Chinese Medicine and Infertility
This month brings us National Infertility Awareness week from October 19th – 25th. Over seven million American couples are affected by infertility. Chinese medicine has become increasingly popular as a treatment option as awareness of its effectiveness has grown.
Traditional Chinese medicine has been used for hundreds of years to treat infertility and includes the use of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and dietary and lifestyle therapy. Benefits range from improved ovarian and follicular function to an increase in blood flow to the uterus, helping to create a thick, rich lining. Chinese medicine is also used to treat men, increasing sperm count and improving mobility and morphology. The key to successfully enhancing fertility with Chinese medicine is to bring balance to the body and emotions. Treatment is customized to meet the individual needs of each person. Stress relief and relaxation therapies are incorporated for overall health.
Western Fertility Treatment Combined with Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine can be used on its own, or safely combined with modern western fertility treatment.
Studies showing increased success rates of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) when acupuncture is done before and after embryo transfer have made headlines in recent years. In a widely published German study, those using acupuncture with IVF achieved a 42% clinical pregnancy rate compared with only 26% that did not receive acupuncture. A recent American study involving 114 women showed that 51% of the women who had both acupuncture and IVF treatments became pregnant versus only 36% of the women who had IVF alone. In addition, while 8% of the women in the acupuncture group miscarried, the rate of miscarriage in the IVF-only group was 20%.
Success with acupuncture and IVF is attributed to acupuncture’s actions of:
• Improving ovarian function to produce better quality eggs
• Regulating hormones to produce larger numbers of follicles
• Increasing blood flow to the uterus and increasing the thickness of uterine lining
• Relaxing patients and decreasing stress
• Preventing uterine contractions
• Lessening the side-effects of medications used during IVF
• Strengthening and regulating the immune system
• Improving male semen to create better quality and quantity of embryos
• Decreasing the chance of miscarriage
Other western treatments such as IUI, GIFT, ZIFT, and hormonal therapies are also more effective when acupuncture is added as an adjunctive therapy.
The Chinese Medicine Perspective
From a Chinese medicine perspective, the goal of treatment is to bring balance to each patient by addressing their unique “patterns of disharmony” (or areas or imbalance).
Patterns of disharmony take into account -
• Yin & Yang –
Yin and Yang are opposites. A person’s symptoms can be looked at in terms of yin/yang parameters. For example, cold is yin and heat is yang. Damp is yin and dry is yang. An acupuncturist’s job is to apply the theories of yin and yang to all aspects of the patient. Specifically for fertility, one would ask – do the feet feel especially cold? Is the abdomen particularly cold to the touch? Are there hot flashes? These symptoms indicate Chinese medicine imbalances of yin and yang.
• Qi, Blood, and Body Fluids –
Qi (vital energy), blood, and body fluid are fundamental substances that sustain health. Imbalances in these three areas can cause a variety of health problems including difficulty conceiving. Qi, blood, and body fluids can be weak and deficient, in which case they are unable to nourish the body and function properly. Deficient qi can cause fatigue, heavy periods, or shortness of breath. Deficient blood and body fluids might create late periods, dry skin and hair, dizziness, and possibly blurry vision. On the other hand – qi, blood and body fluids can be excess and overflowing in which case they become stuck or stagnant. Blood that is stuck can cause sharp, fixed pain such as severe menstrual cramps. On the emotional side, stuck qi can cause frustration and irritability. To attain balance, these three vital substances need to be strong and healthy in their flow.
• Channels and Collaterals –
The channels and collaterals are considered to be a series of connecting passages through which qi and blood flow. The primary channels are indicated by the lines that are shown on acupuncture charts. Ten of the 12 primary channels are named for organs they are associated with. It’s important to note that these organs in Chinese medicine are not the same as their western counterparts. The Chinese Kidney, for example, may have some of the same functions as the western Kidney, but it is a much broader concept than simply the anatomical organ. If the yin of the Kidney meridian is deficient there may be feeling of heat or hot flashes, ringing in the ears, back pain, or dry symptoms such as dry throat, dry mouth, or vaginal dryness. A Kidney yang deficiency creates low libido, frequent urination during the night, cold feet, or pain in the back and knees. In both these cases, it’s likely that the anatomical kidney is perfectly healthy, but both imbalances hinder fertility. Imbalances in the Liver meridian can also lead to difficulty conceiving. Frustration, anger, and irritability are associated with the Liver meridian and cause the qi to become stuck or stagnant.
This brief explanation of patterns of disharmony just touches the surface in describing the many different ways an acupuncturist analyzes imbalance. Most patients have multiple patterns going on at a time, sometimes as many as eight or ten.
The Best of Both Worlds
We are fortunate to be living where we do and to have options available to enhance and optimize fertility. Chinese medicine offers us centuries of holistic wisdom, insuring that the whole person is brought to a state of balance and vibrant health. Western medicine provides us with the high tech power of modern assisted reproductive technologies and the ability to micromanage human physiology. When used in conjunction with one another, many people discover “the best of both worlds.”
To learn about the Oasis Palisades Fertility Enhancement Treatment Program, click here.