The fertility treatment industry, which caters to people having difficulty getting pregnant, is crowded and complicated. The most effective procedures are also the most expensive: The average cost of a round of in vitro fertilization (IVF) is at least $12,000, before medication costs. Other options for conceiving, like egg freezing and hormone treatments, cost thousands as well.
For many, the costs of these fertility treatments are prohibitive—and some companies are stepping in to capitalize on those who can’t afford proven medical fertility treatments. Lucky Sekhon, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Reproductive Medicine Specialists of New York, said she spends her free time running audits of products in the vast and dubious “fertility wellness” market, where supplements, crystal bracelets, and “fertility gummies” all promise assistance to those trying to conceive.
“The data associated with different interventions in pregnancy is much more regulated, well-studied, and more discussed,” Sekhon said. “Infertility is just rife with snake oil salesmen and people that are making claims that are completely false.”
Fertility tea, in particular, comes up often in Instagram ads and on TTC (“trying to conceive”) forums like r/TryingForABaby. Though the particular products vary, what’s usually on offer is a special, herbal blend that makes the vague promise to support “overall fertility wellness” and “hormone levels.” One popular tea sold by Amazon and Target is made by Pink Stork, a wellness and supplement company. Its ingredients include peppermint, stinging nettle, and something called “chaste tree berries,” and the company recommends drinking one to three cups of the tea per day in order to experience its full effects.
The product page on Amazon is flooded with more than 10,000 reviews, almost all of which are raves. “After one month of tea I was pregnant!” reads one.“I had been trying to get pregnant for five months with no luck so I decided to give this tea a shot,” says another. “Started drinking it right after my period ended and I got pregnant that cycle!”
If all that sounds too good to be true? It’s because it absolutely is. Sekhon told VICE that while nothing in the tea may be harmful, it also certainly won’t live up to any vague promises to “support fertility.” After reviewing the tea’s ingredients, Sekhon said, “There’s no real evidence or any sort of link to improved fertility.” Additionally, there’s no scientific data to support Pink Stork’s claim that the tea’s ingredients will help people conceive. (At best, there are unsubstantiated claims that chaste tree berries help with symptoms of PMS.)
Sekhon said she also spotted two major warning signs that commonly signal fertility wellness misinformation she’s used to seeing in her field. “It's very nebulous; the claim is that it supports your natural fertility, your hormones and your cycle—what does that really even mean? That’s the first red flag,” she said. “Then, there are no negative reviews. All of them are very much like, ‘I got pregnant after drinking this the first time,’ and it just doesn't sound very realistic. If it was true, we would all be doing this miraculous thing.”
Some fertility teas capitalize on the idea of traditional herbal medicine as unproved by science, but homeopathically effective. But Mike Berkley, a licensed acupuncturist who focuses on infertility at the Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness in New York City, and who uses herbs in his practice, doesn’t agree that prepackaged teas have any merit in that sense, either.
“All this stuff, like fertility tea and these fertility pills, it’s all horseshit. None of it works; it’s all bogus,” Berkley said. “Herbal medicine is very specific. The way herbs work is that one needs to do an intake and an evaluation on a patient, just like in Western medicine, and try to understand what the underlying mechanism of the infertility is, and then write an herbal formula that is specific to the individual in front of you.”
Sekhon’s patients often try supplements like fertility tea anyway. “The entire space is flooded with misinformation, and people trying to capitalize on the fact that people will pay any amount and will do anything if they think it’s going to help them get pregnant,” Sekhon said. “They’re targeting a vulnerable population. People usually start out just trying on their own, and then if they run into issues, they start to seek out anything and everything that might help. They start to explore the world of Google and supplements and DIY ways to try to boost fertility.”
Like so many other products in the wellness industrial complex, fertility teas might sound alluring, but there’s no science behind them. There’s no real harm in drinking these teas (though you should always run supplements and herbs by your health care provider before taking something new). As far as doing anything for your hormones or “supporting” fertility—a meaningless claim, really—both Sekhon and Berkley were clear: It’s a no.
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