Infertility rates have increased dramatically in the last decade with one in six North American couples experiencing difficulties conceiving. This is an extremely difficult time for most couples, a roller coaster of emotions, frustration, anger, sadness and regret. Traditional Chinese medicine has been treating infertility for over two thousand years and has recently been gaining acceptance in the west as a valuable method of restoring reproductive health.
Traditional Chinese medicine believes that all aspects of your life, emotional, physical and spiritual have an impact on fertility. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) naturally prepares the body for conception and a healthy full term baby. TCM includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet and lifestyle suggestions which balance the body and restore reproductive health naturally in both males and females. TCM can be used alone or in conjunction with western fertility treatments.
An initial consultation includes information on all aspects of your life as a Chinese medicine practitioner believes that your reproductive health is a refection of overall health and wellness. Digestion, bowel movements, sleep patterns, stress levels, emotional health, previous medical history and the menstrual cycle will all be evaluated.
As Chinese medicine was developed before the invention of ultrasound and blood tests the practitioner relies on physical symptoms. The menstrual cycle is evaluated in depth from pre- menstrual symptoms such as headaches, pain, moodiness, breast pain, acne, insomnia and bloating all giving clues to the imbalances within the body. The colour, thickness, quantity of the menstrual blood is also evaluated. The menstrual cycle is monitored for regularity and ovulatory signs and symptoms noted.
According to Chinese medicine principles a healthy woman with a balanced cycle should not notice any discomfort or pain at ovulation, premenstrual or with the period. Blood flow should begin without spotting, red in colour, medium flow for 3-5 days without clots.
Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine stainless steel needles into specific points on the body. These acupuncture points correspond to internal organs and each point has a specific function. Acupuncture affects the endocrine system, regulating menstruation and promoting ovulation. Acupuncture increases blood flow to the reproductive organ, reduces stress levels and promotes overall health and well being. Often a combination of 10-20 acupuncture points will be used per session to restore balance to the body.
Many studies have been done on the effects of acupuncture and fertility and they have found that acupuncture
- acupuncture increases blood flow to the uterine lining to prepare for implantation, improves hormone levels and increases pregnancy rates Magarelli P et al Fertility Sterility Study 2009
- acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer in an in vitro fertilization cycle improves implantation rates Cheong Y et al Cochrane database of Systemic reviews Nov 08
- acupuncture reduces anxiety Domar A Fertility Sterility March 2008
- acupuncture has been shown to improve sperm count, morphology and motility Pei J et al Fertility Sterility July 2005
Chinese herbal medicine is often used in combination with acupuncture to regulate the menstrual cycle and improve overall health. A personalized formula is prescribed and taken daily. Formulas may vary throughout the menstrual cycle to support ovulation, increase temperatures and maintain the luteal phase, improve blood flow, reduce clotting and pain during menstruation and in the follicular phase improve egg quality and prepare for ovulation.
Diet is an important component of improving reproductive health and in the treatment of infertility. Personalized dietary advice is given depending on the individual symptoms but what I recommend to all my patients is the “spleen qi diet.” Eating seasonally and locally, organically, including lots of lightly steamed vegetables, beans, grains and a small amount of beef, poultry or fish. Limiting or avoiding dairy, wheat, sugars, caffeine, processed foods, white flours, juices, pops and artificial sweeteners.
Lifestyle modifications may be needed. I suggest finding ways to lower stress, using meditations, guided visualizations, moderate exercise and yoga. It is important to stay connected to your partner throughout your fertility journey, allowing yourself time together to just have fun. Household toxins in cleaners and body products should be eliminated. Take time to get outside each day and connect with nature.
A treatment plan for improving reproductive health and infertility generally includes weekly acupuncture sessions, Chinese herbal medicine taken daily and the implementation of dietary and lifestyle changes to support overall health. It is recommended that acupuncture treatment begin three months prior to conception to prepare the body for pregnancy, regulate the menstrual cycle and optimize the health of the eggs and sperm.
The health of the parents at the time of conception has an effect on the health of the baby.