In countries with a long historical association with traditional Chinese medicine, it is a common practice for couples wanting to start a family to utilize traditional Chinese medicine (1).
People seek help from Chinese medicine for different reasons: first-time mothers preparing their body for a baby, manage blood sugar level, nourishing the body after giving birth, dealing with infertility, improving the success rate of IVF and many more reasons.
Treatments to boost fertility can include Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion and tuina (a Chinese form of massage).
Chinese Medicine Theory on Fertility
TCM describes all the aspects of female reproduction – the organs, the glands and their secretions, and the psyche – in terms of Kidney function, Heart function and the Uterus.
TCM texts say ‘the Uterus, the Heart and Kidney form the core of reproductive activity’. In broad terms, what the doctors in China 2000 years ago were referring to when they described the Kidney Jing is what modern Western medical science refers to as the gametes or eggs and sperm themselves. Kidney Yin and Yang include the influence of the hormones (estrogen and progesterone) which regulate the different parts of the cycle.
The Heart encompasses the mind and the activity of the hypothalamus and pituitary, which controls the whole cycle. The Uterus describes the arena where all of this happens. When we use the term Uterus in a Chinese medicine context it is a translation of the term Bao Gong, which includes all the reproductive organs: uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and cervix.
The pathways or channels, called the Bao Mai (Uterus vessel) and Bao Luo (Uterus channel), provide the means of communication between the Heart, Uterus and Kidneys (Below Fig. 2.3).
It is interesting to note that old Chinese medicine texts describe the Heart as the master controller (the Emperor) of the other organs. In the same way, Western medicine often refers to the hypothalamus and the pituitary as the master controllers of other glands in the body.
While the Kidneys and the Heart control the processes necessary for female fertility, they are not the only organs or systems necessary for the effective functioning of the menstrual cycle. Figure 2.4 shows the relationship between all the body’s Yin organs and the Uterus.
Chinese medicine perspective on infertility
According to traditional Chinese medical texts, infertility can be attributed to the imbalances or insufficiencies in the following physical properties:
Causes and signs of infertility in women and men
Female infertility causes:
* Problems with fallopian tube such as blockage or salpingitis
* Problems with uterine conditions like endometriosis, fibroids
* Ovulation disorders
* Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
* Genetic abnormality
Signs and symptoms:
* Irregular, painful or no periods
* Fluctuating hormones causing changes to skin condition, such as acne
* Changes in sex drive and desire
* Dark hair growth on the lips, chest and chin
* Thinning or loss of hair
* Weight gain
Male infertility causes:
* Poor or failure of sperm production
* Low sperm number
* Positive anti-sperm antibody (AsAb)
* Problems with deferens
* Sperm teratogenesis/ normally shaped sperm
* Failure of sperm DNA integrity
* Genetic abnormality
Although acupuncture is hailed by many Chinese medicine practitioners as very effective, to be used with IVF and or Chinese medicine fertility treatment, the recent study results find mixed results. A recent large scale study using acupuncture along with western IVF protocols (no Chinese herbal medicine) showed there wasn’t a statistically significant difference between pregnancies and birth rates in acupuncture and non-acupuncture IVF groups (2).
Although IVF treatments using acupuncture do not show a clinically significant difference between acupuncture and non-acupuncture IVF groups, Chinese medicine over-all has been shown to be Chinese herbal medicine is twice as effective for infertility as conventional Western drug therapy (3).
However acupuncture has been shown to increase blood flow to the uterus and has a regulating effect on the hormonal systems via its ability to regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian-axis, which is an essential aspect in the development of conception and healthy pregnancy (4).
In my experience as a Chinese doctor both in Australia and in China I’ve found that acupuncture is only a small part of the over-all treatment protocol and that Chinese herbal medicine is the most significant component.
What Can Chinese Medicine Treat?
Chinese medicine can assist in the treatment of many gynecological and obstetric problems including the following:
* Menstrual cycle difficulties/irregularities
* Ovulation problems
* Low sperm counts
The traditional Chinese medicine viewpoint aims at regulating the two interdependent forces of Yin and Yang. With regards to fertility in females this could be translated as Oestrogen and Progesterone. This applies to the menstrual cycle – each must be in balance for the next process to occur effectively. Once the processes return to balance, the bodies overall well-being will be greatly enhanced.
How long do I need to be treated for?
The main aim is to have the menstral cycle functioning optimally. This means a healthy follicular phase, ovulation followed by a healthy luteal phase.
The first month is very important for the Chinese medicine practitioner. The client will be asked to take a record of her basal body temperature every morning as she wakes up, over the length of a month.
In western medicine the temperature chart is only used for determining ovulation however this temperature chart tells the Chinese medicine practitioner much more than just ovulation times.
The temperature chart can give us a glimpse as to the length of the follicular phase and the luteal phase – how much oestrogen or progesterone the woman’s body is producing at the different stages of her cycle.
Most infertility issues can be resolved within 3-4 menstrual cycles or around 3 months for males. More complex and long standing conditions may take up to 6 months of treatment. Lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation) will usually shorten the treatment period.
Treatments will usually be more frequent for 1-2 months with the protocols (acupuncture and herbs) changing on a weekly basis. After 2 months the endocrine system should normalise.
If you are considering visiting a Chinese medicine practitioner for fertility issues you might just wait a month and plot your temperatures first – this will save a lot of time.
Sign up to this site and you can use the app to track your temperatures…
There are some instruction videos too…
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