Herbal Fertility Drugs?

My wife and I are trying to conceive a child. A semen analysis showed “slow mobility.” Is there any herbal approach to improving our chances?

Between 15 and 20 percent of all American couples are diagnosed as “infertile,” meaning they haven’t conceived after one year of trying. While infertility was once considered a woman’s problem, we now know that the cause is split 40/40 between women and men, with the remaining 20 percent attributable to a combination of male and female factors. (Don’t mistake infertility for sterility, which means that conception is impossible.)

“Slow mobility” means that sperm are swimming more slowly than normal. To speed them up you could try the herbal treatment ho shou wu, a traditional Chinese remedy from the root of Polygonum multiflorum. Ho shou wu is said to be a powerful sexual tonic when consumed regularly and is believed to increase sexual energy, improve sperm production and boost fertility in women. Consult a practitioner of Chinese medicine for dosage and preparation methods.

You also might want to make some lifestyle changes that can increase your chances of conceiving. If either you or your wife smokes, quit now. Smoking can affect sperm mobility, sperm production and, in women, has been linked to altered Fallopian tube function and damaged eggs.

Caffeine, alcohol and marijuana can likewise contribute to infertility in both sexes. Make sure you’re eating a healthful diet rich in zinc, important for fertility in both sexes. The best vegetarian sources of zinc are legumes (dried beans, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, lentils, peas, soy products and whole grains). You also should avoid soaking in hot tubs because habitual hot soaks can can reduce sperm production, as can wearing underpants, especially jockey shorts.

Consider the female factors, too. Women with very low body fat often stop ovulating temporarily. If your wife is very slim and works out vigorously enough for her periods to become less frequent, she should ease off the exercise while trying to become pregnant. Gaining a few pounds so that periods are more regular can help, too. Conversely, very overweight women can also have ovulation problems, in which case weight loss may help.

Vaginal lubricants and douching can slow down or kill sperm, making fertilization difficult, if not impossible. If you need or like to use a lubricant, try egg whites, which seem to help sperm swim better. Douching can alter the pH of the vagina, making it less hospitable to sperm. Finally, try to reduce the stress in your life to allow time for slow, unrushed sex.