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Study determines effect of herbal remedies on breast milk

Media release

A Curtin University study is investigating the effects of various herbal remedies on breastfeeding and whether they are being transferred to breast milk.

Ms Tin Fei Sim, from the School of Pharmacy in the Faculty of Health Sciences, is undertaking a PhD study examining the effectiveness and safety of herbal medicines, which have been traditionally recommended to promote breastfeeding.

Ms Sim said traditional herbal remedies had been passed down from one generation to another and there was currently no evidence-based research to prove  they have any effect on infant feeding behaviour.

There has also been no work undertaken to determine the safety of herbal remedies to nursing infants, and it is unknown if they transferred directly into the breast milk.

“We will be collecting evidence to verify the pharmacological action of the most popular traditional herbal remedies and examine how they are metabolised,” Ms Sim said.

One herbal remedy that will be examined is fenugreek. It is well known that when fenugreek is ingested, a sweet smelling compound with a maple syrup flavour is excreted through pores.

“We want to find out if it is the excretion of this sweet smelling compound that changes the behaviour of the baby, and may help it latch on better when breastfeeding,” she said.

Ms Sim said it was also important to determine if herbal medications, like fenugreek, were transferred into the breast milk either passively or by drug transporters in the cells that line the mammary glands.

“If herbal remedies actually pass through the mammary epithelial cells, then we need to find out if there is any acute or chronic toxicity of its active chemicals,” she said.

She said few studies had addressed the importance of such transporters in the transfer of drugs into breast milk.

“Drug transporters, particularly P-glycoprotein in mammary glands, are of clinical, toxicological and nutritional importance,” she said.

“By establishing a cell culture model, this will enable better identification of substances that may enter breast milk and cause adverse reactions in breastfed infants.”

The research group, supervised by Associate Professor Lisa Tee, is currently seeking more volunteers, who will be required to do a self-administered questionnaire.

Breastfeeding mothers who are interested in participating in this project should contact Ms Tin Fei Sim by email, or phone 0401 649 800 for more detailed information.


Ms Tin Fei Sim
Tel: 08 9266 1875, Mob: 0401 649 800, Email:

Associate Professor Lisa BG Tee, Director Teaching & Learning, School of Pharmacy
Tel: 08 9266 2526, Email:

Kristy Jones, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 9085, Email: