Integrative Medicine for Infertility
Many couples have difficulty getting pregnant, and turn to a variety of treatments to help them conceive. Allopathic, or conventional, methods to help with infertility are often expensive and risky. There are many things a woman can do to increase the chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy with alternative forms of medicine. Integrative medicine incorporates allopathic methods of infertility treatment with alternative and complementary treatments, like nutrition, dietary supplements, and acupuncture. A physician who practices integrative medicine can create an infertility treatment plan that includes both allopathic and alternative therapies, which can increase the effectiveness of the therapies.
What Therapies Might Complement Traditional Infertility Treatments?
A physician who specializes in integrative medicine for infertility will be able to choose the best therapies based on the woman’s specific medical conditions. Several alternative therapies have been used in conjunction with allopathic infertility treatments, like in vitro fertilization.
- Acupuncture: Studies have shown that integrative medicine practices, such as acupuncture, can be used to treat infertility in combination with traditional medicine for infertility. According to one study, women who received acupuncture treatments after implantation were 65 percent more likely to conceive than those who did not. The reason for this success might be increased blood flow to the uterus and the ovaries and assistance with handling emotions and stress. Acupuncture is also worth trying when infertility is caused by inflammatory obstruction of the fallopian tubes. This integrative approach appears to be superior to traditional therapy of using intrauterine injections.
- Electro-acupuncture: Data also suggest that electo-acupuncture (acupuncture performed with electronic stimulation) can help women become pregnant by normalizing the secretion of certain reproductive hormones. Although more research is needed to confirm the findings, a study showed that acupuncture given as a complement to IVF increased the odds of achieving pregnancy.
- Supplements: Taking supplements in addition to a healthy diet may also help a woman become pregnant, stay pregnant, and maintain a healthy pregancy. Several clinical studies showed that chasteberry herbal tincture successfully improved fertility. L-arginine, an amino acid, can also help improve ovarian response, endometrial receptivity, and pregnancy rate.
- Yoga and Meditation: Yoga and meditation provide a way to relax, improve your attitude, and help you manage stress. Some women undergoing IVF experience more success with these forms of integrative medicine, maintaining a regular yoga and meditation practice.
Nutrition for Fertility
A practitioner of integrative medicine might suggest certain foods to avoid, or certain foods to eat more of, while a woman is trying to conceive. While eating a nutritious diet is always important, it is especially important during pregnancy. Eating completely natural, unprocessed, organic food might also help with infertility. Fresh produce, nuts and seeds are nutritionally superior to packaged, processed foods.
Protein helps the body produce hormones, repair cells, transport oxygen and nutrients, fight infection, and grow new tissue. Protein sources include meat, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, brown rice, and quinoa. Unsaturated fats, such as omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids, are important nutrients as well.
Nutrition is important for both the man and woman as they try to conceive a child. Women and men are advised to drink plenty of water, as the ovaries and testes are the first organs to have the water cut off from them when fluid stores get low in the body. Nutrition therapist Philippa Levinson says she sees many couples who are deficient in zinc, sometimes combined with high levels of lead in their bodies. The zinc balance has to be right for sperm health in men and for egg and hormone production in women. Other studies show that supplementing with vitamins E, B6 and B12, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and selenium reduce infertility. One study showed that drinking tea instead of caffeinated drinks nearly doubled the odds of conception per cycle.
While undergoing infertility treatments, avoid the following:
- Saturated fats from animal sources
- Artificial sweeteners
- Recreational drugs
- Environmental contaminants, including xenoestrogens found in chemicals and pesticides
- Caffeine, more than 300 milligrams of caffeine per day may reduce fertility by 27 percent
Visiting an integrative medicine practitioner will allow for personalized nutritional guidance, helping you to supplement what is missing form your diet, and discovering what needs to be eliminated to improve your fertility.
Risks of Integrative Medicine for Infertility
It is important to note that, while good nutrition and alternative therapies may benefit a couple trying to conceive, they should not stop their allopathic medicine regimen. Alternative therapies have been shown to be most effective when they are used in conjunction with allopathic methods, like in vitro fertilization. It is additionally best to make nutrition and supplement changes under the supervision of an experienced fertility practitioner.
What is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine brings together treatments from both traditional medicine and alternative or complementary medicine. More and more often, physicians integrate complementary medicine therapies with traditional medicine in treatment plans for patients to enhance the benefits of both sides. Complementary and alternative treatments can be given at a separate facility or right in the traditional medicine physician’s office. Evidence exists for the safety and effectiveness of combining both modes of treatment for many conditions, including infertility.
Alternative and complementary medical practices include a wide range of healing therapies, approaches, and philosophies that exist outside of mainstream traditional medicine. According to the National Institutes of Health, these therapies are not widely taught in medical schools, are generally not used in hospitals, and usually are not reimbursed by medical insurance companies, though certain alternative therapies are being covered by more insurance companies. While scientists have not rigorously studied most of these therapies, many of the therapies have been used in treatment for hundreds or thousands of years and rely on the healing experiences of patients for promotion.
What is Infertility?
Infertility is the inability to get pregnant after at least one year of attempting to achieve pregnancy. It also includes women who experience repeated miscarriages.
Infertility can result from problems with any of the following:
- Movement of the egg toward the uterus
- Sperm fertilizing the egg
- Implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus
About 12 percent of women in the United States had difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term in 2002, according to the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What Causes Infertility?
Unexplained infertility might be caused by subtle hormonal imbalances, age, or nutritional deficiencies.
For women, most infertility results from problems with ovulation. Other causes might include blocked fallopian tubes, pelvic inflammatory disease, surgery, or physical problems with the uterine wall. About 12 percent of all infertility cases result from sub-optimal weight in women. Maintaining a healthy weight will prime the pump for fertility. Without enough fat, a woman can’t produce enough estrogen and her reproductive cycle begins to shut down. With too much body fat, a woman produces too much estrogen, and the body reacts as if on hormonal birth control. A healthy weight and body composition is ideal.
For men, infertility can result from physical problems, such as testes that don’t make enough normal sperm, hormonal problems, lifestyle or environmental factors, or genetic conditions. Diabetes and weight also are linked to male infertility. Two reports showed that semen samples from diabetics had DNA damage, which is linked to decreased embryo quality, low embryo implantation rates, and higher miscarriage rates. Researchers also found that men with a higher body mass index had more abnormal sperm and less seminal fluid.
American Dietetic Association
Resolve: The National Infertility Association
InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination
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Barbier, Robert L., et al. 6 Steps to Increased Fertility: An Integrated Medical and Mind/Body Approach To Promote Conception
Broder, Michael S. The Panic-Free Pregnancy