Coconut Creek, Florida – Infertility is classified as the inability to conceive a child after trying to do so for a year or more, affecting as many as 1 in 8 couples. Both men and women may have a medical condition that prohibits conception, such as polycystic ovarian disease (PCOS), low sperm count or motility, irregular menstruation, and endometriosis. Although the Western names of diseases vary for infertility, there are treatments in Chinese Medicine for many infertility conditions.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Infertility
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has deep roots for treating infertility and gynecological disorders. As early as 200 AD, some of the most treasured books in TCM have chapters devoted to gynecological dysfunctions that can cause infertility. TCM differs from Modern medical treatments for infertility by treating the whole person, not just dealing with a symptom. With careful diagnosis and proper treatments which include acupuncture and herbs, as well as food therapy and lifestyle changes, pregnancy can often be achieved naturally.
TCM patients dealing with reproductive challenges will be treated to increase circulation to the reproductive organs, balance hormones, and reduce stress. From a human survival standpoint, the body will preserve the self over reproduction, so if the body is not functioning properly, a person’s ability to reproduce is diminished or even shut down. But study after study has shown acupuncture and herbs to be effective for infertility as complementary therapy for assisted reproductive technology like IVF or as stand-alone therapy for infertility. This is because TCM helps the body function properly, thereby dis-inhibiting the inherent drive for self-preservation over population. Generally, there are a few patterns in TCM that encompass many infertility issues and provide both relief of symptoms and treatment for the whole person.
Liver Qi Stagnation
In TCM, the Liver is in charge of the flow of Qi and Blood in our bodies. It helps us handle our emotions and all the world throws at us. In our modern world with stress coming from every side, it is no wonder that the function of the Liver is hampered, causing dysfunctions of many kinds. There are usually emotional outbursts, irritability, or even anger, along with abdominal or rib cage pain. The tongue may have dim red sides with a thin white tongue coating, and the pulse is usually wiry. The reproductive implications in men are erectile dysfunction and scrotal pain. For women, menstrual periods may be irregular and accompanied by dark clots and cramping as well as PMS. The representative formula for this pattern is Xiao Yao San. The herbs in this formula treat the Liver and help relieve Qi stagnation. In addition, other herbs in the formula protect organ systems that can be damaged by Liver Qi Stagnation.
In TCM, the Kidneys are responsible for fertility, with the possibility of Yang or Yin deficiency patterns. If the deficiency is severe, it may even be classified as “essence” deficiency, with both Yin and Yang deficiency patterns. From a Western medical perspective, the relationship of hormones and fertility makes sense as well, because the adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys and produce small amounts of hormones throughout life, unless the adrenals are depleted. Along with sex hormones, the adrenals are also responsible for cortisol production, which is the body’s response to stress. Overwork or prolonged periods of stress will deplete the “kidneys,” causing Yang, Yin, and essence deficiencies.
Kidney Yang deficiency is characterized by aversion to cold, frequent urination, back and knee pain, fatigue, paleness, and low sex drive. There is a weak pulse, and the tongue will be pale. Reproductive symptoms in men may be cold sensations in the scrotum and impotence. Women may experience extended menstrual cycles or amenorrhea. Both men and women may have poor egg or sperm quality. The representative formula to treat Kidney Yang deficiency is You Gui Wan. The key herbs in this formula help build up virility.
In Kidney Yin deficiency, heat sensations are predominant such as feelings of heat in the palms, feet or chest, night sweats, feeling hot in the afternoon or evening, palpitations, dizziness, hair loss, and a hyperactive sex drive. The pulse will be slightly rapid and thin, and the tongue will be red with almost no coating. Men may not be able to control ejaculation or have very low sperm count. In females, kidney yin deficiency presents with short menstrual cycles and scanty periods. Women may have low ovarian reserve or even empty follicles causing infertility. The representative formulas to treat Kidney Yin deficiency are Liu Wei Di Huang Wan or Zuo Gui Yin. The latter formula is best for patients without the heat sensations. Both formulas have ingredients that build up fertility and balance the hormones.
Blood Stasis and Phlegm
Circulation is a crucial component of fertility. Without proper nourishment for the sex organs, they will not function properly. Stress, sickness, and a sedentary lifestyle will compound the problem, as will strong emotions. Blood stasis patterns have sharp, stabbing pain along with dark complexion spots or purple veins in the skin. The pulse may feel choppy and the tongue will have a purple hue. Men may have had hernias or varicocele. Women experience painful periods with many clots. Endometriosis, PCOS, and fibroids are often blood stasis conditions. The representative formula for blood stasis in the lower abdomen is Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan, which increases circulation as well as dispersing “accumulations.”
In TCM, Phlegm is not just something that is coughed up. Rather, it is a thickened secretion or conglomeration of white, sticky tissue. In this aspect, “phlegm” can also be nodules or benign tumors. Other symptoms can include brain fog, dizziness with palpitations, feeling of heaviness, or obesity. The tongue should have a thick white tongue coating, and the pulse may feel slippery. In men, they may have intercourse but no ejaculation, or the sperm may not liquefy properly. Women may experience excess vaginal discharge with amenorrhea. PCOS and fallopian tube blockage can fall into this pattern as well. The representative formula is Cang Fu Dao Tan Wan to resolve the phlegm in the lower abdomen and reduce inflammation.
Try This At Home
There are many food therapies available to increase fertility based on the pattern. For example, with a “phlegm” pattern, one should avoid dairy and cold foods. For most patterns, avoiding spicy foods and alcohol are beneficial. Lifestyle is so important for fertility. The top five “try this at home” lifestyle choices are:
- Get plenty of sleep, and don’t overwork.
- Do Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, or meditate several times a week. Light or moderate exercise is also beneficial.
- Have your acupuncturist teach you how to give yourself an abdominal massage to stimulate circulation.
- Get support from others on the same journey and talk through your feelings.
- Eat well and mindfully.
TCM, including acupuncture and herbs have been proven effective treatments for infertility, both as a solo therapy or as an add-on to Western interventions. For example, IVF success rates increase an average of 40% with acupuncture and/or herbs. But Chinese medicine can also treat reproductive conditions for which conventional medicine has little to offer. Herbs and acupuncture are treating the whole person, not just the symptoms to help a woman conceive. Keep in mind that these are natural therapies that require patience on the part of the patient. Depending on the condition, it may take 6-15 months for the body to fully cooperate. While that may sound discouraging, Western medical therapies can take just as long, yet are taxing on the body. The journey to wellness and parenthood is worth it.
The Acupuncturists serve the communities of Margate, Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Tamarac, Parkland, Deerfield Beach, and West Boca. They accept insurance and offer free consultations daily. Give us a call today!
- Ellis, Andrew. Notes from South Mountain: a Guide to Concentrated Herb Granules. Thin Moon Pub., 2003.
- Lyttleton, Jane. Treatment of Infertility with Chinese Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, 2004.
- “TCM to Treat Infertility.” Pacific College, 8 Jan. 2019, www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2014/06/28/tcm-treat-infertility.
- 周肿瑛， 中医内科学，中国中医药出版社，2007