Fertility is something that most people take for granted, assuming that starting a family will be easy to do. However, if you are one of the many couples out there struggling to conceive, then you know that this is not always true.
There are many different reasons why some people have trouble conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term. These are not always easy to diagnose, and many couples end up with the frustrating diagnosis of “unexplained infertility”.
Some of the most common reasons for reduced fertility include:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- Scarring due to surgery
- Fallopian tube blockage or damage
- Reduced sperm count or quality
The most common conventional treatments for fertility include hormonal treatments, surgery and IVF or IUI. However, these are not always successful, and can cause unpleasant side effects along with a great deal of stress.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offers a gentler, more natural alternative. Although, like any treatment, TCM is not guaranteed, it can increase your chances of getting pregnant naturally or having a successful IVF or IUI cycle. It can also offer you much needed emotional support through what can be a challenging time.
The Female Cycle in Traditional Chinese Medicine
In TCM, the female menstrual cycle is viewed very similarly to the way we understand it in the west. However, the language that we use to describe it is slightly different. Because TCM was developed thousands of years ago in ancient China, doctors understood human health purely based on what they could observe, either within the body or in nature itself. They did not know about eggs, or sperm or hormones, so they looked at fertility based on what they did know. Therefore, the primary factors that are usually considered when diagnosing menstrual issues from a TCM perspective are yin, yang, qi, and blood.
Yin and yang are the opposing yet complementary forces of nature; water and fire, cold and hot, stillness and movement and so on. As well as being responsible for the changing of the seasons and the shift between night and day, yin and yang are vital to the overall health of our bodies on many levels, including our fertility.
Qi is usually translated as “energy," but in TCM, it means so much more than that. It is responsible for movement, protection and nourishment within our bodies. Without qi, we would simply die.
Blood is a more familiar concept, but in TCM the blood is thought to have many more functions than it does in western medicine. As well as transporting nutrients, it warms, moistens and nourishes. Blood has a close relationship with qi and it is important that both qi and blood are in harmony in order to be healthy.
In TCM, the female cycle is divided into four distinct phases:
- The Blood Phase – this starts on the first day of your period. Old blood is expelled from the uterus to make way for the next cycle. Women with issues in this phase may experience painful periods or clotting as blood is unable to flow as it should.
- The Yin Phase – during this phase, the womb lining (the endometrium) begins to build back up in preparation for implantation. In western medicine this is called proliferation and is under the control of the hormone estrogen.
- The Yang Phase – when yin reaches its maximum level, it transforms into yang, triggering ovulation. Progesterone is released and the basal body temperature rises. Problems with ovulation can be caused by a deficiency of either yin or yang.
- The Qi Phase – the body reaches its peak of yang, ready to push out blood (unless you are pregnant) and start the cycle again. Problems here can cause symptoms such as irregular periods or spotting as your body struggles to begin menstruation.
So when diagnosing menstrual irregularities in TCM, all of these factors need to be considered along with the patient's constitution and own individual symptoms.
Male Fertility in Traditional Chinese Medicine
In TCM, semen and sperm are known as “essence” or jing in Chinese. Both men and women have essence. It is stored by the Kidneys, which in TCM extend to include the adrenal glands, ovaries and testes.
There are two types of essence; pre-heavenly and post-heavenly essence. Pre-heavenly essence is predetermined by your parents age and health when you are conceived. It could be compared to your genetic make-up, and there isn't much you can do to change it.
Post-heavenly essence on the other hand, is something which you can influence. It can be either conserved or destroyed depending on your diet, lifestyle and so on. Your essence depletes naturally with age, but the process can be sped up by a diet lacking in nutrition, inappropriate exercise for your body type, smoking, alcohol and recreational drugs.
According to TCM theory, having a low sperm count or motility would be classed as insufficient essence. As well as using herbs or acupuncture to repair your essence, making dietary and lifestyle changes is one of the best things you can do to boost your fertility.
Essence plays a crucial role in not only conception, but also having a healthy baby. This is why it is usually recommended that both partners come for TCM treatment if you are trying to conceive.
Diagnosing Fertility Issues in Traditional Chinese Medicine
As well as taking into account the above factors of yin, yang, qi, blood and essence, there are other things that also need to be considered when making a diagnosis.
TCM is an holistic treatment. This means that it takes into account the health of your entire body as well as your fertility. Every patient will be given a unique diagnosis depending on their individual symptoms and constitution.
During your first consultation, your practitioner will take a detailed medical history including past and present symptoms, family history and lifestyle. They will then be able to identify which factors may be contributing to your fertility issues, and how any other symptoms you may have fit in to the picture. They will then be able to prescribe the right herbs and acupuncture treatment to treat your condition.
How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Benefit Fertility?
In recent years, a lot of research has been done into how TCM works and the effects it has on the body. In the case of supporting fertility, TCM has a number of beneficial effects:
- Balances hormone levels to promote regular ovulation
- Improves circulation to the sex organs
- Reduces stress, a major factor in many cases of reduced fertility
- Relieves the symptoms of IVF drugs
It is important to note that TCM is not a quick fix for fertility. It can take months to reverse deep pathologies that may have been present for many years. For fertility support, we recommend four extended session and 20 acupuncture sessions.
Our extended sessions include a full acupuncture session plus extra time for herbal formula, multiple sets of needles, cupping, nutritional advice, extra talking time and so on – they are left flexible to allow time for whatever is needed most on the day.
Although we are unable to guarantee that you will conceive in this time period, we do feel confident that you will notice an overall improvement in your health and well-being, while knowing that you are doing everything you can to maximize your chances of a successful and healthy pregnancy.