Women’s Health Series: Infertility Solutions with TCM
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a child after two years of regular sexual intercourse without contraception. Western medical treatment focuses on the mechanical functioning of the reproductive organs and hormones. TCM understands that body and soul need to be balanced and harmonious for successful conception and a favorable environment for the embryo to grow. This is accomplished by establishing a healthy, regular menstrual cycle, an undisturbed flow of Qi (energy), plentiful fresh blood and a peaceful mind (an essential element, often ignored in Western medical treatment).
TCM’s Holistic View: Root Causes of Infertility
In the TCM philosophy, the universe is made up of five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. They correspond to the five organ systems in the human body: liver, heart, spleen, lung and kidneys. These organ systems are connected in dynamic relationships and work together to achieve correct physiological functionality. The free flow of Qi (energy) and blood nourishes the organs, ensuring health and well-being. TCM sees the body and mind as a whole, interconnected entity. If an imbalance occurs because of improper flow of Qi or blood, the body will be in disharmony.
In TCM, the two organ systems most involved in pregnancy are the kidneys and the liver. The kidneys are responsible for the developmental stages in the reproductive process. In many cases of infertility, the kidney essence is depleted which prevents the Qi from flowing freely in the body, causing imbalances and Yin or Yang deficiencies. The TCM doctor will most likely remove the deficiency or stagnation and restore the free flow of Qi by stimulating the kidneys and invigorating the vital essence.
The liver in TCM is responsible for storing and supplying blood, the other vital substance. Hence, the liver is a major player in the reproductive cycle as it regulates the menses and the endometrium. Women who are trying to get pregnant – especially in Shanghai where the lifestyle and the environment influence the period greatly – often have a blood stagnation or blood deficiency resulting in menstrual disorders. PMS and menstrual symptoms such as breast tenderness, mood swings, sadness, anger, headaches, and lower back pain have come to be considered normal by modern women. However, having a regular and pain-free menstrual cycle is a sign of a balanced body that functions properly. Regulating this important bodily process is a necessary step to increase the chances of conceiving a baby.
A TCM Infertility Treatment Plan
Each case of infertility is different and requires a consultation with a TCM doctor. Usually the treatment plan consists of herbal medicine and acupuncture. Herbal decoctions are designed specifically for the patient and can be prescribed to stimulate the kidney and replenish the vital essence, reinforce both Qi and blood, activate the blood and soothe the liver and suppress the liver Qi stagnation. To make sure the formula is right for the condition, a proper diagnosis should be performed by a TCM doctor.
Acupuncture is another powerful tool in the process of getting pregnant. It mainly improves uterine lining, increases blood flow to the uterus and regulates the stress associated with trying to get pregnant. Acupuncture given to the man can enhance the sperm quality and mobility, to boost the chances of conceiving a baby.
Lifestyle Changes for Fertility
Another way to facilitate the process of getting pregnant is to implement a few simple changes in lifestyle and diet. For example, women can sometimes improve the treatment’s results by consuming the right foods. The Chinese believe food therapy is a great way to heal the body and restore balance. If a patient suffers from a Yin deficiency, he or she needs to cool down the body with foods such as cucumbers and watermelon. A Yang deficient patient needs to warm up the body, avoiding ice cold drinks and integrating foods like ginger and cabbage into the diet. It is also important to protect the kidney essence with foods like chicken, duck, eggs, seeds and nuts and to limit consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. Did you know that a cup of coffee can speed up sperm movement?
Adequate rest is very important for both men and women when trying to conceive. Facing the challenges of infertility can raise stress levels and influence the performance ability of men. Also, sperm strength and motility can be affected by an unhealthy lifestyle and a stressful environment. TCM can break the cycle naturally and help the couple to relax. Practicing meditation, yoga, qi gong, or tai ji and participating in calming activities and relaxing with friends can reduce stress.
An Integrative Approach to Conceiving
Nowadays, many TCM doctors practice an integrative approach of using Western diagnostic techniques with TCM treatments like acupuncture and herbs to maximize the chances of getting pregnant through IVF or IUI. TCM has had excellent results in treating infertility. This integrative approach will appeal to those looking for natural options, as well as couples who have tried conventional approaches without success and would like the additional support that TCM can offer.