Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fertility/Infertility Herbs and Vitamins - Article

Restoring Fertility With Vitamins And Herbs

by Jill E. Stansbury, N.D.

In one of life's ironies, every night, millions of men and women use
condoms, diaphragms and other contraceptives to avoid pregnancy.
Meanwhile, an estimated 10 percent of all couples who want a child
can't conceive. To them it feels tragic. Sadness and self-incriminations
can lead to discord in their marriages. Fortunately, simple nutritional
and botanical remedies can often restore fertility.

Infertility is defined as a lack of conception after one year of
unprotected intercourse. Hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies,
anatomic problems and various diseases are often to blame. Because it
takes two to make a baby, the reason for conception difficulties may
lie with the man, the woman or both.

The key to male fertility is large quantities of healthy sperm. A
medical evaluation relies primarily on a sperm analysis, whereby fresh
semen is examined for the quantity, form and motility of sperm. Sometimes
anatomical problems such as enlarged scrotal veins (varicocele) or
fluid accumulation in the scrotum (hydrocele) can impair sperm formation.
Correcting circulation to the testes with exercise, alternating hot and
cold sitzbaths or surgery may restore fertility.

Glandular diseases such as thyroid abnormalities and diabetes mellitus
can interfere with hormonal control of sperm production, while infections
of the prostate and epididymis (a tubular structure on top of each testis
into which secretions drain) can interfere with sperm production or block
the exit of sperm from the body. Treating both can resolve infertility.
Other infections, such as mumps orchitis (an inflammation of the testicles
following the mumps), can result in permanent infertility. Chromosomal
abnormalities associated with infertility are likewise not correctable.

Sometimes sperm can't do their job because the woman's immune system
creates antibodies to them.1 Examining the fluid in a woman's vagina
after intercourse can determine if immune rejection is causing the

When examinations fail to find an illness or anatomical defect to
explain an abnormal sperm count, nutritional and environmental factors
may be to blame. For example, exposing the testes to excessive heat
from jacuzzis, saunas or tight clothing can interfere with optimal
sperm production. General malnutrition, as well as specific nutrient
deficiencies, can also result in weak sperm.

To keep their groins cool, men should wear loose clothing and avoid
heat exposure, such as long soaks in hot tubs. To maintain optimal
nutrition, I recommend a diet that is rich in organic vegetables,
fresh fruits and whole grains, and low in animal products. Evidence
indicates that residues of the estrogens fed to cattle and poultry
can interfere with human hormones. Furthermore, pesticides, plastics
and other environmental pollutants can bind to estrogen receptors in
the body and depress both male and female fertility.2

I also recommend that men take a good multivitamin and make sure
they get sufficient amounts of nutrients specific for male reproductive
health, such as zinc, vitamin E and the amino acids arginine and taurine.

* Zinc:
Semen contains high concentrations of zinc. Supplementing the
diet with 30-60 mg zinc a day may improve sperm count and sexual
function.3,4 A good dietary source of zinc is pumpkin seeds, long
recommended as a fertility-enhancing food and a remedy for benign
prostate enlargement.5 Pumpkin seeds also are rich in two other
nutrients beneficial to male sexual functioning: the plant steroid
beta-sitosterol (which binds to the testosterone receptor) and
vitamin E.

* Vitamin E:
Formerly labeled the anti-sterility vitamin, vitamin E is
crucial to proper reproductive function in both men and women. In
fact, the chemical name for vitamin E, "tocopherol," originated from
the Greek words tokos, which means "offspring," and phero, which means
"to bear." One of the body's main antioxidant nutrients, vitamin E
protects hormones from oxidation. As vitamin E becomes less available
in processed foods and exposure to harmful oxidizing agents increases,
supplementation with 400-800 IU a day may improve fertility for some

* Amino acids:
Arginine has been shown to raise sperm counts and sperm motility.
The recommended dosage is 2-4 g a day.7,8 Taurine, another amino acid
that may enhance sperm production and motility, is supplemented at 2-4 g
a day.9

After a man adopts a healthy diet supplemented with the above nutrients,
he should have his sperm count rechecked in three to six months.

Sources Of Female Infertility
As with men, hormonal abnormalities can lead to infertility in women
and should be ruled out with blood tests. Uterine fibroids (benign
tumors of fibrous tissue), endometriosis (abnormal location of uterine
tissue in the pelvic cavity), ovarian cysts and infections of reproductive
organs can all impair fertility and are easily detected by a physician.

Lack of ovulation can also be a cause of infertiltiy. Lab tests can
document ovulation, but a woman can also determine ovulation by noting,
throughout the month, variations in her body temperature and vaginal
mucous. A woman's morning temperature usually increases half a degree
around the time of ovulation and remains high until the menstrual
period begins. Many medications and factors, such as excessive use
of alcohol, electric blankets and restless sleep, can disturb this
variation in body temperature. Prior to and after ovulation, when a
woman isn't fertile, cervical mucous tends to be thick and sticky.
At ovulation, the mucous becomes thinner, more watery and abundant.

