Fertility requires balanced hormones, structurally sound reproductive organs, good health and a nutritious diet. Even so, the chances of a healthy couple conceiving each month is just 25%. Chinese medicine views fertility as a balanced reproductive system that produces fluctuations in the Yin and Yang. For the reproductive system to function at its peak there must also be balance in all body systems.
A couple is considered infertile if after one year of having unprotected sex they have not conceived. Infertility is an increasing problem, particularly in Australia where one in six couples is diagnosed as infertile. In about 10% of cases, the exact reason is unknown. In other cases, either the female or the male has a reproductive problem, or both partners are infertile.
Female infertility & sub-fertility
Female infertility accounts for about 40% of infertile cases. Infertility can be caused by functional disorders such as hormonal imbalances or structural problems like endometriosis. The most common cause of female infertility is an ovulation disorder where the egg development and release is impaired.
Age is also an important factor in infertility. One in three women over 35 years will have fertility problems. This is due to a decline in reproductive function, which is why there are much lower IVF success rates for women over 35 than for younger women. Aging also affects the uterus and increases the risk of miscarriage.
From a Chinese medicine perspective infertility is a manifestation of reproductive imbalance coupled with impaired general health and wellbeing.
The Female Infertility Program uses acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and nutritional therapies to promote fertility, improve general health, and support the possibility of conceiving a healthy baby. This treatment approach is also used for the general Pre-Conception Care program. We understand Pre-Conception Care is necessary when planning a pregnancy because a woman needs to be healthy to produce good quality eggs. The health of the reproductive system is assessed through general health symptoms and charting the various changes throughout the menstrual cycle.
East West Fertility treats a range of women’s health disorders that cause infertility such as:
- Anovulation (no ovulation)
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Amenorrhea (no periods)
- Luteal phase insufficiency
- Menstrual irregularities
- Endometrial lining problems
- Implantation disorders
- Impaired oestrogen metabolism
- Sperm antibodies (hostile cervix)
- Acquired ovarian failure (for example, as a result of chemotherapy)
- Early menopause
For many women, maintaining the Infertility Program for at least four (4) months is sufficient to improve fertility markers and increase the chances of conceiving. If other reproductive therapies, such as IVF, are required the program can be an adjunct therapy to promote health and wellbeing, relieve stress and support the possibility of a positive outcome.
We also treat frequent miscarriage or problem pregnancies as well as addressing the stress known to occur when coping with a shattering diagnosis of infertility. Studies by Chen, Dong and Luo et al have shown that acupuncture relieves stress. The relationship between stress and infertility is thought to be through the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis (HPA), which plays a significant role in fertility. The axis regulates both our sex hormones and our stress responses, which suggests stress contributes to a range of fertility disorders such as amenorrhea, anovulation, ovulatory disorders and irregular periods.
Studies involving Chinese medicine & female infertility
Stener-Victorin et al studied the use of electro-acupuncture on 24 women suffering from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) with oligo/amenorrhoea. In cases of mild obesity, ovulatory cycles increased from 15% to 66%, suggesting acupuncture is a long-lasting effective treatment for ovulation induction. Another study Stener-Victorin led demonstrated acupuncture increases the blood flow to the reproductive organs. This means that when the diet is nutritionally sound then adequate nutrients will be supplied to the ovaries and uterus. This supports the development of good quality eggs and thickness of the endometrial lining, which are two prerequisites for embryo implantation and growth.
Gerhard & Postneek assessed the hormonal effect of ear acupuncture on 45 infertile women with oligoamenorrhea or luteal phase deficiency. Results were compared with 45 women undergoing conventional hormone therapy. The authors assert, ‘Based on our data, [auricular] acupuncture seems to offer a viable alternative for female infertility due to hormonal disorders.’ They also observed a reduced miscarriage rate in the auricular acupuncture group compared to the hormonal treatment. Lain used Chinese herbs in 60 cases of luteal phase insufficiency. The author recorded a rise in the Basal Body Temperature (BBT) and a 56% successful outcome with over half achieving pregnancy. This modest study suggests that Chinese herbs have a normalising effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis.
Long term pill use may mask reproductive status
A Danish study reported at this years 2014 European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) annual meeting points to the masking of reproductive status and shrinkage of ovaries by long-term pill use, especially for women between 19 to 29.9 years.
Fortunately, the researchers don’t believe the effect is permanent, nor for the most part will affect future fertility in most women. However, according to the data, one percent (1%) of women who take the pill long term will go into early menopause and the pill can mask this tendency. This study is important as 1.6 million of the 160 million women throughout the world who take the pill will experience early menopause.
If you have been taking the pill long term and on stopping find your doctor tells you you have a low ovarian reserve due to low Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) and Atrial Follicular Count (AFC) you should repeat the test in 6 months to determine whether the pill was responsible and merely giving the appearance of a trend towards early menopause or if in fact you are at risk of an early menopause. If you are not at risk of an early menopause, then your AMH should increase and size of ovaries improve. If you are at risk of an early menopause then the second test should show results similar to the first one.
Whether at risk of early menopause or suffering from this effect of long-term pill use Acupuncture, herbs and nutritional supplements with diet and life-style modifications may help to slow this process if you are at risk. This is also beneficial if you are not at risk, but are suffering from this effect of long-term pill use, to help restore your levels to within appropriate ranges and address ovarian shrinkage.