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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 July 2007, 08:57 GMT 09:57 UK
Complementary therapy hampers IVF
By Michelle Roberts
BBC News, Health reporter in Lyon

Herbal medicine
Herbal medicines might interact with IVF drugs
Women using alternative therapies to boost their chance of getting pregnant may actually be doing the reverse, say UK researchers.

They found women who used complementary therapies while undergoing IVF were 30% less likely to fall pregnant than those who used IVF alone.

The Cardiff University team believe herbal remedies could possibly interfere with IVF drugs.

But experts at a fertility conference in Lyon said stress was probably key.

It is possible that herbs, St John's wort, being the significant one, could interact with IVF drug treatments
Alison Denham
National Institute of Medical Herbalists

Indeed, the women who turned to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) had been trying fertility treatments for longer and reported being more stressed by their fertility problems than the other women in the study.

Medical profiles

She examined the psychological and medical profiles of 818 women at the start of their IVF treatment and which of them went on to use CAM in the subsequent 12 months.

Overall, 261 or 32% of the women used some form of CAM and usually more than one type.

Nearly half of these had used reflexology and over a third had used nutritional supplements.

Women in the CAM group had more attempts at IVF - three compared to two attempts in the non-CAM group, on average - but were less likely to become pregnant.

Lead researcher Dr Jacky Boivin said repeated failure with fertility treatment might prompt women to use CAMs.

"But it may be that complementary therapies diminish the effectiveness of medical interventions.

"For example, it could be that there are interactions between herbal medicines and fertility medicines.

"Perhaps women should hold off until they have tried conventional fertility treatments."


Alison Denham, of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, said: "It is possible that herbs, St John's wort, being the significant one, could interact with IVF drug treatments.

"Herbal practitioners would be aware of this possibility and prescribe accordingly."

She said non-medicine based CAM could not interact with IVF drugs and that there was a range of research supporting improvements in diet as useful in infertility.

But Edzard Ernst, professor of complimentary medicine at Exeter University, said: "The most likely explanation is that those women who are prone to stress and have more health problems are more likely to try CAM.

"So CAM could only be a marker and not the cause of stress and lower success rates."

Mr Michael Dooley, consultant gynaecologist at the Poundbury Clinic in the UK, said: "It is difficult to draw conclusions from this study because it is not comparing like with like.

"It's well recognised that some CAMs can reduce stress. And stress can have an impact on fertility."


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