Conditions that cause irregular menses or cycles without ovulation
can also lead to infertility. These may stem from ovarian and uterine
abnormalities. Women who are anemic may stop menstruating as their
bodies attempt to avoid the loss of blood. Treating anemia and its
underlying cause may restore fertility. Women who exercise vigorously
or who have extremely low body fat may be below a critical body weight
to sustain menstruation and pregnancy. Backing off the heavy exercise
and gaining a few pounds is sometimes all that's required to become

As with men, the objective is to diagnose and treat any illness or
imbalance that might secondarily cause infertility. In the absence of
an underlying cause, hormonal therapies can sometimes help correct
ovulation problems or irregular menses. Both pharmaceutical and botanical
treatments may restore the hormonal rhythms that control ovulation.

Clomiphene citrate is a commonly prescribed fertility drug. It stimulates
the brain to release luteinizing hormone, which causes egg maturation and
release from the ovary. The drug is taken for just a few days and then
stopped. A brief fertile period may follow. A drawback is that more than
one egg may be released, resulting in a multiple pregnancy. In addition,
nearly half of all pregnancies achieved in this way result in spontaneous
abortion.10 Perhaps the miscarriage rate is so high because such
medications only force ovulation without correcting underlying deficiencies
or hormonal abnormalities. Botanical medicines on the other hand, nourish
and support the female reproductive system to restore hormonal balance.

Herbs That Can Restore Fertility
Here are a few herbs, listed in order of importance, that are often
recommended by naturopathic doctors and herbalists to help restore female

* Chaste tree berry
(Vitex agnus-castus): This herb stimulates the release of luteinizing
hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland in the brain. This, in turn, promotes
ovulation. Chaste tree berry may restore normal periods in women with
amenorrhea (lack of menstrual periods).11

* Dong quai
(Angelica sinensis): Widely used for female complaints, including
menstrual irregularities and infertility, dong quai can tone a weak
uterus by promoting metabolism within the organ,12 regulating hormonal
control and improving the rhythm of the menstrual cycle.13

* Red clover blossoms
(Trifolium pratense): These beautiful little flowers are categorized
in many herbals as fertility promoters. Chemical analysis shows that the
herb is rich in coumestans and isoflavones, estrogenlike compounds that
may promote fertility, particularly in women who are deficient in

* Licorice
(Glycyrrhiza glabra): This plant contains hormonally active
compounds categorized as saponins.15 A Japanese study found
licorice-based medicines improved menstruation in women with infrequent
periods. The study also found that licorice helped women with elevated
testosterone and low estrogen levels, as commonly occurs in polycystic
ovary disease.16

* Siberian ginseng
(Eleutherococcus senticosus): This and other tonic botanicals
can improve fertility by enhancing overall health and vitality. Siberian
ginseng also acts on the brain to promote regulation of reproductive

Maintaining Pregnancy
Sometimes a woman's fertility problem lies not in conceiving, but in
maintaining pregnancy. For habitual spontaneous abortion, several
hormonal, nutritional and herbal therapies may help continue the
pregnancy. In addition, numerous botanical medicines can improve both
uterine tone and hormonal regulation. Here are a few:

* Black cohosh
(Cimicifuga racemosa): Like chaste tree berry, black cohosh
enhances pituitary secretion of luteinizing hormone with subsequent
ovarian stimulation.18,19 It contains isoflavone constituents, which
can bind to estrogen receptors in the body.20

* Blue cohosh
(Caulophyllum thalictroides): Sounding the same but of an
entirely different genus than black cohosh, blue cohosh is a uterine
tonic, meaning it can relax a hypersensitive uterus as well as increase
the muscular tone of a weak uterus. Early American herbals list blue
cohosh as a uterine botanical helpful in cases of infertility.21

* Motherwort
(Leonurus cardiaca): This feminine-sounding herb affects the
nervous, cardiac and female reproductive systems. It is indicated
for anxiety, tension and heart palpitations caused by heart weakness,
nervous disorders, menopause, premenstrual syndrome and other hormonal
imbalances. Motherwort is also a uterine tonic, useful for cramps and
as well as uterine weakness.22

* Wild yam
(Dioscorea villosa): Very popular in recent years, wild yam
contains plant hormones including the steroidal saponins diosgenin,
pregnenolone and botogenin.23 For several decades, the pharmaceutical
industry has used wild yam as a raw material in the synthesis of
pharmaceutical steroids such as progesterone, cortisone and prednisone.
In its crude form, wild yam has a weak hormonal activity in the body
that may help prevent habitual miscarriage due to hormonal insufficiency.

