5 Ways to Use the Best of Chinese Medicine to Boost Your Fertility

This post was originally published on the Women's Health and Lifestyle site Mother.ly. For the full article, click here!

By Mary Sabo, L.Ac DACM

For a pregnancy to occur, there are many factors in a woman’s body that must be balanced and healthy.  Men must also have normal strong sperm, which can be affected by diet, lifestyle and overall health. When we are young, we are typically naturally more fertile and resilient, but as we age and are exposed to…you know, life (stress, environmental toxins, poor dietary and lifestyle choices, the progression of disease processes, the natural decline of cellular quality), it can become more challenging.  Couples struggling to conceive, however, have many options for improving their odds of conceiving and almost all couples become pregnant or have a child as long as they keep pursuing their options. 

Western medical techniques for fertility are typically focused on targeted intervention in the uterus and ovaries involving manipulating ovulation, surgical procedures (to remove polyps, cysts, endometriosis, or fibroids), and artificial reproductive technologies like intrauterine insemination and in vitro fertilization. The Eastern medical approach, however, focuses on helping the body self-correct and improves the function and health of the reproductive organs as well as the entire system. Both approaches have limitations, but studies have shown that when done together, they can work better than either alone. 

For 5 tips on boosting your fertility naturally, read the rest of the article HERE!

Finding the Best Fertility Doctor for You

By Mary Sabo, L.Ac. DACM

When it comes time to seek medical help for your fertility, finding the right specialist can make a huge difference in your experience. Fertility doctors are called Reproductive Endocrinologists (RE) and depending on where you live, there may be many or only a few from which to choose. In Manhattan, where I practice, there are hundreds of doctors in dozens of clinics in the region and it can be confusing to figure out where to go.  

When I am working with a patient who I suspect may need Western medical fertility support and who does not yet have an RE, I carefully consider their case, their needs, and their preferences for intervention. I see patients from most of the fertility clinics in the region and have over time learned the nuances in their approaches, success rates, bedside manners and areas of expertise. I use this knowledge to help guide my patients to an RE who might be the best fit for them.  

Those of you who don’t have a fertility-savvy acupuncturist in your neighborhood may need to do a bit more research. Lucky for you, a new website exists that is collecting information, reviews, and statistics on fertility clinics in cities around the US.  FertilityIQ is a wonderful tool that empowers couples to learn more about their options when it comes to choosing an RE and fertility clinic. It was created by a San Francisco couple who experienced their own frustrating fertility journey and dreamed of making it easier for others. The site includes a summary of each clinic’s reported statistics compared to the national average, as well as lots of other details such as the responsiveness of the nursing staff, how often patients see their doctor, and personalized (and verified) reviews. It’s a great place to start if you are searching for a fertility doctor. 

Here are some other things to consider when looking for an RE:

1.     Success rate. All fertility clinics are required to post statistics of their success rates. Most have them on their websites, but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has them all on this website.

2.     Do they accept your insurance? Let’s face it; fertility treatments can be expensive (some clinics charge upwards of $20,000 for one IVF cycle). If you have many choices in your area, narrow it down by who accepts your insurance and then research those options. 

3.     Get a referral. Talk to your OB GYN, your primary care physician, your acupuncturist or friends who may have gone through the fertility process. 

4.     Schedule a consultation (or a few). The consultation is where you will sit down and chat with your RE in order to make a fertility plan. He or She will take a history of your case and may want to do a pelvic ultrasound, some blood work and other tests in order to make a firm plan. Once these tests are done, the RE will have a better sense of the best course of action to help you achieve your goals.  If you are comfortable with this treatment plan, proceed! If not, discuss your concerns with the doctor. You can also take the information from the tests to another RE for review and ask their opinion on the best course of action. Some clinics will want to repeat tests, but it may be worth it to see your options. You should always proceed with a doctor you trust at a clinic where you feel very comfortable. 

What does your acupuncturist mean when she says your “Kidney” energy is weak?

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By Mary Sabo, L.Ac. DACM

A Reproductive Endocrinologist recently contacted me asking what the Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) diagnosis of “weak kidneys” meant. She was reviewing a scientific study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility that explored the effect of Chinese herbs administered in the three months leading up to and during an IVF on pregnancy rates. The herbs used in the study were in the category of “kidney yin tonics” and were given to a group of women with the TCM diagnosis of weak Kidney Yin. The study group showed significantly higher pregnancy rates and improvements in follicular fluid quality after taking the Chinese herbs.[i] How may the herbs have helped?

The "Kidney" in TCM includes functions of the actual kidney organ from a western perspective as well as the adrenals (they didn't separate the two). It is thought of as the energy battery in Chinese medicine and has several functions. Like the actual kidney, it helps with fluid metabolism and filtration, therefore characteristics of weak kidney energy may include edema, blood pressure abnormalities, and urinary problems. But it also goes deeper.

TCM doctors in ancient China had some general concept of genes and epigenetics in that they understood traits were passed down from parents to children, including resilience and a propensity for certain diseases. They called this "Jing", which is basically thought of as a primordial energy that can be turned into whatever energy is needed in the body (yin, yang, blood, qi). People born with abundant "jing" were more resistant to disease and aged well.  People with poor jing were the opposite. Jing is stored in the KD and is necessary for providing the energy for the next generation (i.e. fertility). People who abuse their body with poor diet and lifestyle habits dip into their jing more frequently and deplete it. People who have great healthy diets and habits conserve their jing. This explained why some people can abuse their bodies and be fine, while others are delicate and sickly even with good habits. It all depends on the abundance of jing in your kidneys.

The Kidney also stores the kidney Yin and the kidney Yang, which are created from jing combined with the energy provided from our food, the air we breathe and the water we drink. Yin controls the more fluid, nourishing, lubricating, and cooling energies and functions in the body. In fertility it is associated with estrogen levels, endometrial lining thickness, follicular fluid, cervical mucus quality, vaginal lubrication, the responsiveness of the ovary, and egg quantity. Yang controls movement, metabolism, warmth and action (think thyroid function, adrenal function, metabolic processes, strength of ovulation, hormonal transitions, egg quality, progesterone levels, and the spark of life). When the Kidney yin or yang is low, it can disrupt fertility, thus many "Kidney tonifying" herbs help with fertility. There are kidney yin tonic herbs and kidney yang tonics. There are some herbs that are thought to help jing, but mostly we are born with what we have and either abuse it or conserve it. The formula in the study mentioned above is a classic herbal formula for low Kidney yin, which is why it may affect the follicular fluid and improve pregnancy rates in women diagnosed as having weak Kidney yin.

The interesting aspect about the TCM approach to fertility is that treatments, including herbal formulas, are always customized. It is tempting to read this study and think “all women who are struggling to conceive should take this formula!”, but it will not help all women. It will only likely help women who are low in Kidney Yin. From a Western medicinal perspective, there are many reasons women struggle to get pregnant. There are different diagnoses in Chinese medicine as well. It is important to work with an acupuncturist who is experienced in fertility care if you are taking Chinese herbs, which can be powerful tools to improve fertility. Getting on the correct formula, however, is the most important part. 

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[i] F. Lian, H. Wu, Z. Sun, Y. Guo, L. Shi, M. Xue. The effects of chinese medicines for tonifying the kidney on proteomics change in follicular fluid of infertile women. Fertility and Sterility September 2013 Volume 100, Issue 3, Supplement, Pages S472–S473