Fertility and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Infertility, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is the inability of a couple to achieve pregnancy after one year of trying to conceive. A couple in which the woman is over 35 years old is considered infertile after six months of trying. Infertility also extends to women who do get pregnant, but suffer repeated pregnancy losses, or miscarriages. According to the CDC, about 10 % of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15–44 years have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant.
Infertility can be traumatic for couples who desire a child. Being able to get pregnant and bring a child into the world seems like it should be a natural part of life, something humans were born to do. When having a baby doesn’t happen, couples often deal with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and anger. Some studies cite that the stress of infertility can be on the same level as the stress of dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
There are many reasons why a woman could be infertile. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, poor thyroid function, blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis, diminished ovarian reserve, and advanced age are just some of the issues that make it difficult for a woman to achieve pregnancy. Men are not immune from infertility either. Their sperm quality and count can be compromised due to genetics, environmental factors, hormonal imbalances, and injury to their testicles.
So what can be done for those who suffer from infertility? After a couple tries unsuccessfully for a year or more to have a child many physicians will recommend Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) in the form of prescribing medications that cause a woman to ovulate, having an Interuterine Insemination (IUI) or even participating in In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) depending on the cause of the infertility. ART is a wonderful advancement in medicine and proves to be a miracle for many couples who try it, but sometimes there are more natural ways to go about conceiving that should be taken into account before jumping into something so powerful.
Turns out there are many natural things that can help. Eating well and exercising while avoiding drugs, cigarettes, and excess alcohol can all have a positive effect on a person’s fertility. But it doesn’t end there. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which includes a broad range of practices like acupuncture, herbs, massage, cupping and dietary guidance, all of which were developed over 2000 years ago in Ancient China, can help with infertility. Acupuncture and herbs are the most common TCM modalities used to treat infertile patients.
Acupuncture is the insertion of extremely thin, sterile needles into acupuncture points, or energy centers, in the body. According to the theory behind acupuncture, the body is comprised of a certain number of meridians, or energy channels, where the life force, or qi should flow through freely. At times, these meridians can become clogged causing a back-up of qi. This qi blockage causes illness and disease in the body including infertility. The needles used in acupuncture are supposed to unblock the meridians allowing qi to flow freely and the body to heal.
Upon the first acupuncture visit, an acupuncturist will most likely do an assessment of the patient and her conditions by requesting her to fill out a questionnaire and then afterward looking at her tongue and taking her pulse. Looking at the color and thickness of the tongue plus feeling the quality of the patient’s pulse gives the acupuncturist a clue to the patient’s TCM diagnosis. From there the acupuncturist will construct a plan of how to treat the specific diagnosis. Usually this will be in the form of acupuncture, herbs, or a combination of both.
As with most alternative medicine therapies, acupuncture and herbs take time to work. Acupuncturists usually recommend receiving treatments for at least three months before expecting significant progress to be made. The acupuncturist will normally check the patient’s tongue and pulse each time the patient comes in for a treatment in order to track the patient’s progress. From there the acupuncturist will adjust the placement of the needles or the herbal prescription accordingly.
Acupuncture treats a host of medical conditions that contribute to infertility. It increases blood flow to the uterus which helps build-up the endometrial lining; it helps balance hormones vital to proper ovulation, and it improves the quality of a woman’s eggs to name a few benefits. TCM is holistic, meaning that it treats the whole body instead of individual parts. So not only will receiving acupuncture help one get pregnant, it will also improve the person’s overall health.
Acupuncture and herbs are also recommended during ART treatments as well. In fact, according to some studies, performing IVF on patients before and after undergoing an embryo transfer during an IVF cycle increased the patient’s likelihood of getting pregnant. Many patients prepare for their ART cycles by visiting the acupuncturist weekly a few months before they undergo a procedure.
Acupuncture is considered safe with few adverse side effects—mostly just bruising or pain at the puncture sites. Its benefits truly outweigh the risks. Bringing balance to the body and making it as healthy as possible is one of the best things to do before getting pregnant. Infertility can be devastating. Making lifestyle changes and engaging in TCM may be the key to bringing home that beautiful bundle of joy.
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