Herbal medicines appeal to some couples trying to conceive because natural products are perceived to be less invasive and to have fewer side-effects. Why not take blue cohosh, which is purported to regulate menstrual cycles? A few drops sound harmless, right? The answer is maybe, maybe not. Blue cohosh may increase the incidence of uterine contractions, a phenomenon that could interfere with implantation of a fertilized embryo or otherwise complicate an established pregnancy. Some studies have also shown serious heart and thyroid problems in infants whose mothers took blue cohosh to induce labor.
While practitioners of holistic Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)—a system of medicine that treats the whole person and not just the illness—use herbs frequently with much self-reported success, the use of herbs to enhance fertility is controversial according to Western medicinal standards.
Dr. Alison Zimon, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Harvard Medical School, says that there is "just not good data on whether these herbs are effective." Dr. Zimon adds that, "Even if some good data were available, the real fear is not knowing if these herbs and the other ingredients in these remedies could cause harm." If you have already taken herbs, tell your physician right away. Many herbs reputed to increase conception rates (for example: Chasteberry and Ginseng) can actually harm fetal development if taken in high doses.
Couples who want to optimize their systems for babymaking may wonder if specially designed fertility-blend multivitamins might help speed up the process. Many of these products are simply multivitamins with additional herbals, which have not been scientifically proven to increase fertility. "We have to remember that reproduction is a natural process," says Dr. Robert Oates, associate professor of Urology at Boston University School of Medicine. "Our Western diet is better than at any time in human history. It's quite likely that we as a species are not so nutritionally dependent that a supplement would make the difference in our fertility, or we would never have reproduced."