Monday, July 13, 2009

Infertility & Chinese Medicine: An Ancient Approach To A Modern Problem

By Ann Wolman, L.Ac.

Chinese Medicine has been used for thousands of years to help parents conceive and carry pregnancies to full term. There is a growing body of research showing the efficacy of acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine in the treatment of infertility.

Historically, Chinese Medicine was used to keep the emperor healthy so that he could "live forever and father more sons." This ancient wisdom has provided many effective treatments for couples trying to conceive.

Acupuncture is well known as a combined therapy with IVF. In February of 2008, The British Medical Journal published results demonstrating that Acupuncture raises the odds of achieving pregnancy through IVF by 65 percent. Acupuncture can also be effective in combination with other therapies including artificial insemination and as a stand-alone approach to the treatment of infertility.

Infertility is defined as an inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term. Many factors contribute to this vexing problem: stress, poor diet, environmental degradation, age, family history and hormonal/endocrine imbalances to name a few.

Fertility rates appear to be declining in the industrialized nations of the world. It is now estimated that ten to fifteen percent of couples have difficulty conceiving. Recent research suggests that even as early as age 27 fertility rates in women may drop.

Many people are turning to Chinese medicine to enhance their chances of conception. These treatments can supplement or provide an alternative to invasive and costly Western Medicine fertility intervention.

Prior to treatment for infertility a thorough health history is obtained to establish a Chinese "pattern of disharmony." In Chinese medicine a woman's menstrual cycle is seen as a window into her physiology. Flow of qi and blood are assessed for blockage and deficiency aiding the practitioner in diagnosis and treatment. Information and feedback are gathered from each cycle, so treatments can be adjusted during the different phases of the month.

Acupuncture and moxibustion are used to restore harmony, and from a western medicine perspective, to reduce stress and balance hormone levels. Treatment can include soothing the flow of liver qi, nourishing liver blood and strengthening kidney energy to promote conception and prevent miscarriage. Individualized Chinese herbal formulas are used to move qi and blood, augment yin and yang, and enhance the body's ability to conceive.

It is common for couples to seek treatment for primary, secondary or even idiopathic infertility. In other words, western medical tests may or may not reveal any abnormalities. Fallopian tubes may not be blocked, ovulation may be occurring, and eggs may be viable, but there is still an inability to conceive.

In some cases, problems have been identified. For example, fallopian tubes may be blocked or scar tissue present. There may be no ovulation or the luteal phase is too short or long. In these cases, diagnosis and treatment from a Chinese Medical perspective can treat these conditions and allow for conception. In addition, men are often treated for low sperm count or motility and to encourage the compatibility of the sperm and egg during conception.

Every day more people are turning to the gentle and effective treatments for infertility that Chinese Medicine offers. Please contact our office if you or someone you love needs more information regarding treatment options for infertility.

1. Lyttleton, Jane, Treatment of Infertility with Chinese Medicine, Churchill Livingston, England 2004.
2. Liang, Lifeng, OMD, PHD, LAC, Acupunture and IVF, Blue Poppy Press, Boulder Colorado 2003.
3. Maciocca, Giovanni, Obstectrics and Gynecology in Chinese Medicine, Churchill Livingston, Singapore 1998.