Health experts are urging caution as popular social media posts encourage women to munch wild carrot seeds or other herbs, drink garlic milk or eat papaya to prevent pregnancy. A growing number of posts on YouTube and Instagram promote replacing hormonal contraceptives like the pill with “natural” herbal supplements. Those posts are trending along with anecdotes that describe the apparent dangers of hormonal contraceptives. But there’s little information from established medical sources to back up claims that herbal contraceptives are safe or effective.
Doctors point out that the chance of getting pregnant using natural methods is much higher than relying on traditional methods. They warn that there are some additional risks in taking herbal supplements.
Some herbs produce drug-like effects, while some can interact with prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Some produce unpleasant side effects such as nausea. Certain herbs can be harmful to a fetus or breast-feeding baby. And most herbal supplements available at the local grocery or drugstore haven’t received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Telling your doctor you use herbs is a good idea to prevent any interactions with medications you take or medical conditions you may have. It’s important to stop taking herbs if you become pregnant and let your doctor know you’ve been using supplements.
“The key things to consider when choosing less conventional contraceptives: Have you explored all the options? Many people think the pill is the only option. There are many types of contraception available many of which you may not be aware of,” Dr. Jane Leonard tells The Daily Mail. “The problem with natural methods is that there are no medical tests or stats regarding their effectiveness or safety to perform this role.”
“This means you have no way of knowing how or if it will work for you and that it is medically safe for you to use.”
Other experts recommend using a backup, such as condoms, for additional protection if you decide to take herbs for birth control. Planned Parenthood says condoms, which contain no synthetic hormones, are up to 82 percent effective. Condoms also protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Planned Parenthood provides information on a lengthy list of contraceptive methods that don’t rely on hormones to prevent pregnancy.
Herbs commonly used as contraception include those that promote sterility such as stoneseed root, Jack-in-the-pulpit root and thistles; prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus such as Queen Anne’s lace (also known as wild carrot seed} and smartweed leaves; and promote menstruation, such as ginger root and Vitamin C.
Of all these herbs, Queen Anne’s lace is one of the most widely used birth control options. Let’s look at Queen Anne’s lace as an example of the impact of one herbal supplement. The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide lists these as possible side effects from taking Queen Anne’s lace: nausea, tiredness, allergic reaction, low blood pressure, excessive sedation or depression when combined with certain drugs, increased sensitivity to sunlight when combined with certain drugs and worsened kidney irritation or inflammation.
If you decide to pursue an interest in herbs as medicine, the American Herbalists Guild is an association of professional herbalists who can provide information.