Herbal supplements, pregnancy and fertility- what’s really in the bottle?

herbs in storeMost infertility docs, myself included, are reluctant to recommend our patients take herbal supplements. While the cost, availability and “naturalness” of these products are understandably appealing to couples struggling with infertility, neither their safety nor their effectiveness has been well established in pregnancy. Unlike medications which have to go through a rigorous approval process from the FDA, and vitamins, some of which have been researched, most of these products have never been properly evaluated. Some have even been shown be potentially dangerous for use in pregnancy, and in some cases prevent pregnancy.  Now another concern has come up. Researchers in Canada looked at the genetic fingerprints of the plants advertised on the bottle of the herbal supplements sold in stores. What they found was startling. They were only able to identify the fingerprint of the herb named on the bottle half the time, and 59% of the time they found the genetic signature of plants never listed on the bottle. This should be a word of caution to women who are pregnant or attempting to get pregnant. Does this mean that over the counter herbs are dangerous? Not necessarily, and in fact it is possible that some may even be helpful, but most pregnant women want to know what they are taking in is safe for their baby, and this study puts that even more in doubt.