Herbs and Fertility

Efficacy of Herbs

Many acupuncturists will prescribe and dispense herbs to address a patient’s fertility issues. There is a wide variety and combination of herbs that can be used and we may overgeneralize at times in this section.

Unfortunately, the quality of our data around the efficacy of herbs in conjunction with IVF is poor, even worse than our data around acupuncture and IVF. Today we have roughly 20 studies on the subject, but nearly all are small and suffer from major design flaws. Presuming this is the best data we have to work with, the meta-analysis below suggests that use of herbs improves pregnancy rates. However the authors urge “extreme caution” about reading too heavily into the results. We would not be surprised if this data proved wrong when more rigorously studied.

Safety of Herbs

We should point out most fertility doctors prohibit their patients from using herbs leading up to an egg retrieval, or ahead of a programmed embryo transfer where estrogen or progesterone is used. The fear is that using herbs in conjunction with these medications, or around the time of anesthesia, could result in a bleeding issue or have an impact on the drug’s ability to work. We’ve yet to see the data that supports this fear.

When Cao looked through the safety record of the above-mentioned 20 trials, she noted patients taking herbs before or during IVF suffered no higher rates of miscarriage or OHSS than those who did not take herbs.

Finally, patients must be extremely careful taking herbs from an unvetted source. There is no regulation to ensure herbs given to patients have been properly grown or processed, especially if they are sourced from China. We suggest relying upon your acupuncturist for guidance.

Pro Tips

  • While the data on herbal impact on success rates is encouraging, interpret it with caution.

  • Let your reproductive endocrinologist know if you are taking herbs. They may have concerns about its interaction with injectible hormones.

  • Let your acupuncturist know when and if you have begun injectible hormones.

  • Only take herbs provided to you by a trusted or vetted source. There is no regulatory oversight to ensure herbs have been safely processed.

  • Ensure your acupuncturist has the proper credentialing to prescribe herbs. You can read more about this in the next lesson.