Can Chinese Herbs Be Used for Birth Control Purposes?
Answered by: Robert Newman, L.Ac.
Question from: Dennis Crealan
Posted on: March 03, 2004

I know that tonic chinese herbs can be used to promote fertility; I am wondering if the opposite is true, if herbs can be used for birth control purposes. My partner and I would far prefer something along the lines of Chinese herbs, or even a tai chi/qi gong exercise of some sort, to the pill for instance.

There are basically four types of herbs that are considered potentially abortive in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) when used internally and which are therefore contra-indicated with pregnancy. These are herbs that move the blood (this means that these herbs are increasing circulation of the blood through the body -- some of these could also be considered to thin the blood, in western terms), herbs that are toxic or particularly harsh in their effects, herbs that are purgatives or that strongly move the "Qi" or blood downward (such as strong laxatives or many strong diuretics, etc.), and herbs that are especially warming: i.e., "hot" herbs (the idea here is that the strong heating effect can speed up the circulation of the blood through the vessels). It is believed that the reason that herbs that move the blood (increase the circulation) or increase its speed of movement have the potential for causing abortions is because the increased movement of blood through the vessels, if strong enough, may lead to bleeding because of blood vessel breakages -- as the blood goes faster through the vessels, the chances of it being forced out of the vessels increases, especially in the small capillaries. Therefore, rupturing and damage to the placenta could also occur. The reason that herbs that strongly direct the "Qi" and blood downward (such as purgative herbs) could be possible abortives is because they are stimulating the direction of "Qi" movement in the identical direction a woman’s body does when she’s in labor: downward. In TCM, it’s felt that the placenta’s stability is dependent on the body "holding it up" within the uterus, and if herbs are taken that too strongly direct the body’s "Qi" and blood downward, they may possibly alter the integrity of the placenta’s connection by working against the Qi of the body to keep the placenta "held up" and in place. Toxic or particularly harsh herbs are pretty obvious, self-explanatory abortives. I will caution anyone here reading this that causing an abortion through any means could be a dangerous process and should always be decided on in conjunction with an M.D. and should be monitored by that M.D. and/or a hospital, in case of any complications.

I’ve described above the types of herbs, according to TCM, that could possibly cause an abortion, but the same principles and types of herbs would be considered for use internally in trying to prevent pregnancy shortly after intercourse, to prevent implantation. There are two problems with this approach. One very important problem is that the herbs must be strong enough to overcome the normal processes of implantation. Any herbs strong enough to cause such an effect can also weaken the body. As an example, just think of how weak you can feel if you take a strong laxative and get severe diarrhea (similar to having strong diarrhea from a stomach flu). This negative weakening effect will be amplified by the fact that you will need to use these herbs as often as you have intercourse.

The other problem is that this method is certainly not reliable. There is no certainty you can have as to the exact dosage necessary to prevent implantation in any one woman on any particular day. So one time you may get it right, the next time, you may not.

There is one other possible method available to use herbs for birth control. This is for the woman to use herbs as a vaginal douche, using herbs that are spermicidal. Assuming that the woman who wanted to use this method employed fairly effective herbs, she would still be wise to also use a cervical cap or some other device to further reduce the chances of conception. I took the following information off of one website about conventional (non-herbal) spermicidal compounds:

"Spermicides: 79-94% effective. Spermicides are chemical agents that kill the sperm before it reaches the uterus. They come in the form of suppositories, foam, absorbable film, sponge, or jelly and are placed in the vagina before intercourse. Spermicides alone are not particularly good contraceptives, running the risk of up to a 20 percent failure rate in a year. They do work well, however, when combined with another method of birth control, such as condoms, diaphragm, or breastfeeding, since the effectiveness rate increases when two methods are used.

Disadvantages:

The chemicals or the medium (such as foam or jelly) can irritate some people.

Because a spermicide has to be inserted just before intercourse, it can disrupt spontaneity.

They taste bad.

Advantages:

Spermicides offer some protection from sexually transmitted infection.

They produce better chances of avoiding pregnancy than if no method at all were used."

I would add here that herbal spermicides would probably have some of the same advantages and disadvantages as the standard spermicides referred to above, but it is uncertain just what percentage of effectiveness they would have as contraceptives (perhaps they fit into the above-mentioned 79-94% range above, perhaps they don’t) and how little or how much protection they would offer against sexually transmitted diseases. I am not familiar, with any certainty, of specific Chinese herbs that would be effective spermicidals (though I am fairly confident there are some good ones that exist), however, I will do some further research and see if I can discover some specific Chinese herbs known to be useful for that purpose. Also, I’ve included below some links to some websites which mention certain herbs (mainly non-Chinese herbs) and food substances that are supposedly useful spermicides. Note that these sites also mention the questionable reliability of this method.

Regarding the idea of doing Qi Gong to prevent conception, the only methods I’m aware of involve men learning to control their ejaculation. There are some books by a couple of authors I know of that you could read for these methods -- you could do a search on Google for the following authors’ books: Dr. Stephen T. Chang; Mantak Chia. Of course, there can be some unreliability with these methods as well, including the chance of some small amount of sperm leaking out before any urge to ejaculate is present.

Websites mentioning herbal spermicides:

http://www.sisterzeus.com/Hsp2sk.htm

http://earthnotes.tripod.com/beadtree.htm

http://www.paganality.com/herbology-details-Fenugreek,%20Bird’s%20Foot,%20Bo ckshornklee,%20Greek%20Hayseed,%20Mayti%20(Indian)-72-highlight--.html

http://herbvideos.com/lecgcrebecca.htm

http://freedomantiviral.addr.com/neem.htm

http://www.rencentral.com/feb_mar_vol2/sexmiddleages.shtml

http://bodd.cf.ac.uk/BotDermFolder/BotDermC/CARY.html

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