If you’ve been wondering how Chinese Medicine and acupuncture can help with infertility, I have answered some of the basics in a recent interview with ChaiMommas.com.
CM: How does TCM help infertility?
JP: The full answer to this question is extensive as there are many ways that Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat infertility conditions. This list is by no means extensive, but let’s introduce some of the more important points of consideration:
1. A Holistic Approach to Infertility
TCM is a holistic medicine that is able to interconnect and make sense of the complex set of factors that contribute to infertility. Stress decreases conception rates. Environmental toxins decrease conception rates. Inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, low body temperature, poor sperm quality, improper cervical mucus pH, lack of sufficient cervical mucus, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, poor diet, lack of exercise, and onward. There is no one thing that will prevent you from conceiving a child because infertility is always a complex set of factors. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a 3000 year old track record of being able to systematically tie it all together and reduce to the most simple components so that you may comprehensively correct each issue preventing you from conceiving.
2. Enhances the HPA Axis
Your Hypothalamus, Pituitary Gland, and Adrenal glands are some of the principle foundations of your overall health and fertility. Many of the hormones that drive your menstrual cycle and are responsible for conceiving and retaining a developing fetus are produced by these endocrine glands. Your chance of conception is directly impacted by the production and communication among the elements of your HPA Axis. The fertility herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine provide the only known course of treatment to increase the efficiency of your HPA Axis and regulate the proper production and communication among hormones such as estrogen, FSH, and progesterone. When we improve the function of your HPA Axis we increase the likelihood of a successful conception.
3. Elevates Basal Body Temperature & Hypothyroidism
Many cases of infertility I’ve treated have been due to functional hypothyroidism and low basal body temperature. Traditional Chinese Medicine is often successful in using Chinese herbs to correct both of these issues. Progesterone is responsible for quickly raising your body temperature to start ovulation. A significant percentage of women, for a variety of reasons, have low body temperature and experience inadequate elevation of body temperature. This creates a state of poor and irregular ovulation, and if you don’t ovulate well and consistently your chances of conceiving are low. I encourage all of your readers to research and purchase the Baby-Comp, which tracks your BBT (basal body temperature) and tells you exactly when you’re fertile so you know when to get about making babies.
4. Regulates Menstruation
The quality and regularity of your menstrual cycle is equivalent to your general state of fertility. A healthy woman generally experiences little to no menstrual cramping or PMS, and experiences sufficient quality cervical mucus and regular ovulatory cycles. Complications of the above indicate there are issues with the functioning and production of hormones like FSH and LH, which are important players in the process of having a baby. Traditional Chinese Medicine provides the best medical treatment for correcting menstrual irregularities and enhancing the efficiency of those elements responsible for a healthy egg for fertilization.
5. Decreases Inflammation of Fallopian Tubes & Mucosal Membranes
Medical science has conclusively shown that inflammation is the beginning of many modern ailments and diseases . In my experience, Western fertility specialists have often failed to account for the elephant in the room—chronic inflammation of the Fallopian tubes and mucosal membranes of the uterus and cervix.
Inflammation of the Fallopian tubes cause them to swell and can actually close or partially close the tube, thus preventing passage for fertilizing sperm. When the cervical membranes are inflamed they will produce cervical mucus of improper pH that is inhospitable to sperm and hinders their ability to travel the reproductive canal to fertilize an egg. If the uterus is inflamed the lining will be too thin and likewise unreceptive to not only to sperm, but also to fertilized eggs whether from natural means or from an IUI or IVF. Miscarriages can also occur due to an inhospitable uterine lining.
Even partial or mild cases of inflammation decrease your overall ability to conceive. There are many factors that produce chronic inflammation, and with a skilled practitioner you will be able to identify each one and utilize meditation, dietary changes, and Chinese herbs to eliminate inflammation and produce an environment in your reproductive organs that is conducive to sperm and conception.
6. Moderates Stress to Increase Fertility
When you are perpetually stressed every factor involved in successfully conceiving and carrying a child is affected. The cause and duration of your stress impacts your body in various ways depending on your body type and psychoemotional wellbeing.
If stress is preventing you from going to bed by 10 pm and getting a full 8-9 hours of sleep, you will become less fertile. If stress is causing menstrual irregularities your fertility decreases. When you skip breakfast, skip meals, and eat in a hurry your body will eventually become weakened and your chances for conception are further harmed. These issues just some of the issues we see when examining the myriad of ways that stress—physical, emotional, and spiritual—impact your health and ability to conceive.
Traditional Chinese Medicine uses acupuncture to calm the patient and regulate the various physiological factors involved in regulating stress. Acupuncture has displayed a remarkable ability to innervate the Vagus Nerve to control your body’s stress and inflammatory response, as well as activate Alpha brain waves that are seen in the brains of Buddhist monks during deep meditation.
7. Treats Anovulation
Infertility is also associated with inadequate or no ovulation (anovulation) As we discussed earlier, progesterone is responsible for initiating ovulation, and if your body fails to raise its body temperature enough (ovulation) or at all, then conception becomes impossible via natural means. Traditional Chinese Medicine recognizes several conditions that produce a state of poor or anovulation in women, and with the help of a skilled TCM physician you can utilize acupuncture and Chinese herbs to correct them.
