Chinese medicine has been used in the treatment of infertility for over five thousand years but has only been introduced to the West in the last five decades. In the last two decades alone, its popularity has soared as more and more people become interested in complementary healthcare and the ideals of holistic health. In 2003, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report reviewing controlled clinical trials of acupuncture for various health concerns and listed over 40 conditions which acupuncture could help with, recommending it for both female and male infertility.
Chinese medicine treatments for infertility primarily involve a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Other treatments may also be incorporated such as moxibustion, acupressure, nutritional advice and breathing exercises. Your acupuncture treatment may feature body acupuncture as well as ear acupuncture whilst Chinese herbal medicine can be administered in many different forms. Lily will help explain the treatments every step of the way and take into consideration your preferences and suitability for each treatment so that she can help you choose the Chinese medicine treatment that is right for you.
How Can Chinese Medicine Help My Infertility?
Chinese medicine stimulates the body's own natural healing processes and treats the root of the problem, rather than just the symptoms. For infertility, it is highly important to nourish the energies of specific organs in the body that play a key role in reproduction. Clinical studies from China have indicated a 70% success rate in cases of male and female infertility that investigated patients with amenorrhoea (absent periods), anovulation (absent ovulation), endometriosis, uterine fibroids, low sperm count and sperm motility treated with Chinese herbs.
Medical studies have indicated that acupuncture and certain herbs can help treat infertility by:
• regulating the menstrual cycle
• helping to rebalance hormones
• increasing the blood flow to the uterus
• stimulating ovulation
• relieving stress-related dysfunction
• invigorating the sperm
• raising low sperm count
• increasing sperm motility
• reversing ejaculatory defects and erectile dysfunction.
A German study published by the National Library of Medicine in April 2002 concluded that acupuncture can increase a couple's chance of conception when used in conjunction with conventional infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). In this study, 160 participants were divided into two groups, both receiving standard IVF procedure but with one group also receiving acupuncture before and after implantation. The standard IVF group had a 26.3% pregnancy rate whilst the IVF plus acupuncture group showed a 42.5% success rate.
Acupuncture For Fertility
Body acupuncture is the commonest form of acupuncture, involving insertion of pre-sterilised disposable hair-fine needles into certain energy points in the body. The acupuncture points chosen will vary between individuals and can also differ between treatments for a specific patient but a treatment will typically involve points on the abdomen, lower back as well as on the forearms, lower legs, hands and feet. These points help to tackle your condition in different ways. For example, points in the abdomen and the lower back can be used to stimulate better circulation to the reproductive organs and help to nourish the Kidney, one of the most important organs involved in reproductive health in Chinese medicine. Points on the hands and feet can help to relieve stress and anxiety as well as smooth energy blockages that may be occurring in certain parts of your body. In this way, the acupuncture treatment can be tailored to your personal needs and takes into account all aspects of your presenting condition.
Ear Acupuncture And Ear-Seed Acupressure
Ear acupuncture or auricular acupuncture works on the basis that all parts of the body can be influenced by stimulating specific points on the ear. These can be extremely powerful and are thought to work by influencing the autonomic nervous system through the vagus nerve and the hypothalamus of the brain. During the treatment, points will usually be placed on one ear and left for approximately 20 minutes.
Ear-seed acupressure is used as a common adjunct to acupuncture or herbal medicine and features the same points as in ear-acupuncture but do not involve needle insertion. Instead, Lily will place a small adhesive plaster containing the herbal seed vaccaria onto a point in your ear. You will then be asked to stimulate these points by pressing each point every day in between your treatments with Lily.
Chinese Herbal Medicine For Fertility
Chinese Herbal Tea
Herbal tea is the strongest form of Chinese herbal medicine and comes as packets of dried herbs. Following your initial assessment, Lily will write a Chinese herbal prescription that is completely individualized for you. This herbal prescription usually contains a mixture of approximately ten herbs and is typically administered on a daily basis by boiling one packet of medicine per day. Because the ingredients of your herbal tea are specific to your requirements and because the herbs are dried in their original form, Chinese herbal tea is still regarded today as the most powerful form of Chinese herbal medicine.
Chinese Herbal Tablets
There are currently two forms of Chinese herbal tablets that Lily offers to her patients.
Powder Prescription Tablets
Like herbal tea, powder prescription tablets are individualized to your requirements after Lily has written a Chinese herbal prescription. The powdered form of each herbal ingredient in the prescription will then be mixed together and made into tablets by specially selected Chinese medicine suppliers who use only approved herbal ingredients and advanced tableting methods. This is a popular method of administration due to its convenient nature that does not compromise on specificity.
Patents are herbal medicines that are manufactured based on a common prescription. Lily will decide which patent is the most suitable for your condition and provide you with a box of tablets which is usually administered on a daily basis. The medicine is based on a generic prescription that makes it the least individualized form of herbal medicine and generally perceived as the weakest treatment. However, these herbal medicines are extremely convenient for patients with busy schedules and are also the least expensive form of herbal treatment.
Moxibustion For Fertility
Moxibustion involves using the herbal vapour generated from the burning of the Chinese herb mugwort to stimulate certain points on the body. This treatment helps to provide a more warming therapy and is especially useful for women who have a more 'cold' constitution (cold hands and feet, menstrual cramps that are relieved by warmth) and those with energy blockages (menstrual cramps, PMS, headaches).
Course Of Treatment
Chinese medicine treatment is not typically the miracle fertility treatment that recent press has promised and that certain articles unfairly portray. Whilst Chinese medicine can be extremely powerful in rebalancing the body's energies to make conception more likely, this is a gentle and gradual process and your treatment is likely to require at least three months of weekly sessions before the basic foundations can be laid to allow your body's reproductive energies to be replenished. During these initial three months, Lily will closely monitor your progress by recording any changes to your symptoms by asking you various questions related to your cycle and other aspects such as digestion and sleep as well as checking your tongue and your pulse. You will also be provided with supplementary advice such as dietary or lifestyle adjustments that Lily feels you will be able to benefit from, and be asked to record any changes that you have noticed between your treatments.
In China, statistics have shown daily use of Chinese herbal medicine resulting in pregnancy or restored fertility within three to six months of treatment. In the UK , because dosages of Chinese herbal medicine tend to be smaller, it is estimated that pregnancy can be achieved within six to twelve months.
Consistency of treatment remains important in the management of all types of conditions but is especially important for infertility. For men, continuous administration of herbal medicine for four months is needed before it can have an effect on sperm count or sperm motility. Likewise for women, consistency is also highly important as acupuncture can help adjust specific hormonal changes that occur in each week of the cycle and treatments should be scheduled on a regular, preferably weekly, basis.
Age and Lifestyle Factors
Balancing the reproductive energies with Chinese medicine can take longer for women approaching forty years old and for women who have used birth control pills in the past, or who have pre-existing conditions such as polycystic ovaries or endometriosis. Men who have a history of drug, alcohol and smoking abuse, chronic lower back pain or urinary problems also generally require a longer course of treatment.
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Gurfinkel E, Cedenho AP, Yamamura Y, Srougi M. Effects of acupuncture and moxa treatment in patients with semen abnormalities. Asian J Androl. 2003 Dec;5(4):345-8.
Paulus WE, Zhang M, Strehler E, El-Danasouri I, Sterzik K. Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. Fertil Steril. 2002 Apr;77(4):721-4.
Westergaard LG, Mao Q, Krogslund M, Sandrini S, Lenz S, Grinsted J. Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer significantly improves the reproductive outcome in infertile women: a prospective, randomized trial. Fertil Steril. 2006 May;85(5):1341-6. Epub 2006 Apr 5.