Diabetes, Food and Nutrition, Motherhood

Galactagogues – What Are They?

Have you ever heard of galactagogues?  You must have at least heard of the importance of attaining unique health benefits from various herbal products. Galactagogues are herbs known for medicinal purposes. The term galactagogue stemmed from the Greek word “galacta” which basically means milk. Any herb or substance that efficiently enhances breast milk production is considered a galactagogue1.

Breastfeeding provides essential nutrients supplemented that strengthen the immune system of newborns and infants. One of the significant challenges among some breastfeeding mothers is low milk supply. As this issue was raised, the internet has come up with several suggestions for boosting breast milk production. These substances have demonstrated great potential to subsequently induce, maintain and enhance overall milk production. With their remarkable medicinal properties, the internet is ubiquitously filled with many recipes featuring galactagogues2.

The most significant galactagogues are fenugreek, cinnamon, fennel, milk thistle, and anise. These herbal products are really popular these days and for good reason.

Fenugreek

Fenugreek is one of the prominent examples of naturally occurring galactagogues with a prolonged medicinal history of treating various health-related complications. These medicinal plants have remarkable health benefits such as maintaining blood sugar levels in diabetes type 2 patients, displaying anticancer effects, and reducing cholesterol levels and inflammation. It contains active compounds named phytoestrogens that assist in boosting the functional properties of the mammary glands3.

Anise

Anise is another example of galactagogue. Its seeds contain “anethole,” which is a phytoestrogen (functionally similar to estrogen produced in humans).  Anise is primarily utilized to enhance milk production in breastfeeding mothers4.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is an aromatic herbal substance that is widely used to add flavors in many food recipes. This herb is a purported galactagogue that can be helpful in increasing the flowing capacity of milk for mothers predominantly facing inadequate milk supply.  It has also been reported to strengthen the flavor of mother’s milk5.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is an herb that possesses immense antitoxin properties. This naturally occurring galactagogue actively removes various toxins from the body and can be utilized as a tonic for the liver. The flowering part of the plant produces estrogen that imitates the function of body hormones and can be helpful in enhancing lactation6.

Although these natural herbs are considered safe to use, do not assume that problems cannot arise from ingesting these products. These products may have hidden side effects and it’s always possible that some women may be allergic to these substances. Be cautious before experimenting with these herbs. Talk to your doctors about these items first.

References:

1.              Goksugur, S. B.; Karatas, Z. J. A. M. A., Breastfeeding and galactogogues agents. 2014, 2 (3), 113-18.

2.              Bekoe, E. O.;  Kitcher, C.;  Gyima, N. A. M.;  Schwinger, G.; Frempong, M., Medicinal plants used as galactagogues. In Pharmacognosy-Medicinal Plants, IntechOpen: 2018.

3.              Shawahna, R.;  Qiblawi, S.;  Ghanayem, H. J. E.-B. C.; Medicine, A., Which benefits and harms of using fenugreek as a galactogogue need to be discussed during clinical consultations? A Delphi study among breastfeeding women, gynecologists, pediatricians, family physicians, lactation consultants, and pharmacists. 2018, 2018.

4.              Westfall, R. E. J. C. J. o. M. R.; Practice, Galactagogue herbs: a qualitative study and review. 2003, 2 (2), 22-27.

5.              Setyono, F. S.;  Adi, A. C.;  Ismawati, R. J. I. J. o. P.; Sciences, P. H., Galactogogue instant powder combination of papaya leaves and red ginger for breastfeeding mother. 2016, 2 (4), 32-36.

6.              Ross, S. M. J. H. n. p., Milk thistle (Silybum marianum): an ancient botanical medicine for modern times. 2008, 22 (5), 299-300.