, Volume 6, Issue 3, 2014, Pages 105-115.
- Kort, DH, Lobo, RA. “Preliminary Evidence that Cinnamon Improves Menstrual Cyclicity in Women with Polycycstic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2014.
- Leung, Kar Wah and Wong, Alice. “Ginseng and Male Reproductive Function.” Spermatogenesis. 2013.
- Mohammadi, Shima et al. “The Effect of Curcumin on TNF-α, IL-6 and CRP Expression in a Model of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome as an Inflammation State.” Journal of reproduction & infertility vol. 18, 4 (2017): 352-360.
- Park, Hyun Jun, et al. “Effects of Korean Red Ginseng on Semen Parameters in Male Infertility Patients: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind Clinical Study.” Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, 2016.
- Ried, Karin. “Chinese Herbal Medicine for Female Infertility: An Updated Meta-Analysis.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2015
- Roemheld-Hamm, Beatrix. “Chasteberry.” American Family Physician, 2005.
- Roychoudhury, Shubhadeep, et al. “Potential Role of Green Tea Catechins in the Management of Oxidative Stress-Associated Infertility.” Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 2017.
- Tvrda, Eva, et. al. Journal of Microbiology, Biotechnology, and Food Sciences. 2015.
- Wachtel-Galor, Sissi and Benzie, F.F. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd Ed. CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, 2011.
- Westphal, LM, et al. “Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of FertilityBlend: A Nutritional Supplement for Improving Fertility in Women.” Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2006.