There’s a huge amount of interest in Chinese herbs for infertility. But do they really work? We take a look at the scientific evidence behind the claims.
A host of possible solutions are on offer for those who are trying to conceive.
Amongst them are Chinese herbs for infertility.
But what are those herbs?
And most importantly, do they actually work?
We’re going to take a look at the evidence for and against them.
Let’s dive in.
In this article: 📝
- Do Chinese herbs work for infertility?
- Do Chinese herbs help egg quality?
- Which Chinese herbs are good for fertility?
- What herbs increase fertility?
- Chinese herbs for infertility: the bottom line
Do Chinese herbs work for infertility?
Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (also known as TCM) make strong claims for its ability to treat infertility.
And there is some positive evidence to support them.
In 2012, a systematic review was carried out that looked at the use of Chinese herbs in treating infertility in women.
It found evidence that Chinese herbs:
- Increased pregnancy rates and reduced the rate of pregnancy loss.
- Positively impacted ovulation rates (that’s how regularly eggs are released from the ovaries).
- Improved the cervical mucus score. (That’s the type of mucus produced by your cervix; some kinds make it easier for sperm to reach the egg).
But there’s a problem.
The review also found that the studies were generally of poor quality.
That meant it was difficult to have confidence in their findings.
A second review of the data was carried out a year later.
This Australian study compared the results of research into Chinese traditional and Western medical treatments for infertility.
It looked at 40 trials involving more than 4,000 women.
And it found that Chinese medicine was twice as effective as Western medicine in improving pregnancy rates within 3 to 6 months.
So yes, there are promising indications that Chinese herbs can help infertility.
But there’s limited robust evidence and very little understanding of how they really work (or whether they do).
Do Chinese herbs help egg quality?
When it comes to the question of whether Chinese herbs help egg quality, the same problems with data arise.
One study published in 2017 documented the case of a woman with a range of conditions affecting her fertility.
They included what medical practitioners know as “diminished ovarian reserve.”
In other words, she had fewer and lower-quality eggs in her ovaries.
She was advised to discontinue IVF, which she did.
After treatment with a number of different Chinese herbs, she was able to conceive without Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART).
And she gave birth to a healthy baby.
But the study relates to a single patient.
And it was published by the Chinese medicine clinic that had provided the treatment.
So while it’s an interesting case, we, unfortunately, can’t draw any firm conclusions from it.
Which Chinese herbs are good for fertility?
So what Chinese herbs are used for infertility?
There are many different causes of infertility, and different herbs may be used to treat them.
Chinese medicine emphasizes the importance of looking at the individual and tailoring treatment accordingly.
If you’re interested in taking Chinese herbs for infertility, off-the-shelf treatments are not the best approach.
Rather, go for a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who will prescribe a customized treatment combining several different ingredients.
Here are some of the herbs they may use.
Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus)
This is sometimes prescribed for a brief period to help women with a short luteal phase (the period between ovulation and menstruation).
Chasteberry increases levels of the hormone progesterone.
And it’s been found to be effective in improving fertility for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
Maca Root (Lepidium meyenii)
Maca Root is a South American herb that grows high in the Andes.
Amongst its many positive effects, it’s been found to increase sperm count and motility (the sperm’s ability to move towards the egg).
And research shows that for women, maca root promotes optimal functioning of the hypothalamus and pituitary.
In other words, it helps improve the functioning of your endocrine glands, helping to balance out your hormones.
In traditional Chinese medicine, cinnamon is believed to nourish the yang energy which is needed for fertility.
A 2015 study also showed that it improved sperm quality in rats.
This small herb is used in the traditional medicine of many cultures, including Ayurvedic medicine.
It’s generally believed to act as an aphrodisiac.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it’s used to improve fertility in both men and women.
For women, it’s believed it can help regulate ovulation by aiding luteinizing hormones (LH) through various mechanisms.
In women, LH plays a role in regulating the menstrual cycle and initiating ovulation, while in men, it stimulates the testes to produce testosterone, a crucial hormone for sperm production.
If that’s true, it would be particularly helpful for women with PCOS.
What herbs increase fertility?
Herbs for fertility are part of many traditional forms of medicine.
Here are some others that may have a role in increasing fertility.
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
Black cohosh is a flowering plant native to North America.
A 2014 review found that it might also improve the fertility of women with PCOS.
But these findings come with a health warning.
The quality of the data in the studies wasn’t high, and more robust research is needed.
Black cohosh can also come with some side effects, including serious liver damage, so it’s definitely best to navigate this one with a doctor at your side.
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
Shatavari is a member of the asparagus family, and it’s used in Ayurvedic medicine to promote fertility in women.
A 2018 scientific review found evidence for its beneficial impacts across a range of conditions, including PCOS and hormonal imbalance.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is widely used as an aphrodisiac by young people in India.
It is also a hormone adaptogen, shown to help with anxiety, depression, and stress—all of which can affect women who are TTC!
And it’s thought to improve sperm count, the ability to maintain an erection, and improve sexual function in women.
It’s also used as a tonic in Ayurvedic medicine, as it’s believed to have beneficial impacts on conditions as varied as Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Chinese herbs for infertility: the bottom line
When it comes to Chinese herbs for fertility, there are some promising signs.
Unfortunately, the studies carried out to date haven’t been robust enough to draw firm conclusions on whether it really works.
The theory of traditional Chinese medicine is based on a holistic approach to the individual.
That means there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to prescribing Chinese herbs.
If you’re interested in exploring Chinese herbs for infertility, contact a qualified practitioner. Most states require people practicing traditional Chinese medicine to be certified.
A reputable practitioner will assess your individual requirements before recommending a course of treatment.
Trying to conceive can be an intensely emotional experience and can feel very lonely.
If you’d like advice and support, consider joining the Peanut community for those who are trying to conceive.
It’s a safe space to share your experiences with others in similar circumstances.
Our blog also has advice on dealing with infertility.
We wish you the best on your journey.