by Teresa Rispoli, DCN, PHD, LAC, Complete Health Institute, Agoura, CA
Most of my patients have tried conventional reproductive medicine and are looking for an all-natural alternative for aiding infertility. In my 28 years as a Doctor of Clinical Nutrition, Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbologist, I have helped many women and men with many issues including infertility.
Chinese medicine has a long history of uses in aiding infertiltty. The use of herbs and acupuncture have been used in large scale clinical trials in China and the results have been reported in Chinese medical journals and translations can be obtained, by request, from the Institute for Traditional Medicine. In fact, records indicate herbal treatment of infertility and miscarriage dating back to 200 A.D.
Acupuncture Can Aid IVF Treatments As Well
German researchers found that adding acupuncture to the traditional IVF treatment protocols substantially increased pregnancy success, in a study of 160 women, published April 2002 in the reproductive journal Fertility and Sterility.
In this study one group of 80 patients received two, 25-minute acupuncture treatments -- one prior to having fertilized embryos transferred into their uterus, and one directly afterwards. The second group of 80, who also underwent embryo transfer, received no acupuncture treatments
The result: While women in both groups got pregnant, the rate was significantly higher in the acupuncture group -- 34 pregnancies, compared with 21 in the women who received IVF alone
Acupuncture can help in more ways than increasing the odds of IVF. It also helps stimulate egg production in women who can't -- or don't want to -- use fertility medications to help them get pregnant.
"When you compare the pregnancy rates for an egg producing drug such as Clomid to acupuncture alone, the rates are equal -- a 50% chance of pregnancy in three months for general patients -- to those not undergoing IVF," researchers explain.
How Many Treatments Will I Need?
If using Acupuncture alone, you will need about two, 30 minute treatments a week, sometimes for several months, before the effects can be seen. When combined with Chinese herbs, the effects can faster because key underlying deficiencies or syndromes can be restored and balanced.
How Acupuncture Works
According to the traditional Chinese medicine explanation, acupuncture stimulates the flow of Qi (pronounced "Chee") a form of life energy that flows through the body and blood. When stagnant the Qi and blood can become hampered, and malfunctions such as infertility arise. However, there are other syndromes which may interfere with fertility like heat, cold, or damp syndromes, or emotional stress.
Acupuncture works by restoring the flow of Qi to your body’s essence, and balances your body’s energy. It creates a sense of calm and has a restorative effect that increases a sense of well-being and ultimately helps the body to accept the creation of life. Fine needles are inserted at key energy meridians linked to the reproductive organs, which moves the flow of Qi from areas where it may be too abundant, to areas that are deficient, all in a direction that encourages fertility.
If you want a Western way of looking at the effects scientists found a clear link between treatment and the brain hormones involved in conception. Acupuncture increases production of endorphins, the body's "feel good" brain chemical that plays a role in regulating the menstrual cycle and reducing stress.
Acupuncture also has a neuroendocrine effect, impacting the hypothalamic, adrenal, pituitary axis a three-way axis between the two areas of the brain involved with hormone production as well as the ovaries, a constellation that ultimately impacts egg production and possibly ovulation.
Acupuncture Increases Blood Flow to Your Reproductive Organs. When the lining of the uterus is too weak to sustain a pregnancy -- a problem that is also known to increase the risk of chronic miscarriage, Acupuncture can strengthen then lining by increasing blood flow. The lining may then be better able to absorb the nutrients and hormones necessary to help it grow strong enough to hold onto the embryo.
Stress Must Be Reduced. A stressful life can pull the blood flow away from reproductive organs to the extremities in a response to chronic stress, the body’s “fight or flight” response. Focusing blood flow to the reproductive organs will solve this dilemma. Reducing your stress load will help in multiple areas. Acupuncture has long been known to reduce stress and bring about balance in the body. Women with high stress lifestyles may produce more of the hormone prolactin, which will impede ovulation. Herbs can help in this area also.
Treat The Constitutional Liver and Lungs, two of the common organ systems addressed in fertility, acupuncture will improve your emotional state. The liver is related to anger, frustration, stress and desire. The lungs are related to sadness, grief, and holding on. Stress, unresolved anger and frustration can lead to liver Qi stagnation. This stagnation syndrome prevents the sexual and reproductive organs from functioning despite normal hormone levels. Stagnation syndrome involves qi and blood. Qi stagnation is noted by digestive disorders causing bloating and gas, tense muscles, restrained anger, chronic inflammation, formation of lumps (including cysts and tumors).
