If you’re thinking about trying for a baby, or have struggled to conceive for some time, you may be wondering how to optimize your fertility.
Have you considered Traditional Chinese Medicine?
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
TCM is an ancient healing method that dates back over 2,500 years. With its roots in China, it is a philosophy on health and wellness that affects diets, remedies and lifestyle.
TCM operates on the principles that the body’s vital energy, or chi, runs through channels called meridians, which correspond to specific organs and bodily functions.
It centers around preventative medicine and encompasses various modalities to balance the body. These include ingesting herbs, acupuncture, and implementing dietary and lifestyle changes.
TCM advocates a drug-free approach, adopting a holistic focus on the whole self—body, mind and spirit.
It has been used for thousands of years across Asia to help women with their reproductive health. Each woman is treated as an individual, with a practitioner looking at all aspects of your life to correct any imbalances.
Ideally you should see a specialist three months before you try to conceive—or up to six months if you know you suffer from fertility issues such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, fibroids or cysts.
Your First Appointment: Finding Your Imbalance
Your TCM practitioner should take a detailed medical history to get a clear clinical picture. Come prepared with any information on any prior procedures or miscarriages, and ready to have an open discussion about your lifestyle, needs and preferences.
A diagnosis will begin with an analysis of your menstrual cycle, examining the duration and quality of your period—vital for providing information from a biomedicine point of view.
The doctor will then look at your tongue, which is important for analyzing what’s happening in your body.
Each organ is represented on the tongue, which should provide a map of the body’s overall state. If one organ is not functioning properly, it can throw the whole system out.
Your pulse also serves as a barometer for the state of your health, so the practitioner will feel the quality, strength and rate by gently holding your wrist at various points.
Each organ is represented on the tongue, which should provide a map of the body’s overall state.
“What I am looking for are areas of imbalance which I can then balance with herbs and acupuncture,” explains Singapore-based fertility specialist and TCM practitioner Dr. Mark Chern.
“While the kidneys are a reflection of reproductive function, many will be surprised by how treatment to regulate the spleen, stomach and liver qi can help to improve reproductive function.”
What is qi?
Simply put, the concept of ‘qi’ refers to all energy within the universe. In TCM it refers to the vitality and life force in your body.
This has two sources—one is an innate ‘soul’ qi inherited from your parents, the other is the post-natal qi received from your food and the air you breathe. An abundance of qi is the key to health and wellbeing.
The righting of these imbalances can result in better sleep, an increased ability to manage stress, more energy, ovulating in ovaries that used to be ‘sleepy,’ shortening of delayed cycles, and lowering of FSH (follicle stimulating hormones) levels.
Common Issues Preventing Conception
Where there isn’t a confirmed medical diagnosis for infertility, Dr. Chern commonly sees three main barriers to conception.
The most common cause of reduced reproductive function is age, with associated indicators like high Follicle-Stimulating (FSH) values or low Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) levels.
Your FSH is a hormone responsible for the growth of ovarian follicles which produce estrogen in the ovaries.
If these levels are too high, it indicates poor ovarian function and therefore infertility. Often this comes hand-in-hand with low AMH values, which can indicate low egg quantity.
The big-picture strategy with TCM is to support the reproductive-hormonal system and improve blood supply to the reproductive organs.
Whether it’s related to work or an emotional trigger, stress can wreak havoc on the part of your brain (hypothalamus) that regulates your hormones.
The hormonal system is delicate, and its response to stress triggers elevated levels of cortisol and prolactin, which interfere with ovulation. Plus in order to produce cortisol, progesterone gets depleted, which is vital for thickening the uterine lining for conception.
In TCM terminology, when you are stressed your ‘heart fire’ and ‘liver fire’ most likely need to be balanced.
Heart fire may come from emotional distress, anger, frustration or doing too many things at once, leading to a build-up of ‘heat’ that conflicts with the smooth functioning of kidney energy.
Stress also causes liver qi to stagnate, leading to liver fire and toxin accumulations.
TIP: In addition to TCM remedies, Dr. Chern advocates working in tandem with a psychotherapist or counselor to regulate your emotions and learn stress-management techniques.
The mildest issues preventing pregnancy have to do with what is referred to as ‘deficiency’ in Chinese medicine. They are associated with aversion to wind or cold, ease of catching a cold, compromised digestive excretory function, as well as reduced fluid metabolism.
These patients respond well to herbs alone, with improvements in menstrual volume and regularity, which are indicators of improved reproductive function.
How can Acupuncture Help?
Acupuncture is an excellent tool for helping women conceive and is used by physicians all over the world.
Thin needles are inserted into specific acupuncture points related to different organs and systems, such as the lungs, stomach and spleen.
These points address reproductive issues, helping to regulate the reproductive and stress hormonal systems.
Importantly, it also helps women with PCOS regulate their metabolic processes, which are often imbalanced.
Women with PCOS may over-produce insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar, and this stimulates the ovary to make testosterone, interfering with ovulation and leading to infertility.
A study by leading acupuncturist and fertility specialist Nick Dalton-Brewer found that women aged 35 and over achieved higher pregnancy rates than those who did not receive acupuncture treatment.
“I feel that acupuncture is a must-do intervention if you want to get pregnant, and it will increase your chances in most situations,” Dr Chern adds.
“Repeated acupuncture across the menstrual cycle will increase blood supply to the endometrium and the ovaries.”
A balanced body is a happy body, and Chinese medicine nurtures the mother to ensure she is in the best shape to conceive, whether that is by natural means, or to be assisted by technology like IVF.
Acupuncture: The Science
Balancing the qi, or energy fields in the body is vital in preparing for pregnancy, according to physicians from the New York Weill Cornell Medical Centre.
Acupuncture can help with:
- Increased blood flow to the uterus and therefore uterine wall thickness, an important fertility marker.
- Increased endorphin production, effecting the release of a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which helps regulate reproduction.
- Lowering production of stress hormones responsible for infertility.
- Impact on plasma levels of the fertility hormones: follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, estradiol, and progesterone.
- Regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, a key process in fertility.
Andrea believes that true wellbeing comes from a holistic, balanced approach that encompasses both body and mind. A communications professional who has worked around the world, Andrea has been published in Elite Traveler, LUXE City Guides, Her World, The HUNT Guides, Lux and Yoga Journal.