Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for Infertility
Infertility affects millions of couples around the world. It is a condition that is not gender-specific; both males and females are a third likely to be the cause of a couple's failure to conceive. The remaining third of cases are caused by both genders or because of unknown causes. Allopathic treatment for infertility can be expensive. For many, treatment is difficult or impossible to receive due to cost, access, or provider bias issues.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approaches infertility as a problem of the whole person and an imbalance in his or her energies. The goal of TCM treatments is to unblock and rebalance the individual's energy flow. Acupuncture, qigong exercises, massage and herbal medicines used alone or in combination with conventional treatments have demonstrated effectiveness in improving both male and female reproductive function.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Treatments for Infertility
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), infertility can be the result of several types of syndromes. It can be caused by a deficiency in the Kidney and Liver energetic organs, which disrupts the endocrine system; this creates an imbalance of hormones in the body, making sexual reproduction not possible. Infertility can also be the result of stagnant qi (energy) and blood; this lack of circulation stymies sexual reproduction even though hormone levels are normal. Blood stagnation is commonly found in women’s bodies as endometriosis, which can also be treated through the use of acupuncture and herbal medicine. Finally, a damp-heat syndrome can cause infertility that makes internal systems function improperly; in this case the sperm production is not at an optimal level to result in pregnancy. The presence of a damp-heat syndrome is much like inflammation and it causes blockage that must be relieved for sexual reproduction to be possible. With all of these types of infertility diagnoses, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) provides a variety of treatment options.
Acupuncture for Infertility
Certain acupuncture points are used to alleviate specific infertility syndromes. For weakness of the kidney and liver, the points Tai Xi (Kidney 3), Guan Yuan (Ren4), San Yin Jiao (Spleen 6) will be stimulated in certain combinations to restore function. For qi and blood stagnation, Tai Chong (Liver 3), Da Ji (Spleen 8), Xue Hai (Spleen 10), San Yin Jiao (Spleen 6) will be treated to resume flow of both qi and blood to normal levels. For inflammation, stimulation of San Yin Jiao (Spleen 6) and Feng Long (Stomach 40) helps calm and soothe in order to dissipate any blockages.
Stimulating local points such as Infant’s Palace (Zi Gong) that is located in the lower portion of the abdomen also combats infertility. The exact acupuncture prescription will be based upon your specific symptoms, focusing on relieving any imbalances in your body.
Studies indicate that acupuncture in combination with assisted reproduction therapies (ART), in vitro fertilization (IVF), or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) reduces infertility significantly.
Chinese Herbal Medicine for Infertility
Deficiency caused by weakness of the kidney and liver are addressed with tonics that restore qi, blood, and yin and yang. Specific herbs used in these tonics include ginseng, codnonopsis, astragalus, tang-kuei, peony, gelatin, ho-shou-wu, lyceum fruit, lgustrum, eclipta, ophiopogon, epimedium, cistanche, cuscuta, and eucommia. To restore the circulation of qi and blood through the meridians, herbs such as bupleurum, cyperus, lindera, citrus, salvia, red peony, persica, and carthamus are used. To combat inflammation causing organs to function improperly, gardenia, phellodendron, patrinia, and lonicera are prescribed.
Studies focused on the treatment of various male infertility problems have demonstrated the efficacy of several herbal medicines (Guizhi-fuling-wan, Bushen Shengjing Pill, Hochuekkitto) on improving sperm concentration and motility. Some herbs, like Cornus officinalis, stimulate hormone production and regulation, which directly affects sperm. At least one formula (Tai-bao) has shown effectiveness against an anti-sperm antibody produced by the immune system. Lycium barbarum (matrimony vine, wolfberry, goji berry) is a traditional treatment for infertility. Studies of the polysaccharides (important functional element in L. barbarum) demonstrated protective effects against testicular damage due to heat stress, increased hormone levels and improved sperm quality and quantity in animal studies. Astragalus membranaceus (Huang-Qi) and Acanthopanacis senticosi (Siberian ginseng) have shown improved sperm viability and motility following treatment.
Shiatsu massage is based on acupuncture/acupressure principles, with the goal of restoring balance and reducing stress, which may reduce infertility. Many studies have established the role of stress and stress chemicals' effects on reproduction, including reducing sperm quantity and quality, slowing or stopping the menses, as well as negative effects on sleep, nutrition and the function of major body systems—notably the cardiovascular, immune and central nervous systems. By focusing on massage of acupuncture points associated with fertility, shiatsu can help to restore flow of qi to a normal level through out the meridians, which in turn will help to alleviate any imbalances or blockages.
Qigong and Tai Chi
Qigong and Tai Chi are low-impact weight-bearing exercises that promote relaxation (and therefore reduction in stress and stress chemicals). Chinese qigong is also said to enhance the immune system, improve sleep, and reduce stress. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners recommend these exercises for strengthening the body against all forms of disease and to combat aging. Although qigong and t’ai chi do not combat infertility per se, the practice of such exercises is beneficial in alleviating infertility caused by stress.
Causes of Infertility
Hereditary or genetic abnormalities or conditions, individual behavior, diseases or their treatments, environmental exposure, and stress can all contribute to infertility.
- Physical blockage or abnormal structure prevents egg or sperm from normal movement, migration and/or implantation, including: undescended testes, variocele (mass of enlarged veins in the spermatic cord leading to the testicles), testicular atrophy, physical injury, congenital abnormalities, malformed egg or sperm or ectopic pregnancy.
- Chemical toxicity damages or destroys egg or sperm, the reproductive fluids, or the lining of the uterus, including the effects of prescription, over-the-counter and recreational drugs, anti-hypertensives, antihistamines, anti-inflammatories, nicotine, marijuana, cocaine and alcohol.
- Environmental conditions damage or destroy egg or sperm, including radiation exposure, toxins and excessive heat (including tight underwear).
- Diseases and the immune responses to them, including prolonged fever, sexually transmitted diseases (gonorrhea and chlamydia are the two most frequent causes of STD-related infertility), endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, a woman's production of antibodies against her partner's sperm, and a male's production of antibodies against his own sperm.
- Psychological and physical stress can suppress egg and sperm production and slow or stop menstruation, including malnutrition and lack of sleep.
- Unknown causes are responsible for about a third of all cases of infertility.
NIH/National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): Herbs at a Glance
These herbs have known effects on fertility:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Women’s Health.gov
How Stuff Works: How Sex Works
Freudenrich C.C., Ph.D.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Health Information
- Chinese Herbal Materia Medica has information on herbs that should not be used together, toxic herbs, and herbs that should not be taken during pregnancy or when pregnancy is a possibility.
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