By Xian Min R.Ac
Infertility is is defined as unsuccessful attempts to get pregnancy with frequent and unprotected sex for at least 12 months. Females who are not able to stay pregnant after conception may also be regarded as infertile. Infertility is not always a female’s problem, it could be either female’s problem, or male’s problem, or a combination of both.
There might be some accompanied symptoms such as irregular menstruation or even amenorrhea in women, or hairy, or obesity.
In this article, we focus on female infertility.
What are the risk factors of infertility?
1) Age. Being over the age of 35 could be an essential contributing factor to infertility, due to a decrease in the number and quality of eggs
2) Smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol reduce the chances of getting pregnancy, as they increase the rate of miscarriages and tubal pregnancies.
3) Weight. Being either overweight or underweight could negatively affect ovulation
4) Stress, depression, and anxiety are indicated to relate with infertility, though the mechanism is still unclear
5) Multiple miscarriages is also a potential risk to a successful pregnancy
6) Sexually transmitted infections could also cause negative effect to pregnancy.
What are the common causes of infertility?
Regarding female infertility, the main causes include ovulation disorder, fallopian tube damage or blockage, endometriosis, uterus and cervical issues, and unexplained infertility.
1) Ovulation disorder accounts for around 25% of infertile couples. It is mainly due to issues of reproductive hormones, which is known as dysfunctions of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. The most common type is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is characterized by the presence of tiny cysts on the outside of the ovaries, and results in disrupted menstrual and ovulation cycles.
2) Fallopian tube damage or blockage can prevent sperm from reaching the egg or block the passage of a fertilized egg into the uterus. This damage or blockage may be due to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or scar tissue from a previous surgery.
3) Endometriosis. This occurs when endometrial tissue migrates to other parts of body, including the pelvis and uterus. This can cause damage to the ovaries and fallopian tubes and may also affect the lining of the uterus, which interferes with the implantation of a fertilized egg.
4) Uterine shape could affect embryo implantation and the ability to remain pregnant.
5) Scarring in the uterus may increase the risk of miscarriage and interfere with implantation. Sometimes, abnormal cervical mucus may interfere with sperm transport causing infertility.
How is infertility explained in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
According to TCM theory, fertility is intimately related to kidney essence, and affected by the Conception vessel, the governor vessel, and the penetrating vessel. The pathogenic factors are mainly due to phlegm and dampness, blood stasis, liver qi stagnation, and kidney deficiency. It also emphasizes that normalizing period is the key step to get pregnancy for females.
Typical patterns are as follows:
1) Liver stagnation and Kidney deficiency, which is characterized becoming easily irritated, upper abdominal pain, irregular periods, lower back pain and weak knee and low sexual desire.
2) Qi stagnation and blood stasis, which is characterized by painful periods, large clots in the menstrual blood or prolonged periods or amenorrhea (no period).
3) Liver and Kidney yin deficiency, which is characterized by early periods, or prolonged periods, or uterine bleeding and being thirsty often.
4) Spleen and Kidney yang deficiency, which is characterized by light period flow, or amenorrhea (no period), obesity, abdominal cold & pain, low back pain, swelling, and lack of sexual desire.
Acupuncture for infertility
Acupuncture, in combination with the heat or moxa, is used to soothe the liver, get rid of phlegm, drain dampness, activate blood, and tonify the spleen, liver and kidney.
According to meridians and collaterals theory in TCM, three main extraordinary meridians originate from uterus, i.e., the Conception vessel, the governor vessel, and the penetrating vessel. In addition, there are a few meridians passing through uterus area, namely Liver channel, Spleen channel, and Kidney channel. Once these channels are regulated, the uterus is expected to function well.
In the last two decades, quite a few randomised controlled studies suggest that acupuncture may promote follicular development and discharge, optimize endometrial receptivity, and increase tubal patency. Thus, it is recommended as a possible method to help with pregnancy.
An integrative approach to infertility is most effective. In our clinic the acupuncturists work together with naturopathic doctors, using acupuncture, diet recommendations and herbal remedies, in order to optimize your body condition to improve your natural fertility and maintain a healthy pregnancy.
How many sessions are needed?
Usually it is recommended once a week for continuous 6-8 weeks, and then the practitioner will reassess your body condition and discuss with you about the next treatment plan.