1 in 7 couples have difficulty conceiving, with infertility being diagnosed when a couple can't get pregnant despite having regular unprotected sex, for at least a year. (1)
The burden of infertility is equally shared between male and female factors; 40% of cases are caused by male infertility, 40% by female, 10% of cases have both male and female factors, and a further 10% are unexplained (both partners have no physical abnormalities that might explain the infertility). Despite this, it is mostly women who seek any kind of treatment for infertility, even if the cause is male infertility. (2)
Causes of infertility
The evidence that acupuncture can improve your chances of conceiving is inconclusive. There has been a fair amount of research into the possible ways acupuncture could promote natural fertility. It is always difficult to make conclusions on research that requires a strict methodology when acupuncture is applied very differently in the real world – individualised to each patient. There is evidence that acupuncture can affect the body in a few ways that may benefit reproductive health.
- Regulates Hormones – Promotes the release of beta-endorphin which acts on the brain to release gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH); this affects the release of follicle-stimulation hormone (FSH), oestrogen, progesterone and luteinising hormone (LH), and therefore, ovulation.
- Increases Blood Flow – Acupuncture promotes the para-sympathetic system, which increases blood flow through vasodilation. Local acupuncture points are used which correspond to the sympathetic innervation of the ovaries, stimulation of which can cause an increase in blood flow. This provides more nourishment to the ovaries and uterus to create a hospitable environment for healthy follicle development and embryo implantation.
- Reduces Stress – Acupuncture promotes the ‘rest and digest’ mode (reduces sympathetic nerve activity). High stress levels are associated with adrenaline, catecholamines and cortisol which can suppress ovulation, reduce sperm count, and lower libido.
Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Holistic View on Fertility
Now let’s look at the TCM perspective on fertility.
Conception can occur when a woman has sufficient Blood and movement of Qi throughout her body, which creates a healthy menstrual cycle. Pregnancy occurs when healthy sperm fertilises a healthy egg in a uterus with a good supply of blood.
Women’s health should be taken care of as soon as menstrual cycles begin. Young women tend to suffer from the most menstrual problems, although this is considered ‘normal’ it doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to make it an easier transition.
The mainstream treatment of these menstrual problems involves replacing the hormone imbalances with artificial ones (birth control pills). Instead of artificially correcting the issue, acupuncture aims to encourage your body to regulate hormones naturally – and maintain a healthy reproductive system to preserve fertility.
Delayed ovulation, flow issues, pain, PMS, irregular cycles and other symptoms, help to shed light on where the imbalances lie and point the TCM practitioner to the correct treatment protocols.
In TCM the main causes of infertility include;
Kidney Deficiency, Spleen Deficiency, Heart Deficiency.
The Kidney, Spleen, and Heart all play a role in the formation, quality and movement of Blood as well as the maturation of eggs, sperm, sexual performance, and development of a foetus. These deficiencies may lead to anovulation, irregular cycles, low AMH, low progesterone, thin uterine lining, miscarriage, and other menstrual irregularities, low sperm quality and quantity.
Blood Heat, Blood Deficiency, Blood Stagnation, Liver Qi Stagnation
The presence of these imbalances can result in an inadequate blood supply or circulation in the reproductive organs, heavy bleeding, painful menstruation, fibroids and masses, PMS symptoms, PCOS, endometriosis, miscarriage and irregular vaginal bleeding, poor sperm quality, varicocele.
Cold Uterus, Dampness in the Uterus or lower Jiao (abdomen)
Cold and Dampness constricts and obstructs the proper flow of Blood, encouraging masses and cysts to form in and around the uterus and ovaries as well as painful menstruation, and poor sperm quality and sexual performance issues.
What Can You Do?
Thankfully, making changes to your diet and lifestyle choices can help;
- Diet high in nourishing, seasonal whole foods
- Appropriate exercise and contact with nature
- Stress management at work and home; counselling, CBT, journalling, meditation etc
- Reducing exposure to toxins
- Reducing exposure to heat or cold during periods
- Getting adequate sleep
For more personalised recommendations, please find a qualified TCM practitioner who specialises in women’s health and fertility, or contact us to book an appointment.