Avoid Dampness: Dampness can accumulate in the body and cause blockages in the form of cysts and fibroids that can make getting pregnant more difficult. So eliminate damp forming food like mild, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream, greasy foods, and alcohol. Also avoid humid environments, moist basements, steam rooms, and wet clothing.
Chart Your Cycle: By charting your basal body temperature, you can determine when or if you are ovulating, and if your body is at a temperature conductive for fertility. You can find a basal thermometer at y9our local pharmacy.
Chinese Herbs Are Uses to Aid Infertility
There are over 150 different herbs used to treat infertility. They are usually given in complex formulas comprised of 15 or more ingredients. Their purpose is to correct a functional or organic problem causing infertility.
Mechanism of Action:
The herbal mechanism of action of each herbal preparation is dependent on the body constitution and what the Acupuncturist finds in their evaluation of symptoms. Traditional Chinese believe infertility arises from one or more of three prominent causes:
Deficiency Syndrome: prevents the hormonal system from properly influencing the sexual and reproductive organs. This is known as a weakness of the “kidney and liver” which may influence various body functions causing symptoms such as: frequent urination, weakness and aching back and legs, irregular menstruation, impotence, and difficulty regulating body temperature. Deficiency syndromes: ( Qi, blood, yin or yang), are treated with tonic herbs which nourish. Herbs used for Qi deficiency are: ginseng, codonopsis, atractylodes and astragalus, for blood deficiency: tang kuei, peony, ho-shou_wu, gelatin, for yin deficiency: lycium fruit, ligustrum, eclipta, ophiopogon, for yang deficiency: epimedium, cistanche, cuscuta, or eucommia.
Stagnation Syndrome: prevents the sexual and reproductive organs from functioning despite normal hormone levels and ability to respond to hormones. This involves a stagnancy of “Qi and blood,” which can restrict circulation to the tissues involved. Qi stagnation is noted by tense muscles, restrained anger, and digestive disorders; herbs that resolve stagnation of Qi are: buplerum, cyprus, lindera, and citrus products. Other symptoms associated are abdominal pain or bloating, chronic inflammation, and formation of lumps (including cysts and tumors). Blood stagnation may occur following child birth or miscarriage, surgery, injury, or severe infection. Blood stagnation is noted by severe pain (such as dysmenorrhea), or hard swellings and obstructions, abnormal cell growth, including dysplasia and cancer. Herbs that are used for blood stagnation are: salvia, red peony, persica, and carthamus.
Heat Syndrome: can cause affected organs to function abnormally. Heat is usually associated with an infection or inflammatory process. The heat can affect semen quality leading to male infertility, while gynecologic infections can lead to female infertility by blocking the passages, altering mucous membranes and influencing the local temperature. Herbs that inhibit infections and reduce inflammation are used, including gardenia, phellodendron, patrinia, and lonicera. Please don’t try these herbs unless directed by a licensed Chinese herbologist.
You must understand that the purpose of Chinese herbs is to rectify the underlying imbalance to restore normal functions. Blood stagnation in Chinese medicine can correspond to tubal blockage in Western medicine and Heat syndrome can correspond to an infection in Western medicine. However Western medicine often fails to diagnose deficiency syndromes and most stagnancy syndromes. Therefore, Chinese Medicine can have a very special place in aiding fertility issues by resolving deficiency with tonics and stagnation with regulator. That is why you should give acupuncture and Chinese herbs a try before infertility drugs!
Can Acupuncture Help You? How to Tell
As good as it sounds, acupuncture is clearly not the panacea for all fertility problems. in instances where a structural defect exists -- such as a blocked fallopian tube or a fibroid tumor -- acupuncture won't help you get pregnant, however Chinese herbs may.
For this reason, many doctors recommend that you have at least a basic fertility workup before attempting acupuncture treatment, particularly if you are approaching, or you are over, the age of 40
If it turns out you have structural problem that requires a traditional medical 'fix', then the sooner you find that out and get the proper treatment, the more likely it will be that you can get pregnant.
Those in their early to mid-30s -- might want to consider acupuncture first, before investing in expensive and invasive fertility treatments. Sometimes a few months of acupuncture or herbal treatments will be enough to help you get pregnant on your own.
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