By Rebecca Rice M.S., L.AC.
One of the most personal events of human existence is conception. We are essentially combining our DNA with our partner's DNA to form a whole new life. A perfectly structured interplay of hormonal regulation must occur in order for a quality egg and a quality sperm to be produced, for the egg to be released from the ovary at the proper time during the menstrual cycle, for the uterine environment to be optimal, and for healthy embryonic and fetal development to occur. When you look in a textbook at the interactions in the hormonal trajectory that govern conception and fetal development, one can see that the physiological mechanisms of the body are quite sophisticated. For some couples, conceiving and giving birth to a healthy baby seems to come easily, while other couples have more challenges. This may be due to physical blockages in the womb, hormonal abnormalities, male factors, or a slew of other biomedical conditions. Some couples may be diagnosed as having unexplained infertility. The role of western medicine in the couple experiencing problems with conceiving is extraordinary. Medical doctors, specifically reproductive endocrinologists, can pinpoint where in the interplay of hormonal changes there is a malfunction preventing conception. Modern medicine can analyze the sperm and perform internal visual examinations of the womb to check for obstructions like invasive fibroids or scarring. Because modern medicine has the tools to assess many physiological aspects, its role in reproductive healthcare is paramount.
Chinese medicine has a role as well. When used as a piece of the puzzle in the treatment of fertility difficulties, the effects on the individual, based in holistic therapeutics, are broad and often profound. Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, will address the whole person. This means with treatments, a practitioner will address the fertility concern by treating the root cause of the imbalance that is creating the infertility. Irregular periods, high FSH or premature ovarian failure may be just a ‘symptom’ of the fundamental imbalance, not the cause of infertility from the standpoint of Chinese medicine. The root cause is diagnosed by methods used in Chinese medicine that are not implemented in western medicine. Using the two medicines, East and West, is the most comprehensive avenue of treating most conditions, especially one as intricate as infertility.
There are many means by which Chinese medicine can address infertility. With the condition of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), the woman may not ovulate or may do so infrequently and/or irregularly. A study has shown acupuncture to induce ovulation by way of the hypo-thalamic pituitary axis (the regulatory axis of a woman’s menstrual cycle). With acupuncture, there is potential for an irregular cycle to become regular, for the uterine lining to be an optimal thickness, for moisture to be present, and for conditions like endometriosis to be addressed. During the process of conceiving, with or without ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology), stress and emotional strain are heightened. Acupuncture reduces stress, which in a recent study published by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine's Fertility and Sterility Journal, reported that stress impairs the success rate in IVF cycles (In Vitro Fertilization) up to 93 percent.
Chinese medical theory holds that balance is the most important aspect in the maintenance of health. Patients who are in the midst of trying to conceive naturally or with ART will find benefit in eating a whole foods diet, supplementing with herbs or nutraceuticals as needed, getting plenty of rest and exercise, reducing stress and having a healthy state of mind.
Rebecca Rice M.S., L.AC. is a licensed acupuncturist with practices in Delmar at The Center for Integrative Health and Healing and in Saratoga at One Roof. She focuses her practice on the treatment of reproductive health. She can be reached at 689.2244.