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Herbs and Fertility Don't Mix

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Annie Finnegan

Aug. 10, 2000 -- Couples trying to conceive may want to stay away from certain herbal supplements, including St. John's wort, a popular herb used to treat depression, experts warn.

St. John's wort, echinacea, and ginkgo biloba are among the herbs that may affect the chances of conceiving, experts say. Men and women who are trying to become parents should be wary of any herbal supplements and should talk to a specialist before using them.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 6.1 million American women and their partners experience difficulty in conceiving a child. And the most recent estimates show that as many as 60 million Americans reach for herbal remedies on a regular basis.

"Many herbal preparations have been documented to contain estrogenic substances, which can have an impact on sex-hormone concentration and fertility in both males and females," says Gilbert Ross, MD, medical director of the American Council on Science and Health in New York. Estrogen is the major female sex hormone.

He explains that birth control pills, which also contain estrogen, interfere with normal hormones to stop ovulation and prevent conception.

"In general, it's an unwise move for a person concerned about infertility to resort to supplements without first consulting a reproduction specialist," Ross says.

Richard Blackwell, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham says in a prepared statement that echinacea and ginkgo biloba may hurt sperm production and fertilizing capability.

But buyers should beware of all herbal supplements, cautions fertility expert Masood Khatamee, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University and the executive director of the Fertility Research Foundation in New York.

"None of these herbs have been studied. Be very cautious when using them," he tells WebMD.

"Patients need to be aware that herbal supplements are medicine and can have an impact on your treatments," says Pamela Madsen, executive director of the American Infertility Association, a national nonprofit group headquartered in New York. "No patient should be taking herbs while undergoing infertility treatments without talking to their doctor."

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