Traditional Chinese Medicine Helps Couples Facing Infertility
Willa Condrey recently celebrated her first birthday devouring a cupcake and ice cream and tearing opening her gifts. For her parents, Molly and Ralph, it was a day they thought they might never experience. Seven years ago the couple began a struggle with infertility that took them through two failed rounds of hormone shots and intra-uterine insemination to a joyous outcome via Traditional Chinese Medicine.
With Molly unable to become pregnant at age 35, testing from an infertility specialist revealed nothing wrong. After the failed inseminations, the specialist felt because of the Condrey’s ages a pregnancy would be unlikely without invitro fertilization intervention. “This, of course, would cost tens of thousands of dollars and the doctor was not completely convinced that this would work,” says Molly.
Eventually the couple decided to try acupuncture because it was less expensive and less invasive. Within a year Molly was pregnant, but miscarried at six weeks. A few weeks later, the Condrey’s moved to Charlotte and both began treatment with Dr. Eddie Choi, OMD, of Greencross Acupuncture and Herbs in Jan 2008.
By April, Molly was pregnant. “I just didn’t believe it. It seemed so easy after such a long ordeal,” she says.
Dr. Choi acknowledges the discouragement couples struggling with infertility face but says through devotion, there is hope. “The road to pregnancy may seem long, but once the body regains balance and health, pregnancy is not impossible.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sees a person as an integral mind/body organism and seeks to stimulate the body’s natural healing potential by treating root causes rather than just symptoms.
“Eastern medicine recognizes that every person’s body is different and the doctor tailors the treatment plan to balance the energy of that one person,” says Dr. Choi, who has practiced for 15 years and has special training in infertility.
Numerous studies indicate that acupuncture and Chinese herbs may improve sperm production, pregnancy rates in women with infertility, healthy birth rates, the outcome of assisted reproductive therapy (ART) and reduce miscarriage. TCM can be used with or without the integration of Western medical techniques.
In TCM the patient’s overall picture of health, presentation of menstrual cycle, reproductive health history and pulse and tongue diagnosis determines the optimum treatment plan for infertility. The pulse provides detailed information on the state of the internal organs and Qi, or life energy. The tongue is a strong barometer of health with each part of it corresponding to the condition of an organ.
Dr. Jeffery Wang, OMD, owner of Wang’s Acupuncture and Herbal Clinic, holds a Masters of Science in Gynecology of TCM from Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine and notes the difference in the way infertility is treated in American and Chinese Medicine.
“In the Western medicine view, the majority of cases are due to a disorder function of the hypothalamic/pituitary/ovarian axis and uterine factors, fallopian tube abnormalities, etc,” he says. “In Chinese medicine it is important to maintain the balance of yin and yang of the internal organs, regulate the blood circulation and to harmonize the body, mood and mind for optimal fertility.”
Hope Peek of Charlotte Acupuncture is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist. She says whether it is fertility or any other health concern, Chinese medicine has a different way of describing a disorder.
“In a vast majority of cases, Chinese medicine would not see a patient as infertile, but as sub-fertile,” says Peek, a Fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine. “Our focus is to balance and support a woman's overall health in order to optimize her inherent fertility. The body does have an amazing capacity for change and improvement. In a large percentage of cases that I see, there are changes that improve a diagnosis that women feel locked into by conventional medicine.”
There are many factors that may contribute to infertility. Male infertility now accounts for 40% of infertility cases and low sperm counts, high concentrations of abnormally shaped sperm or slow motility may be an issue. For woman, ovulation, fertilization and implantation could be at fault. According to TCM, these problems stem from blood deficiency, kidney deficiency, blood stagnation, phlegm or liver qi stagnation.
Traditional Chinese medicine can help regulate hormones and menstrual cycles, increase blood flow to the ovaries to improve ovarian response and increase egg quality and the thickness of the endometrial lining. Used in conjunction with assisted reproductive therapy, TCM can reduce the side effects of hormonal medication and reduce contractility of the uterus after invitro fertilization procedures. Ideally, it is best to consult with an acupuncturist 3-4 months before ART treatment to get the body into a more supportive state for increased fertility.
A person’s overall health is very crucial for optimal fertility. High stress levels, poor diet, under exercise or over exercise and lack of quality sleep can negatively impact fertility. “The two words I use the most on a daily basis are balance and moderation,” says Peek. “There is a fine line between doing your best to take care of yourself and going overboard with doing so much that it becomes a stressor rather than helpful. Sometimes 30 minutes of deep relaxation beats 30 more minutes at the gym.”
Molly Condrey is relishing motherhood. “It’s as if all of your love, hope and dreams are wrapped up in this little package that you must now nurture and raise. It is exciting and terribly daunting, but you love every minute of it.”