Old Wives’ Fertility Treatment Proves to Be Scientific Marvel


Old wives’ tales and medicinal exploits are often hung up to dry as scientific research proves other methods far superior. However, in some cases, these age-old methods actually have merit, and can promote holistic healing in a way that has not yet been proven.

Credit: Anne Worner/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

In one of these cases, scientists have found that the 100-year old method of flushing the fallopian tubes with poppy seed oil can promote fertility, as believed by some cultures for many years.

When couples are having issues with getting pregnant, a common factor can be that there are blockages in the fallopian tubes, which prevent eggs from completing the journey to the uterus.

Modern day practices use X-ray scanning techniques to identify these blockages and then remove them. This is done through a process called hysterosalpingography, during which a dye or liquid is injected into the fallopian tubes to mark the blockages. However, with the poppy seed oil technique, they will inject poppy seed oil into the fallopian tubes during an X-ray.

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Ben Mol of the University of Adelaide in Australia decided to take a scientific look at the age-old practice of using poppy seed to determine if it actually had merit, and if it did help to clear up any of the blockages that might have been in the fallopian tubes. In a cohort of over 1,100 women, half were given the poppy seed dissolved in water, and the other half were given the poppy seed in oil.

At the end, 40 percent of the women who got the poppy seed oil became pregnant. In the women who got the poppy seed water, 29 percent got pregnant.

This diagram depicts the location of the fallopian tubes, as well as blockage that can occur. Credit: Betty White/YouTube

Tim Child of Oxford Fertility calls the results “impressive, compared with other fertility interventions,” such as In Vitro Fertilization. IVF only increases the chance of pregnancy by a few percentage points, whereas the poppy seed treatment showed much more of an effect.

Although impressed by the results of the study, none of the researchers can directly identify how the poppy seed oil worked its magic. Child looks to utilize this research in his own practice, as he was not involved with the current study with Mol. He views the X-ray as unnecessary, since the poppy seed oil has such an obvious effect.

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Mol suggests for more women to use this method if the cause of infertility is unknown, as it is a much cheaper option than IVF. However, it will not work in all cases.

“If you know your infertility is due to poor semen quality or no ovulation then this is not going to help, but if there’s any other cause this might be beneficial,” Mol said. “It’s really cheap compared with IVF.”

He even credits his own birth to this practice, as his mother suffered infertility before using the poppy seed oil. “It’s highly likely my brother and I are the result of this,” he stated.

This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.