8. Supports the TCM Organ Systems Responsible for Conception
The Traditional Chinese medical model has expanded our understanding of how conception happens and what factors in the body are responsible for it. Some of these medical theories can be comprehended in terms of Western medicine, many cannot.
Using acupuncture and Chinese herbs the skilled physician will support and improve the functioning of each one of the organ systems responsible for conception. Kidney Yang and Essence, Spleen Qi, Liver Qi—these are medical terminologies that are used to explain complex physiological dynamics that influence one’s ability to conceive. They may sound strange to you at first, but if you set aside your unfamiliarity you will discover an insightful and logically dynamic understanding of how your body accomplishes the task of conception and pregnancy.
CM: What would a general first visit entail for someone who has never gotten acupuncture but is interested in it for fertility?
JP: Before the initial visit both partners will complete a set of health intake forms covering a range of physiological and psychoemotional health factors. During their first visit we spend about 90 minutes together, beginning with a comprehensive medical intake of both partners so that I may diagnose their particular type of infertility according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
After I reach the correct diagnosis, the couple and I discuss a range of dietary and environmental factors relevant to their pattern of infertility, and each are assigned homework items to be done every day—such as 15 minutes of meditation, walking, yoga, not skipping meals, and so forth. From there each partner is treated with an acupuncture “prescription” based on their particular diagnosis, and after the treatment I prescribe a Chinese herbal formula that is consumed as a tea twice per day.
The couple continues to be treated twice monthly, with each session we continue the educational process and hold each partner accountable for doing their homework and staying on tract throughout the treatment course, which is 100 days (3.5 months). Each couple I’ve worked with has conceived in one to three courses of treatment.
CM: In your practice of treating patients, is there any proof that acupuncture works for fertility without the use of IVF?
JP: Over the last 30 months I have experienced a 100% success rate in treating infertility using Chinese medicine, ten couples and counting, with a 90% live birth rate. Over the length of my career this will naturally decrease as different cases present themselves, some of which are unresponsive, yet on average a skilled TCM practitioner can produce a 40-60% success rate, sometimes higher, throughout their career. This exceeds that of IVF, whose live birth rate averages 12-35% depending on age group.
If a couple is committed to pursuing an IVF, studies have shown that they have a 67% higher chance of a success when it is preceded by 3 months of acupuncture. Yet most of all we should not disregard the fact that Traditional Chinese Medicine has been treating infertility conditions for over 3000 years. To look for further proof, we can point to many studies conducted in the last two decades that demonstrate TCM’s ability to address the complex set of factors that contribute to infertility conditions, which is why acupuncture has been included in top fertility clinics around the world.
CM: Who can consider acupuncture for infertility? Are there any cases where someone cannot?
JP: Acupuncture is relevant in every case and should be the first course of treatment considered–it is effective, a fraction of the cost of IVF, and has no side effects. But remember that acupuncture alone may not be enough, and it is customary for Chinese medicine to use acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and lifestyle corrections to treat fertility cases. In certain cases some of these options may not be appropriate, though this is rare.
It is also important to remember that treating infertility aside, Traditional Chinese Medicine is able to enhance fertility, increase conceptions rates, prevent miscarriage, decrease complications during delivery and postpartum, and improve genetic integrity to produce healthier happy babies. Those points can’t be overemphasized. In traditional Asian culture we have seen mothers devote six months to preparing their body and aligning habits for conceiving and delivering baby, and I believe this to be wise strategy.
CM: What about men, can TCM help men in regards to infertility?
JP: Everything we’ve discussed above pertains to the male half of the equation as well. Unlike women, who’s eggs were produced and ready to go as babies, men are constantly producing sperm and thus sperm quality is significantly impacted by his diet, environment, and stress levels. Western fertility practitioners can tell you that nothing can be done for sperm health, which is tragic. With a competent TCM practitioner, it is possible to reverse spermatic disorders with Traditional Chinese Medicine if the patient is compliant with treatment. As I stated before, this requires acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and a host of lifestyle changes.
CM: What is treatment like? Is it painful?
JP: There are many styles of acupuncture, sizes of needles, and skill levels of acupuncturists that will determine if the treatment is painful or not at all. I practice a form that is often painless.
CM: Are there any side effects from acupuncture?
JP: If the acupuncture is properly applied by a trained practitioner there are no side effects other than the rare occasional mild bruising. There are doctors, chiropractors, and various other practitioners who have little to no real training in acupuncture that can be dangerous. Research your acupuncturist to ensure they have at minimum a 4 year degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
About the Author
Justin is an Integrative Oriental medical physician and licensed acupuncturist living in San Diego, California, where he maintains a holistic primary care practice specializing in the application of Integrative Chinese medicine and Functional medicine in the treatment of stress, pain, endocrine disorders, and infertility.
Visit ChaiMommas here: acupuncture/Chinese medicine for fertility: yes…it works..