• Infertility in Naturopathic and Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspectives

    on Feb 12th, 2018

More women (and men!) are experiencing difficulty in conceiving.  While modern reproductive options have become much more accessible, treating the underlying health issues have become more complex. For example, we are just beginning to understand the genome and the influences of the environment upon our genetics, and how pollutants in our environment disrupt hormones, all of which affects fertility.    

Despite the trends of modern medicine, both Naturopathic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are useful in the aid of infertility and underlying health issues, and are unique in their approach and treatment.  Some areas that are addressed in fertility issues with Naturopathic medicine and/or TCM include the following:

Genetics

Sequencing your DNA has now become easier, but the interpretation can be quite complex.  A Naturopathic doctor can help interpret genetic information that may play a role in the ability to replicate healthy cells and therefore conceive.  Expression of genes can be influenced by dietary and lifestyle behaviors and can influence your health for the remainder of your life. 

In TCM, fertility is largely based on your Kidney essence.  Very similar to genetics, the Kidney essence is the qi, also known as the life force or energy, that you inherit from your parents upon conception.  As we age, our Essence declines and can be depleted by lifestyle factors such as overwork and poor diet.  Ancient Chinese medicine developed the concept of Kidney essence long before DNA was discovered!

Environmental Exposures

The exposure to environmental toxins is an undeniable influence in disease states.  Such chemicals are called endocrine disruptors because they can effect the hormonal balance, which is necessary for a healthy pregnancy.  Plastic water bottles, make-up, lotions, and pesticides can contain endocrine disruptors and must be eliminated from use. 

Since TCM goes back more than a few millennium, environmental toxins have not been mentioned in the same respects as they are today.  However, many Chinese herbs have been contaminated with lead and/or other heavy metals.  Therefore, it is essential that you know where your products are being sourced and that your acupuncturist knows the quality of the products being dispensed. 

Hormones

Hormonal imbalances are very often a causative factor for infertility.  Conditions such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome or fibroids interfere with the process of conception anatomically and hormonally.  The menstrual cycle can be indicative of hormonal imbalances.  Naturopathic medicine works to balance hormones naturally and on occasion with the use of bio-identical hormones.

Acupuncture works wonders in hormonal imbalances.  The use of needles to help smooth the flow of qi and blood, acupuncture can help mitigate side effects of PMS and regulate abnormal menstrual cycles.  Acupuncture has been very effective as an adjunctive care to in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Nutritional deficiencies

Naturopathic medicine takes into account the importance of nutritional deficiencies, which can be a seen, for example, in cases of anemia (iron, B12) or poor fetal development (folate, protein).  Proper nutrient digestion and absorption is necessary for hormone production and processing, as well as cell function and development.

Traditional Chinese medicine uses mainly signs and symptoms, such as lightheadedness and pale complexion, to distinguish blood deficiency.  Since TCM originated before the discovery of vitamins and minerals, diet and Chinese herbs are still largely used to treat nutritional deficiencies by treating blood or yin disorders, substances in the body made by food and water through the digestive process.

Stress

Burnout is commonly becoming normal culture in the U.S.  Naturopathic medicine recognizes adrenal fatigue as a common cause of feeling unwell and exhausted.  The adrenal glands make steroid hormones necessary for fertility and can be disrupted with a good amount of stress.  This is often seen in women undergoing a stressful situation resulting in irregular menstrual periods.

In TCM, stress causes the qi in the body to stagnant.  Qi stagnation, in turn, can cause blood to stagnate.  Qi and blood stagnation does not allow energy to flow to the reproductive organs, hence interfering with conception and causing symptoms such as PMS or conditions such as fibroids.  Hence, movement of qi and blood would be the major goals in TCM in treating stress.

Naturopathic medicine and Traditional Chinese medicine have different ways of approaching treatments for infertility.

For each individual, in Naturopathic medical perspective, ruling out genetic, environmental exposures, hormones, and stress can be assessed through detailed history taking and, if need be, testing.  Treatments are targeted to address the underlying cause whether it is hormonal imbalances, stress, or nutritional deficiencies.

The TCM approach uses acupuncture and Chinese herbs to regulate the menstrual cycle and fertility by supporting blood and qi throughout the body.  Chinese medicine also looks at lifestyle factors that may be depleting qi such as not enough or too much work, exercise, sleep, and dietary.  It is recommended to give at least 3 months, once a week, for acupuncture treatments to have its full effect.

Naturopathic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine looks at each couple individually and can assist with or without conventional treatments (IVF) in fertility and provide healthy outcomes.

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