* Squaw vine
(Mitchella repens): Used by Native Americans as a fertility and
pregnancy tonic, squaw vine is a uterine tonic that increases uterine
circulation and reduces uterine congestion. It also improves uterine
tone, yet relaxes uterine spasm.24

* Crampbark
(Viburnum opulus) and black haw (V. Prunifolium): Both these herbs
are considered uterine sedatives and tonic plants that are helpful for
chronic miscarriage and uterine pain and cramps. Both are also used as
preparatory herbs to condition the uterus for pregnancy and childbirth.25

* Unicorn root
(Chamalerium luteum), also called blazing star: A uterine tonic,
unicorn root is especially useful for women who have a tendency toward
pelvic congestion, a condition typically experienced as a sensation of
heaviness. This herb may help prevent miscarriage and menstrual bleeding
due to uterine weakness.26

Some midwives and obstetricians recommend that women at risk for
spontaneous abortion use herbs such as those listed above for several
months prior to conception to improve uterine tone and hormonal
regulation. They should lower the dosage during the first trimester.
A formula used by early American physicians combined in equal parts
blue cohosh, crampbark, unicorn root and squaw vine. The recommended
dosage was 2-4 mL three times daily. Such herbs were also used during
the last trimester of pregnancy to facilitate an easy delivery and
rapid recovery, particularly in women with difficult or prolonged labors.

After a medical workup has ruled out serious diseases as the cause
of infertility, natural medicines can offer a great deal. Just paying
closer attention to the body's cycles can enhance a woman's fertility
awareness. For men and women, a nutritious diet supplemented with a
multivitamin and free of hormones and pesticides goes a long way toward
improving both reproductive and overall health. Botanical medicines
selected by a knowledgeable practitioner can further enhance hormonal
rhythms and general vitality. Just add romance and you have the
prescription for fertility.

1. Hargreave, T.B. "Incidence of serum agglutinating and immobilizing
sperm antibodies in infertile couples." Int J Fertil: 27-90, 1982.

2. Foye, W. Principles of Medicinal Chemistry, 3rd edition: 463.
Philadelphia, PA: Lea and Febiger, 1989.

3. Skandhan, K.P., et al. "Serum electrolytes in normal and infertile
subjects. II. Zinc." Experentia, 34(11); 1476-77, 1978.

4. Netter, A., et al. "Effect of zinc administration on plasma
testosterone, dehydrotesterone, and sperm count." Arch Androl, 7: 69,

5. Weiss, R.F. Herbal Medication: 117, 121, 254. Beaconsfield, England:
Arcanum Press, 1988.

6. Haas, E. Staying Healthy with Nutrition: 101-2. Berkeley, CA:
Celestial Arts Publications, 1992.

7. Papp, G. et al. "The role of basic amino acids of seminal plasma
in fertility." Int Urol Nephrol, 15(2): 195-203, 1983.

8. Schachter, A., et al. "Treatment of oligospermia with the amino
acid arginine. " J Urology, 110 (3): 311-13, 1973.

9. Haas, E. op. cit., p. 47.

10. Krupp, C. Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment: 467-69.
Los Altos, CA, Lange Medical Publications, 1984.

11. Weiss, R.F., op. cit., p. 317.

12. Zhu, D. "Dong Quai," Am J Chinese Med, XV (3-4): 117-125, 1986.

13. Zhiping, H., et al. "Treating amenorrhea in vital energy-deficient
patients with Angelica sinensis." J Trad Chin Med, 6 (3): 187-190, 1986.

14. Duke, J. A. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs: 489. Boca Raton, FL:
CRC Press, 1985.

15. Leung, A. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food,
Drugs, and Cosmetics: 290-91. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1980.

16. Yaginuma, T., et al. "Effect of traditional herbal medicine on
serum testosterone levels and induction of regular ovulation in
hyper-androgenic and oligomenorrheic women." Nippon Sank Fujinka
Gakkai Zasshi, 34(7):939-944, 1982.

17. Darymov, L.V. "On the gonadotrophic effect of Eleutherococcus
glycosides." Lek. Srd. Dalinego Vostoka,11:60-65, 1972.

18. Jarry, H., et al. "Studies on the endocrine effects of the contents
of Cimicifuga racemosa, 1: in vitro binding of compounds to estrogen
receptors." Planta Med., 1:46-9, 1985

19. Jarry, H., et al. "Studies on the endocrine effects of the contents
of Cimicifuga racemosa, 2: influence on the servum concentration of
pituitary hormone in ovarectomized rats." Planta Medica, 1:46-9, 1985.

20. Duker, E.M., et al. "Effects of extracts from Cimicifuga racemosa
on gonadotrophic release in menopausal women and ovarectomized rats."
Planta Medica, 57(5): 420-4, 1991.

21. Ellingwood, F. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics, and Pharmacognosy,
11th edition: 593. Cincinnati, Ohio: Lloyd Brothers Publishing, 1919.

22. Felter, H.W. Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacognosy, and Therapeutics:
443. Cincinnati, OH: Lloyd Bros Publishing, 1922.

23. Mowrey, D. The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine:
107-115 & 151-156. New Canaan, CT: Keats, 1986.

24. Felter, H.W., op. cit., p. 480.

25. Felter, H.W., op. cit., p. 694.

26. Felter, H.W., op. cit., p. 404.

Jill Stansbury, N.D., maintains a private practice in rural southwestern
Washington state where she specializes in botanical and natural therapies.
She heads the botanical medicine department at the National College of
Naturopathic Medicine in Portland and recently published a brief materia
medica, Herbs for Health and Healing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you know anything of the herb Maca and it's relation to fertility?