The natural approach
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a non-invasive option for couples choosing to conceive naturally or for those preparing for IVF. There are many reasons why some couples have difficulty conceiving including hormonal imbalances, age factors, a history of PCOS or endometriosis, egg or sperm quality, genetic factors, diabetes and/or stress.
TCM acknowledges that the cause of infertility is due to disrupted vital balances and blockages of Qi and Blood circulation in the body. Blockages in the body disrupt the free flow of Qi causing deficiency, stagnation and accumulations. So how do blockages arise? Poor diet or eating habits, a lack of exercise, environmental factors, stress, smoking/alcohol, emotional issues, fatigue... The list goes on. Once the cause is understood, steps can then be taken to restore homeostasis back to the body.
Many contemporary Chinese Medicine practitioners approach infertility with an integrative approach, taking the time to understand one’s unique presentation. Blood tests to gauge hormone and key vitamin levels, using Body Basal Charts to confirm monthly ovulation, and of course TCM practices to investigate any imbalance with the internal organ systems.
As the average age of first time Mothers and Fathers continues to rise, one of the common factors hindering pregnancy later in life is the decline in egg and sperm quality. The quality of one’s egg can be determined by testing AMH (the anti-Mullerian hormone test is used as an indicator of the ovarian reserve) and the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) test, sampled on the third day of the menstrual cycle. . FSH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that triggers the development of several ovarian follicles inside the ovary. When the dominant follicle matures into an egg, oestrogen is released into the bloodstream and signals the pituitary gland to stop further production of FSH. If the egg is not fully formed then the amount of oestrogen in the blood will be very low. The FSH blood test shows us useful fertility information: the higher the amount of FSH, the lower the quality of eggs.
According to Chinese Medicine the Kidney Jing or Essence, responsible for the quality of our eggs, declines as we age. Acupuncture, herbs and food therapy can build Blood, Oestrogen and Kidney Yin in the lead up to ovulation. Some simple food suggestions to tonify the Kidneys include black sesame, black beans, kidney beans, walnuts, oysters, dark green leafy vegetables, onions, chives and at least one egg per day (especially before ovulating).
Another common cause of infertility is stress. When the body is in a calm state the three sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) function as normal. When stressed our sympathetic nervous system is activated by our clever brains thinking we’re in a life or death situation. Cortisol (the stress hormone) in the bloodstream increases, as does our heartrate and sweat response, whilst other non-vital systems – like sex hormone production – slows. We can breed once we’re out of danger.
Chronic stress can decrease the production of progesterone, a key hormone needed for menstrual regulation. Low progesterone can cause symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, reduced libido, mood swings and headaches. Similarly testosterone levels also decrease when the body is under chronic stress, which can lead to impotence, erectile dysfunction and/or low sperm count.
It’s unlikely that any of us can lead a stress free life in this day and age, however it is possible to change how we react to stress. Recent research shows how changing our stress responses can actually help the odds of conceiving. Dr Alice Domer studied women who participated in a mind/body program (including acupuncture, massage, yoga, tai chi, journaling, therapy) while undergoing IVF treatments. In the group of women who participated in the stress reduction program, 52% became pregnant compared to only 20% in the controlled group.
With thousands of years of experience and a growing body of contemporary research to support it, Chinese Medicine offers a natural and integrative approach to conception. In our modern times where people look to start families later in life, TCM has answers and adapts as always to any circumstance.