China has an infertility rate of less than 3%, which is much lower than that in Western countries (approximately 20%). Why is this so? It’s not that Chinese have fewer problems with fertility than Western people; it is that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), of which Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture are the main components, provides a more effective approach to address the problem than the approach taken in the West.
Traditional Chinese medicine has a history of over 5000 years. The treatment of infertility with Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture dates back over 2000 years. These ancient, time-tested techniques improve fertility rates and support woman’s whole body, unlocking unlimited potential for health, healing and childbearing.
What Causes Infertility?
Infertility is caused by imbalance, or deficiency, or stagnation of Qi (‘chee’, also called Life Energy) and blood in one or more of the organ systems. When Qi and blood are circulating freely throughout the body, every cell, tissue, and organ is properly nourished and functioning well, resulting in good health and increased fertility.
Infertility mainly results from malfunction in the following three organ systems.
In Chinese medicine the kidneys are viewed as the organs that store the procreative energy. This energy fuels our will to live and governs the major cycles in our life – puberty and menopause. It gives women the ability to menstruate, conceive and give birth. It determines the quality and quantity of the eggs and sperm and nourishes a growing fetus. If kidney deficiency occurs, the reproductive energy is inadequate and infertility may be a result.
An adequate blood supply is required by a woman’s body to sustain a normal menstrual cycle, a growing fetus, and a healthy pregnancy. A disharmony within the Spleen system can result in an inadequate blood supply and imbalance of blood, thus increasing the likelihood of infertility.
In Chinese medicine our health depends on the smooth, uninterrupted flow of energy (Qi) and blood throughout our body. This nourishes cells and organs, allowing for the regularity and harmony needed to release and balance the hormones required for reproductive health. The Liver is in charge of facilitating the smooth flow of Qi and blood. Disruption to this process is commonly referred to as liver Qi stagnation, which increases the chance of infertility.
Factors affecting or weakening the above organ systems may lead to infertility. The following are the most common influencing factors:
How Does TCM Work?
- Genetic defects or weakness, such as inherited weak genes.
- Over-consumption of Qi and blood, such as working too long or hard without adequate rest; excessive menstrual bleeding; too much sexual intercourse
- Emotional stagnation, such as long term worries or depression
- Improper diet, such as not eating enough food or lack of a wide range of food
- Medication: many medicines can damage the Kidneys, directly weakening the reproductive system. For instance, long term use of contraception pills may potentially lead to fertility problems.
Infertility is a very complicated condition, and either or both partners may have contributing factors. Statistics show that about 30% of infertility is caused by male factors, such as low sperm count, slow sperm mobility, and sperm abnormalities. Therefore, Chinese medicine doctors often treat both the male and female partners for infertility.
In Chinese medicine patients are treated holistically and as individuals, with the aim of restoring the body balance and natural potential for reproduction.
TCM treatment for infertility is generally a combination of Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and food therapy. TCM can improve infertility in several ways:
- Improve ovarian function to produce better quality eggs
- Regulate hormones to produce a greater number of follicles
- Increase blood flow to the uterus and increase the thickness of uterine lining
- Prevent the uterus from contracting
- Strengthen the immune system
- Improve the sperm count and motility to produce better quality embryos
- Decrease the chance of miscarriage
- Relax the patient and decrease stress levels
Traditional Chinese medicine provides a safe, effective, drug-free and natural approach to treating infertility and enjoying a healthy pregnancy.
TCM Support for Patients Undergoing IVF
Despite the fact that technologies in conventional medicine, such as IVF, can perform near miracles for some childless couples, infertility remains a very common problem in the Western countries. The causes of infertility in most cases are not clear, or are unexplained. IVF success rate is approximately 20%. You may ask, why is the IVF success rate is so low?
Successful fertility is not merely to bring eggs and sperm together. The quality of eggs and sperm plays a key role in the process. Equally important is the process of planting and carrying these fertilized eggs. In Chinese medicine the focus is placed on preparing both the female and male body both physically and mentally, to ensure quality embryos are produced from quality eggs and sperm. In particular, the female body needs to be capable of carrying the embryos. Without healthy bodies, the failure of the fertilized eggs to survive, or the rejection of the embryo by the female body may result.
Just as you cannot scatter seeds on rocky ground and hope for a successful harvest. Successful pregnancy is unlikely if the body is suffering from an imbalance.
Studies show that IVF success rate can be increasedsignificantly if performed in conjunction with acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment throughout the IVF process. Medical imaging has shown that after acupuncture, blood flow to the uterus and ovaries increases. The follicles increase in number and the uterine lining becomes thicker. Furthermore, patients will experience less side effects from the drugs used during the IVF procedure.
The benefit of acupuncture when used alongside IVF is not affected by age, meaning that all age groups show an increase in IVF success rate when acupuncture is utilised.
TCM and IVF might come from opposite sides of the medical fence, but there is growing interest in combining the two in order to improve fertility.