How TCM Can Help with Infertility
Posted by Gabriella Toth
Learning about your body’s reproductive physiology is profoundly empowering. I want to look at a typical cycle and walk through what happens during this time from a western medical perspective and also highlight specific ways in which TCM can benefit you during your cycle.
Your body prepares every month for a potential pregnancy in a series of hormonal and physiological processes. An imbalance anywhere along the way can keep that from happening. Chinese Medicine can positively influence virtually every aspect of a women’s cycle from regulating her cycle to encouraging adequate estrogen and progesterone levels. It can positively influence the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian axis which is responsible for hormone regulation in the body and easily goes out of balance due to stress.
So let’s have a look:
Once menses has stopped, the body, under the influence of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) begins to ripen 15-20 follicles. These follicles produce estrogen which governs the first part of the cycle leading up to ovulation. As these follicles mature, one becomes dominant and it is this egg that is released. Once the estrogen levels in the body have reached a threshold this triggers luteinizing hormone to cause the egg to burst through the ovarian wall. Estrogen is responsible for the endometrial lining thickening and adequate cervical fluid being produced.
In Chinese medicine we refer to this functioning as the yin of the body. It is considered the moistening and nourishing aspect of the body, more to do with the structure i.e. (lining and fluid) as opposed to the yang which is more to do with the active functioning. Once yin is at its height (ovulation), yin transforms to yang.
Once the egg is released is begins it’s descend down the fallopian tube with the help of the fimbria (hair like projections) along the wall of the tube. The egg will stay alive for up to 24 hours and if the sperm is present and successful then conception will occur and the egg will continue down to the uterus wall and implant approximately a week after conception.
This is where the presence of fertile fluid is ever so important as the sperm must swim all the way to the top of the vagina, through the cervix, through the uterus and up to the fallopian tube to meet the egg, a process that can take hours. Healthy, abundant cervical mucus is the medium for the sperm to do that, a superhighway if you will. In the absence of it although conception is possible, it is not as likely.
We can influence cervical fluid production if it is scant and specifically the S-type cervical fluid which is the most fertile. This is done by tonifying the kidney yin energies and also influences the quality of eggs produced. Some women have difficulty ovulating and research shows acupuncture to be of great benefit in these cases. Blood flow to the reproductive organs is maximized which benefits all aspects of the cycle.
The corpus luteum (the shell that housed the egg) begins to produce progesterone which is necessary for implantation and prevention of the release of other eggs. It is responsible for raising the temperature in preparation for housing the fetus (our natural incubator). This shift is what is observed when charting your BBT (basal body temperature). The endometrial lining continues to thicken under the influence of progesterone.
This phase is called the lutuel phase or post ovulatory phase which needs to be at least 10 days long in order to allow implantation to occur.
We can influence and help women with short luteal phase by tonifying the kidney yang energy. The yang energy is responsible for the warming, activating, drying aspect of this part of the cycle. In classical Chinese medicine gynecology texts they refer to a diagnosis of “cold womb” which is one cause of infertility.
If conception does not occur then the corpus luteum disintegrates, progesterone levels drop and the endometrial lining sheds itself and the period comes. Before and during bleeding the importance is placed on making sure the movement of qi and blood is flowing smoothly. If not we can see signs of premenstrual tension, potentially painful periods, and blood clots, heavy or conversely light periods.
The regulation of the menstrual cycle is one of our first priorities with regards to fertility work. Special attention is paid to where you are in your cycle in order to enhance the functioning of that phase.
In addition, we also diagnose your overall condition and constitution. Together this makes for an effective treatment approach.
Acupuncture and herbal medicines help support your own body’s ability to heal and come back into homeostasis and therefore are without side effects. Whether you want to conceive naturally or choose to go with IVF or IUI, we can help. We have seen many women conceive naturally with the help of Chinese medicine.