The Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research, with support from the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation (FLRF), is investigating the effectiveness and toxicity of four commonly used herbal galactagogues in promoting breastmilk production: oat’s rue, fenugreek, thistle and moringa.

Taking an interdisciplinary, chemical biology approach, the study first seeks to identify the specific natural compounds underlying the herbal galactagogues’ efficacy, and then elucidate their mechanism of action in promoting milk production in breast tissue. Furthermore, the study will evaluate the potential toxicity of certain compounds present in these galactagogues – an important consideration for safe dosage.

“Herbal galactagogues have been used traditionally in indigenous cultures around the world for thousands of years. Many have now marketed as supplements and are popular in the nutraceutical space without much backing from modern scientific research and clinical studies. Through this project, we aim to unravel the previously unknown action mechanisms and risk factors for four of the most popular herbal galactagogues.”
Jing-Ke Weng, PhD, Member, Whitehead Institute, Associate Professor of Biology, MIT

The study, to which FLRF made a contribution of approximately USD 850,000, is taking place over a five-year period, with results expected at the close of 2021.

Further reading

Levsh O, Pluskal T, Carballo V, Mitchell AJ, Weng J-K. Independent evolution of rosmarinic acid biosynthesis in two sister families under the Lamiids clade of flowering plants. J Biol Chem [Internet]. 2019;294(42):15193–205. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.010454

Mitchell AJ, Weng J-K. Unleashing the synthetic power of plant oxygenases: From mechanism to application. Plant Physiol [Internet]. 2019;179(3):813–29. DOI: 10.1104/pp.18.01223

Torrens-Spence MP, Liu C-T, Weng J-K. Engineering new branches of the kynurenine pathway to produce oxo-(2-aminophenyl) and quinoline scaffolds in yeast. ACS Synth Biol [Internet]. 2019;8(12):2735–45. DOI:10.1021/acssynbio.9b00368 

Pluskal T, Torrens-Spence MP, Fallon TR, De Abreu A, Shi CH, Weng J-K. The biosynthetic origin of psychoactive kavalactones in kava. Nat Plants [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2021 Dec 8];5(8):867–78. DOI: 10.1038/s41477-019-0474-0

Christ B, Xu C, Xu M, Li F-S, Wada N, Mitchell AJ, et al. Repeated evolution of cytochrome P450-mediated spiroketal steroid biosynthesis in plants. Nat Commun [Internet]. 2019;10(1):3206. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-11286-7

Penagos Tabares F, Bedoya Jaramillo JV, Ruiz-Cortés ZT. Pharmacological Overview of Galactogogues. Vet Med Int. 2014;2014:602894. DOI: 10.1155/2014/602894.

Yang Y, Zhang Z, Li S, Ye X, Li X, He K. Synergy effects of herb extracts: Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamic basis. Fitoterapia. 2014;92:133-147.

Lopez TA, Campero CM, Chayer R, Cosentino B, Caracino M. Experimental toxicity of verbesina encelioides in sheep and isolation of galegine. Vet Hum Toxicol. 1996 Dec;38(6):417-419.