The Chinese medicine's take on infertility
By Dr Tracey-Ann Brown
Many couples look forward to the addition of one or more children to their family. However, in some cases, conception is a difficult process. Infertility is a condition of the reproductive system that prevents the conception of children. The diagnosis is usually given to couples who have been trying to conceive for at least one year without success.
Conception and pregnancy is a precise process requiring:
Healthy sperm and egg production;
Unblocked Fallopian tubes, allowing the sperm to reach the egg;
Fertilisation of the egg by the sperm once they meet;
Implantation of the fertilised egg/embryo in the uterus;
A healthy embryo and hormonal environment to ensure the progress of pregnancy.
Some causes of infertility
Commonly, low or no sperm production.
In some cases, sperm cells are malformed or die before reaching the egg.
Commonly, ovulation disorders, which may be caused by:
- Hormone imbalance (e.g. polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia) and poor diet
- Alcohol or drug use
- Thyroid gland problems
- Excessive exercise causing a significant loss of body fat
- Extremely brief menstrual cycles
Other issues may include blocked Fallopian tubes, which may occur when a woman has had pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis; repeated miscarriages due to uterine fibroids; ageing and birth defects affecting the structure of the uterus.
Generally, one-third of infertility cases are related to the woman alone, another third to the man alone, and the final third is a combination of both partners or unknown causes.
Acupuncture and herbal formulas
Chinese medicine offers treatment in a number of areas related to infertility through the use of acupuncture and herbal formulas which regulate the functioning of the reproductive system. Depending on the condition, treatments aim to:
Strengthen qi (energy) and blood flow in the reproductive system;
Regulate irregular menstrual cycles (painful, infrequent, scanty or heavy menses);
Reduce blockages, small masses;
Increase sperm count and motility.
Periodic tests (blood, semen analysis, ultrasounds) are done throughout the course of treatment to assess progress. In addition, diet and lifestyle habits are assessed and recommendations for modification made according to a treatment plan.
Acupuncture points are selected on the body to address the key areas of concern, particularly points on the abdomen, and gently stimulated.
Acupuncture is safe during pregnancy and is especially recommended during the first trimester if there is a history of miscarriage. During this time, points on the abdomen are avoided.
In creating the ideal herbal formula, a number of herbs are typically combined. Popular infertility herbs include:
Dang gui (radix angelicae sinensis): Regulate menstrual cycle.
Yin yang huo (licentious goat wort): Increase sperm count and motility.
To break up blockages and cysts:
Tao ren (semen persicae)
Mu dan pi (peony tree root cortex)
Mu li (oyster shell)
In Part 2, we will look at the use of acupuncture alongside in-vitro fertilisation and intrauterine insemination methods.
Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is an oriental medicine practitioner, herbalist and doctor of acupuncture. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.