Here are some of the benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM for couples with fertility challenges…
Please see the Wellness Orientated Practitioners Section of this website for a full description of TCM and acupuncture.
Couples from western societies may be unaware that holistic therapies can strengthen reproductive integrity even though acupuncture and medicinal plants or herbs have been used to treat infertility since as early as 476 BC in China.1
When discussing the issue of infertility with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners, they agreed that their clinical experience had shown there to be various levels of infertility. For some couples there are many chemical, nutritional and physical aspects that need to be addressed to aid natural fertility, whilst other couples need to simply focus on one or two key elements.
In TCM a very ancient and balanced approach to total wellness is taken and a person is seen as an interaction between their body, mind and spirit. TCM tries to find the underlying cause of disease, rather than just treat the symptoms.
TCM practitioners will look at various lifestyle habits and work at addressing contributing factors. For example if the patient lives with high stress which complicates efforts to conceive, acupuncture and herbs will be used to assist in relaxation and to maximize the body’s natural abilities.
No individual herb is considered especially useful for promoting fertility. Rather, more than 150 different herbs, usually given in complex formulas comprised of 15 or more ingredients, are used in the treatment of infertility with the purpose of correcting a functional or organic problem that caused infertility. The design of the formulas has varied somewhat over the centuries, based on prevailing theories and available resources, and individual practitioners have a preference for particular herbs, thus accounting for some of the variations among formulas that are recommended.
MECHANISM OF ACTION
The mechanism of action of the herbs is not known precisely, and undoubtedly varies according to the type of infertility problem being treated and the herb formula that is used. The traditional Chinese views are that infertility tends to arise from one or more of three prominent causes2:
1) A “deficiency” syndrome: which may prevent the hormonal system from properly influencing the sexual and reproductive functions. This syndrome is said to be due to a weakness of the “kidney and liver” which may then influence various body functions producing symptoms such as frequent urination, weakness and aching of the back and legs, impotence, irregular menstruation, and difficulties with regulation of body temperature.
2) A “stagnancy” syndrome: is said to involve a stagnancy of ‘qi and blood’ which has the impact of restricting circulation to varied tissues and may prevent the sexual and reproductive organs from functioning despite normal hormone levels.
This Qi stagnation is often noted by tense muscles, restrained anger, and digestive disorders. Other symptoms that might arise include abdominal pain or bloating, chronic inflammation, and formation of lumps (including cysts and tumors). Blood stagnation often occurs following childbirth, surgery, injury, or severe infection and is typically noted when there is severe pain (such as dysmenorrhea), or hard swellings and obstructions; abnormal cell growth, including dysplasia and cancer, are thought to involve blood stagnation.
3) A “heat” syndrome: which may cause the affected organs to function abnormally and can be associated with an infection or inflammatory process. This type of syndrome can produce abnormal semen quality leading to male infertility, while gynecologic infections can maintain female infertility by blocking the passages, altering the mucous membrane conditions, or influencing the local temperature. Herbs that inhibit infections and reduce inflammation are used.
In each syndrome and case, the purpose of the Chinese herbs is to rectify the underlying imbalance to restore normal functions.
There are some studies that have indicated that acupuncture and certain herbs may increase blood flow to the uterus, stimulate ovulation in women and may help to increase sperm motility in men.3 There are also studies that demonstrate improved success rates with artificial reproductive therapies when couples also utilize TCM.
According to a German study published by the National Library of Medicine in April of 2002, acupuncture may also increase a couple’s chance of conception when used in conjunction with more contemporary types of infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). In this study, 160 participants were divided into two groups, each receiving a standard IVF procedure. One of the groups, however, received acupuncture before and after implantation. The standard in-vitro group had a 26.3 percent pregnancy rate, while the acupuncture group showed a 42.5 percent success rate.4
For further information on Infertility, please see “Fertility Challenges“, Chapter 2 in Well Adjusted Babies and other blog posts:
3) Quantitative evaluation of spermatozoa ultrastructure after acupuncture treatment for idiopathic male infertility (2005) Jian Pei, Erwin Strehler, Ulrich Noss, Markus Abt, Paola Piomboni, Baccio Baccetti, and Karl Sterzik. Fertility and Sterility 2005; 84 (1)
4) Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy (2002).Paulus WE, Mingmin Zhang M, Strehler E, El-Danasouri I, and Sterzik K. Christian-Lauritzen-Institut, Ulm, Germany. Fertility and Sterility 2002; 77(4).