In a review published in the December issue of the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, women receiving Chinese herbal medicine treatments were twice as likely to get pregnant within a four-month period than those receiving conventional Western medical fertility drug treatment or IVF. The findings also suggested that the quality of the menstrual cycle – a key component in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnosis — appears to be crucial to the successful treatment of female infertility. Infertility is generally defined as an inability to conceive after a year or more of regular sexual activity without using birth control.
There is a long recorded history of Chinese herbs being used in the treatment of infertility. In fact, records indicating herbal treatment of infertility and miscarriage date back to 200 A.D., including mention of formulas that are still used for those same purposes today. The first book devoted solely to gynecology and obstetrics, “The Complete Book of Effective Prescriptions for Diseases of Women,” was published in 1237 A.D.
Alternative TCM treatments have become increasingly popular in Western countries as more and more couples find out firsthand how effective and safe they are. It is with good reason that more than a quarter of the world’s population regularly uses Chinese medicine as part of their health care regimen and that TCM is the only form of classical medicine that is regularly used outside of its country of origin.
The study examined abstracts in English of studies investigating infertility, menstrual health and TCM. Researchers then did meta-analyses of (non)randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or cohort studies and compared clinical pregnancy rates achieved with Chinese herbal medicine versus Western medicine drug treatment (IVF). In addition, they collected common TCM pattern diagnosis in infertility in relation to the quality of the menstrual cycle and associated symptoms. Eight RCTs, 13 cohort studies, three case series and six case studies involving a total of 1851 women with infertility were included in the systematic review.
The results showed a 3.5 greater likelihood of achieving a pregnancy with Chinese herbal medicine therapy over a four-month period compared with Western medicine drug therapy alone. Average pregnancy rates were 60 ± 12.5% (60%) for Chinese herbal medicine compared with 32 ± 10% (32%) using Western medicine drug therapy. Meta-analysis of selected cohort studies showed a mean clinical pregnancy rate of 50 percent using TCM compared with 30 percent for IVF.
Why choose TCM over conventional fertility treatments?
While health is said to be the common goal of both TCM as well as conventional medicine, their ideas on the etiology of disease, disease in itself and the process used to recover and maintain wellness are decidedly different. The Western medicine physician learns that disease should be cured by prescribing medicine or using invasive and often dangerous surgical intervention. The physician trained in TCM, however, focuses on healing the patient not by treating the disease but rather by treating the whole person, taking into account the various combined attributes of an individual that account for that individual’s state of health. According to the tenets of TCM, a person is much more than their pathology; treating the pathology may produce desired results, yet, they are usually temporary.
For female infertility, the key therapeutic factors in TCM are focused on re-establishing balance and reducing stress while regulating hormones and menstruation. TCM recognizes that many cases of infertility stem from a problem that may be more functional than structural. In contrast, Western medicine treatment techniques like IVF are not only invasive and expensive but are often stressful for the patients, and stress is not conducive to the achievement of a healthy pregnancy.
Fertility management has been extensively studied and well-developed in Chinese medicine. Doctors in modern China have reported up to a 70% success rate in treating both female and male infertility with herbs, and the results of large scale clinical trials are reported in Chinese medical journals. Hundreds of different herbs are used frequently in the treatment of infertility, often given in complex formulas comprised of multiple ingredients. Herbal medicine is often used in combination with acupuncture, massage, diet and lifestyle modifications for treating fertility. TCM fertility techniques are relatively non-invasive and can often offer a better success rate for significantly less cost.
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