Looking at Infertility with Traditional Chinese Medicine
By Nicole Withrow, L.Ac.
"The cure of the part should not be attempted without treatment of the whole. No attempt should be made to cure the body without the soul." Plato
In Traditional Chinese, Confucian society, failure to have children and especially sons was regarded as a personal disaster of the highest magnitude. Without sons, there was no one to make sacrifices to the ancestors and so one's immortality was cut off or impoverished. Therefore, Chinese medicine as an expression of Chinese society placed great emphasis on the treatment of both male sterility and female infertility. (Bob Flaws, Endometriosis, Infertility & Traditional Chinese Medicine) Instead of tests the ancient practitioner would acutely observe the signs and symptoms of an infertile women. Because they could not fully understand the functionality of the ova they based most of their analysis upon the quality and quantity of the menses.
The Chinese practitioner identifies imbalances in the body whether there is a blockage in the energy or blood, an excess or deficient condition, or a hot or cold condition leading to the individual's inability to conceive.
Typical modalities of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) include acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and Chinese nutrition. Acupuncture is an energetic system of medicine from China that is thousands of years old. Acupuncture is based on ancient Chinese theories of the flow of Qi (life force) and Xue (blood) through meridians or pathways that cover the body. According to ancient theory disease arises when the free flow of Qi and Xue becomes stagnant. By inserting very fine needles into the body at specific points, acupuncture helps to re-establish the free flow of Qi and Xue to flow to areas where there is deficiency and away from areas where there is excess. In this way, acupuncture is also used to improve the blood flow to the ovaries and uterus. This nourishes the reproductive system and makes it more capable of producing and nourishing eggs.
Herbal medicine strongly nourishes and supports the mind, body and spirit to prevent disease and promote the body's ability to heal. Similar to acupuncture, herbal medicine helps move the Qi and Xue in the body by using herbs to promote movement of energy, tonifying herbs to strengthen areas of weakness and deficiency, and sedating (clearing) herbs to clear away excess. Herbal formulas are written and prescribed for the individual's specific condition. There are usually little or no side effects with the use of balanced herbal formulas and individual herbs.
Dietary therapy has been practiced in China for over 2,000 years. Our diets and lifestyles play a fundamental role in our fertility. After a thorough consultation, dietary and lifestyle recommendations are made according to your individual constitution and Chinese diagnosis so that you can slowly augment your diet and lifestyle.
Our lifestyles have changed dramatically since the original masters of Traditional Chinese Medicine discerned the various diagnoses for infertility. The more and more complex our society becomes the more we experience environmental toxins, stress, processed food, heavy metals, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In addition to the balancing and nurturing aspects of TCM it is also important to try to identify toxins in your life and slowly eliminate them. This may include the elimination of alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine as well as heavy greasy foods. It is also helpful that you eat organic foods, drink filtered or bottled water and eliminate toxic materials in your home.
Traditional Chinese medicine has been helpful in infertility used alone or in conjunction with ART procedures. If a woman is taking infertility drugs and still is unable to produce a viable egg for IVF then acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help restore the hormonal and reproductive health. Another example of the complimentary aspect of Chinese medicine is the use of acupuncture in conjunction with IVF. A study done by the Department of Reproductive Medicine, Christian-Lauritzen-Institut, Ulm Germany with the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical University, Wuhan, People's Republic of China looked at the influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. Patients: After giving informed consent, 160 patients who were undergoing ART and who had good quality embryos were divided into the following two groups through random selection: embryo transfer with acupuncture (n=80) and embryo transfer without acupuncture (n=80). Acupuncture was performed in 80 patients 25 minutes before and after embryo transfer. In the control group, embryos were transferred without any supportive therapy. Clinical pregnancies were documented in 34 of 80 patients (42.5%) in the acupuncture group, whereas pregnancy rate was only 26.3% (21 out of 80) in the control group.
The Chinese have been treating infertility for thousands of years with success. It is a matter of treating the body as a whole "Mind, Body and Spirit".
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Traditional Chinese Medicine: What is it?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a comprehensive medical system that came into being following five thousand years of observation and analysis. TCM can prevent illness, maintain health and fight disease. It can effectively treat conditions ranging from the most severe paralysis to the common cold. It not only relieves physical pain and disease, but can provide beneficial psychological effects as well. TCM remedies possess few side effects and, unlike with drugs, tolerance does not build up over time.
How Does it work?
TCM views patients holistically, composed of body, mind, emotions and spirit. When the elements are out of balance, disease develops. Factors such as stress, emotional upset and poor diet can all contribute to this imbalance. TCM helps restore patients' health by bringing harmony to body, mind and emotions.
TCM treats the entire body. A patient m ay come in for treatment for a specific ailment and find that, unexpectedly, long-term unrelated conditions have improved also.
The various components of TCM include acupuncture, herbal therapy, moxibustion, cupping, and nutrition.
The Chinese believe that every living being possesses a universal life energy called "chi." This energy circulates throughout the body along pathways called "meridians," which surface on the skin at certain points. Each point is then connected to a specific internal organ. When chi flows smoothly, patients experience good health. When chi is blocked, the system is disrupted and illness occurs. Acupuncture helps the body to heal itself by opening the energy meridians and stimulating the flow of chi.
TCM practioners insert very fine needles at specific points on the meridians, unblocking the flow of energy. Scientific research has discovered that the acupuncture points show a variety of unique bioelectrical properties. Stimulation of these points causes definite physiological reactions affecting brain activity, blood pressure, heart rate and the immune system.
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How effective is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is highly effective not only as a preventative medicine, but as a drug free treatment of signs and symptoms. Studies indicate that acupuncture influences the central and peripheral nervous system. Evidence shows it releases endorphins from the brain, which make acupuncture particularly effective in pain control.
Among a host of factors, acupuncture affects sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in the blood, the functioning of the gastrointestinal system and the activity of the endocrine system. Acupuncture works with the body, strengthening and balancing energy. It improves circulation and allows the body to heal itself more quickly and more completely.
In China, herbal medicine has traditionally been the most fundamental method of TCM treatment. Medicinal herbs are dispensed to each patient, in a formula, based on the patient's constitution and current medical condition. These herbal formulas work to unblock the energy and to nourish, detoxify and repair the organs. Another group of herbs, classified as "food grade herbs", are highly nutritious and easily added to the diet for general strengthening and maintaining a strong immune system.
Nutrition, Meditation, and Exercises:
The origin of many common illnesses can be traced to improper eating habits, including overeating of fats and refined sugars, irregular eating, under eating and rushed eating. Doctors of TCM suggest appropriate modifications in dietary habits and choices in order to prevent the development of serious illnesses, such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
Life style plays an important role in almost all illness. Experienced TCM practioners can gently guide and encourage a patient to properly manage his or her lifestyle. TCM offers numerous energy enhancing exercises, such as Tai Chi movement, Chi Gong and meditation. These mild exercises take very little time to practice and do not require a large workout space or special equipment. A patient can practice daily as a treatment and a preventative method.
Cupping employs the application of glass or bamboo cups and to acupuncture points or an affected part of the body. The vacuum suction created by heat helps stimulate blood circulation, improve the flow of energy and remove toxins from the body. The technique is useful for muscle injury, joint pain, headaches, infection, bronchial congestion and other afflictions.
Moxibustion treats and prevents disease by applying heat at certain points or locations on the body. It is used therapeutically to relieve traumatic pain, feeling of cold and debilitating conditions, such as weakness and fatigue. It is also used in coping with digestive and gynecological complaints. A condition that does not respond to acupuncture might instead be helped by moxibustion.
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