Traditional Chinese Medicine and Infertility
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been developing for over 2000 years. Guided by holistic concepts and based on clinical observation and experience, Chinese medical experts through the ages have developed a unique system of health care with its own characteristics for the prevention and treatment of disease.
Traditional Chinese medicine treats infertility using a combination of specific herbs and the stimulation of acupuncture points to strengthen and regulate organ functions, primarily the production of hormones, an essential component to fertility. In addition, by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, Chinese herbs and acupuncture serve the fertility process by restoring a deep relaxation in the mind and body.
Women are often physically and emotionally depleted and have constrained energy that causes blockages, particularly in the pelvis. Early on in life, these blockages may have presented as painful menstrual cramps, endometriosis, fibroid tumors, PMS symptoms, and so on. Later in life, these disharmonies may result in difficulties with fertility by affecting different parts of the reproductive cycle – production of the egg, fertilization of the egg and implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus.
From the perspective of TCM, infertility is caused by patterns of disharmony in organ systems such as the liver, heart, spleen and kidneys. The TCM patterns of disharmony such as blood stagnation, cold stagnation, phlegm accumulation, excess heat, and so on, play important roles in blocking fertility. In the vernacular of western medicine, these pathologies are known as hypothalamic pituitary dysfunction (anovulation), polycystic ovarian syndrome, luteal phase defect, and other syndromes and conditions that can make it difficult or impossible to conceive. However, the key factor in treating infertility with TCM lies in regulating the menstrual cycle by re-establishing harmonious communication among the endocrine glands.
Male sterility (MS) means infertility caused by disorders of male reproductive system. Its clinical manifestations include abnormal sperm such as spermacrasia, aspermia, dead spermatozoon, azoospermia etc, and disturbance of sexual function, such as impotence, spermatorrhea, nonejaculation etc. The cause of the disease is rather complex. It may be roughly classified into two kinds: the functional cause and the organic one. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), MS belongs to the categories of “cold semen,” “scanty semen,” “impotence” and “persistent erection” etc.
TCM views a person as an integrated mind and body. To ensure a healthy mother and baby, TCM for infertility treatments seeks to stimulate the body’s natural healing ability by treating root causes.
The treatment can be using TCM alone, or in combination with concurrent western medical intervention, such as, IUI and IVF procedures.
There are some distinct advantages to the combination of TCM and standard Western medicine when dealing with fertility challenges.
Traditional Chinese Medicine may be used to strengthen and balance one’s general health so that traditional Western procedures are more effective. TCM treatments many times reduce side effects of some Western procedures and drug therapies.
The combination of Western reproductive technologies and Traditional Chinese Medicine requires the patients and practitioners have a full understanding of all activities. Maintaining that high level of communication assures that each patient is achieving the very best result from all his/her treatment choices.
A routine treatment program consists of two or three acupuncture treatments each week, herbal therapy is usually recommended and many women become pregnant six months to a year after beginning treatment. Once pregnant, it is usually recommended that acupuncture be maintained once a week, through the first trimester.
Timing and consistency of treatment is of primary importance. There is no short cut to conception but in many cases, “turning back the clock” is possible. In general, men and women alike can benefit from concentrated preliminary treatments to balance the body’s systems.
Lifestyle changes may be appropriate. Men and women alike should be normally active and have good diet and exercise habits. Based on individual assessments there may be specific physical exercises and/or treatments that the TCM practitioner recommends to help generate the right environment to successfully conceive. The important point is that all aspects of your life should be considered to assure you make the most of your treatment and pregnancy.
As many recent newspaper and magazine stories demonstrate, TCM has become increasingly popular in recent years as more and more women are waiting until they are in their mid-thirties and older to start a family. It is undisputed that women starting their families later in life have more difficulty becoming pregnant, and many couples spend up to $50,000 on attempting to conceive – with no guarantee of success. TCM offers a rate of success for far less money; prices range from $60 to $90 per session for acupuncture plus the cost of herbs.
Choosing a TCM Practitioner
When choosing a TCM practitioner it is important to know that your practitioner is qualified to do fertility work. Communication, experience and skill are requirements. Entry-level TCM practitioners will have the skill to assist with the removal of pre-exiting conditions that may be contributing to infertility; however, specific treatment of reproductive issues requires specific skills and experience.
Issues with fertility and other health concerns are directly associated with an imbalance of the body’s energy. Through a holistic approach TCM practitioners work with the patient to restore and maintain each individual’s best state of health. As the public becomes more aware of complimentary and drug free treatment options TCM has much to offer.
TCM treatments for infertility and other conditions are provided by Dr. Qizhi Gao at the Evergreen Wellness Center, located at 9235 East Harry in Wichita, KS. Dr. Gao is a nationally certified practitioner of Chinese Medicine and has been practicing in Wichita for the past 15 years.
Contact us to learn more or schedule an appointment with one of our acupuncturists.
Studies on TCM and Infertility Effectiveness
Swedish researchers looked at the role that acupuncture can play in the treatment of infertility and in particular its effect on uterine blood flow.1 The pool of women used as test subjects had infertility problems and were diagnosed with decreased blood flow into the uterus which affects endometrial receptivity. When there is a decreased flow of blood into the uterus, treatment options are few and conception is difficult. Using specific points, which correspond to the innervation of the uterus, researchers measured the amount of blood flow in women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment. The results showed that there was a significant increase in the blood flow into the uterus with the acupuncture treatment. Researchers attributed the effect of acupuncture to its influence on increased uterine arterial blood flow into the uterus, which in turn would increase the chance for oocyte implantation.
Researchers in Germany in 2001 looked at the traditional methods of acupuncture to determine its efficacy with the use of traditional points based on Traditional Chinese Medicine combined with assisted reproductive techniques with embryo transfer (in vitro fertilization or IVF).2 The acupoints chosen were used to relax the uterus. The main purpose of the study was to evaluate whether acupuncture accompanying embryo transfer increases clinical pregnancy rates.
A total of 160 patients participated in the study, 80 patients receiving acupuncture and assisted reproductive techniques and 80 patients undergoing assisted reproductive techniques without acupuncture. Treatment consisted of an acupuncture treatment before and after IVF. The results showed that the pregnancy rate for the acupuncture group was considerably higher than the control (42.5% acupuncture group versus 26.3% control group).
Some centres across North America now use assisted reproductive techniques combined with acupuncture. A fertility centre in Colorado Springs, Colorado utilizes both techniques.3 The protocol used combines both techniques reported on in the Swedish and German research papers. Initially, the patient undergoes two treatments a week for four weeks of treatment before the IVF transfer which prepares the uterus’ endometrium for implantation by increasing arterial blood flow using acupoints based on the Swedish study. Pre- and post-embryo transfer, the patient is given acupuncture to relax the uterus as outlined in the German study.
There results show that 16% more women are get pregnant and 23% are having births. This combined technique of acupuncture with IVF is superior to IVF alone.
1. Stener-Victorin, E., Waldenstrom, U., Andersson, S. and Wikland, M. (1996) Reduction of blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertile women with electro-acupuncture. Hum Reprod Biol., 11:1314-7
2. Paulus, WE., Zhang, M., Strehler, E., El-Danasouri, I and Sterzik, K. (2002) Influence of acupuncture on pregnancy rates in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. Fert Steril., 77:721-43. DePow, J. (2004) “East meets West: Acupuncture and Reproductive Medicine.” –New Mexico Woman
Article Copyright 1999 Qizhi Gao
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