Welcome to Chinese Medicine Bristol's official blog! Here, Acupuncture and TCM pracitioner Sandra Arbelaez will share information about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, how they work, and the latest research and developments related to TCM. You will also find knowledge and ideas on how to enjoy a full, healthy life that she has picked up over the course of 15 years of exploring the world of natural health

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Improving fertility with Chinese Medicine

According to Chinese Medicine theory, the normality of all bodily functions depends on the balance between Yin and Yang and the subsequent unrestricted flow of Qi and Blood. Fertility is not an exception, the only difference being that as there are two people involved in the process. Thus, the success of fertilisation and implantation depends on balance in both male and female.

Fertility: not just about sperm and eggs
The process of conception goes well beyond specific ovarian, menstrual or sperm issues, which are just a reflection of the general state of health of the couple: The female body needs to be free of blockages and have plenty of Qi, Blood, and body fluids to release and ripen an egg, the male body needs to be sufficiently nurtured and be free of blockages to produce sperm that is fast, well-formed, and strong enough to survive the passage through the female reproductive organs to fertilise the egg, the womb needs to be sufficiently thick and at the right temperature to nurture the fertilised egg or else it will not be able to survive.

TCM understands that the reproductive system is not isolated from the rest of the body. As a result, TCM fertility treatment is not solely concerned with conception but with the balance and well-being of the person as a whole.

TCM Treatment:

The first step in female fertility treatment is to regulate the menstrual cycle by the strategic use of Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines that provide support for each stage of the cycle. This is monitored during regular sessions and by the use of a Basal Body Temperature chart. 

If blockages are suspected, they will be cleared first with specific Chinese herbal remedies and Acupuncture points, and conception will not be encouraged during the first few months of treatment. Symptoms of blockage generally involve pain at any stage of the cycle, menstrual clotting, dysfunctional bleeding, and emotional instability.

As blockages impeding the proper flow of Qi and Blood in the reproductive system are cleared, this gives room for working on the strengthening and balancing of Yin and Yang. These two energies are strongly reflected at different times during the cycle and provide the basis for ovulation, thickening of the uterine lining to provide nourishment to a fertilised egg, and the energy that maintains the pregnancy once conception has occurred. 

 At the same time, the male's Yin and Yang should be balanced and strengthened to provide enough nutrients to support healthy sperm (Yin) and enough energy to maintain the libido and provide strength and sperm motility (Yang).

There are modern tools to identify more detailed problems in reproductive functions and it is common for couples to arrive at the TCM clinic with a clear idea of what the difficulty conceiving consists of. This is helpful for the TCM practitioner but is nevertheless not essential as TCM provides us with tools to identify imbalances between Yin and Yang in the different stages of the menstrual cycle and the reproductive process, and the presence of blockages in the flow of Qi and Blood by examining the general health of the couple.

Because the Kidneys are the main organs involved in reproduction, and are the root of Yin and Yang, infertility commonly involves a degree of Yin or Yang deficiency. Some of the main symptoms of these imbalances are listed below. This is by no means a comprehensive list and cannot serve for diagnosis without the assistance of a TCM practitioner who will be able to link this to symptoms in other organ systems:

TCM diagnosis
Systemic signs
Reproductive signs
Yin/Blood deficiency predominates
Restlessness of body/mind
Poor sleep/Insomnia
Dry skin/hair
Warm/Hot feelings in the afternoon and evening
Hot flushes/Night sweating
Lower back ache

Tongue: Pale or slightly red with little coating
Pulse: fine, superficial, slightly rapid
Very light periods
Short menstrual cycle
Little or no mucus discharge
Lack of vaginal lubrication

Premature ejaculation
Sperm motility disorders
Poor sperm quality
Sperm viscosity disorders

Yang/Qi deficiency predominates
Feeling constantly cold
Water retention
Frequent urination
Lack of motivation
Lower back ache
Poor appetite and digestion

Tongue: Pale, flabby, possibly with a white coating
Pules: Weak, deep, “hollow”, slow

Low libido
Menstrual pain alleviated by warmth
Menstrual lower back ache
Prolonged cycle/Period
Excessive mucus discharge throughout cycle

Low libido
Premature ejaculation
Seminal emissions
Poor sperm motility

"Family planning"

Our children's health depends on our own
Parenthood invariably comes with responsibility towards our offspring. No mother or father in their right mind would consciously choose not to provide food, shelter, or security to their child. On the contrary, they will strive to give them all possible comforts and do their best to ensure a pain-free future.

Ironically, we are oblivious of the fact that the state of our health at the time of conceiving a child will provide the basis for their inherent constitution and health for the rest of their lives.  
Despite growing awareness of the fact that our diet, life-style, and relationships affect our health, there is little said in respect of how this could affect the health of our children.

In Chinese medicine theory, there is a concept of pre-natal Essence which accounts for our constitution and genetic make-up, and provides the basis for all physical, mental, and developmental changes throughout our lives. Pre-natal Essence is produced at the time of conception and is the result of the combined Essences of the mother and the father which in turn result from their own constitution and the general state of their energy. Pre-natal Essence is limited an irreplaceable so it implies a big responsibility on the part of parents-to-be to provide their off-spring with the best possible Essence. For more on Essence read my post about the Kidneys.

Preparing the ground

Seeds need good soil to grow
Most of us know that in order for seeds to thrive, good soil is needed. We need to take time to prepare the soil, remove unwanted stuff from it, and add whatever is needed to provide the best nourishment to our seedlings. Why should it be different with our own seeds? We need to make ourselves “fit” for conception, but this is not the same kind of fitness as that needed to run a marathon, or even a 10k. The matter of having babies should not be solely for the benefit of the eager parents, the baby should be taken into account, should it not? 

As we are choosing to become parents in our late 30's and 40's when female energies are starting to decline, there needs to be some preparation prior to conception. It would be great if this was done long before wanting a family, but it is rather impractical in the time of “instant results”. Although some of this work can be done through the use of Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, it is the couple's responsibility to make suitable life-style changes that support the process.

These are the main points to be considered:
  • Minimise or, preferably, eliminate toxins completely from your diet: Drugs, Nicotine, Alcohol, Caffeine, chemical additives. These substances will damage your health and their toxicity will affect your baby so best to stop now! 
  • Eat as healthy a diet as possible (for tips click here) 
  • Moderate your exercise: Gentle exercise is essential to improve energy and fertility in women. Running and very strenuous work-outs have a detrimental effect on fertility and should be avoided from the moment you decide you are going to try for a baby. Gentle yoga, Pilates, walking, and swimming are best. Doing no exercise is not great either as you need to gently encourage the flow of Qi and Blood. 
  • Encourage a good balance between rest and activity: Make an effort to get enough sleep and to have off-days. This is the time when you can recover the energy you lose on a daily basis so that your body does not resort to deeper energies (from the Essence) for day to day functioning.
  • Check your emotions: if there is anything stressing you out or making you anxious it needs dealing with. Stress and anxiety can negatively affect the reproductive system.

I treat many women who have difficulty conceiving with both Chinese herbs and Acupuncture. This is a difficult time for women especially when they are in their late 30’s or in their 40’s. Every month that there is no pregnancy is seen as a missed opportunity, and there is much stress surrounding the subject of children and pregnancy. Encouraging women's well-being should be part of all fertility treatments as this will both make the process less stressful and more effective, and provide their baby with the best nourishment and the best chances to have optimum health when pregnancy occurs.

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