The FHC Approach to Infertility

Written by Marc Wasserman Ph.D. L.Ac.

Introduction

Infertility is not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, estimates indicate that one in five women, between the ages of 25-40, report using infertility services.* Between the stress of examinations and treatment and the financial pressure, infertility is challenging for many couples. But, in most cases, it is correctable and there are many options available to address the various causes.

At Flow Health Clinic we work with couples who continue attempts at natural conception as well as those undergoing IUI and IVF treatments. Very often we see people who’ve a history of failed IVF and IUI treatments and have gone on to have healthy pregnancies with our assistance.

What is acupuncture and how is it going to help us get pregnant?

Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin gauge needles at locations throughout the body, stimulating responses from the immune, circulatory, and nervous systems and rebooting the body’s communication network. By balancing hormone and neurochemical concentrations as well as improving blood flow to specific tissues, the body becomes more receptive to a pregnancy.

How is Chinese medicine used for infertility?

Chinese medicine is an ancient system of compounding natural medicinals into a precise prescription for each patient’s condition. These clinically proven formulas have evolved over thousands of years of experience and continue to improve with modern day advances in technology and understanding of the human body. Men and women in Asian countries continue, to this day, to rely on natural medicinals before, during and after pregnancies to promote, maintain and restore health.

 

How will my specific situation be addressed?

 At Flow Health Clinic we have three phases of treatment. These provide the basic framework necessary to approach a range of scenarios, additional adjustments are made according to each specific case.

 

Phase I—System Reboot

We begin by reestablishing a regular menstrual cycle, encouraging full clearance of endometrial tissue, and promoting punctual ovulation. This return to a fresh start is an essential step, and especially important for couples who have any history of miscarriage.

Very often this alone is enough to restore fertility.

 

Phase II—Creating a Welcoming Body Environment

To encourage fertilization and implantation we focus on the following strategies:

  1. Promoting healthy growth of the endometrium
  2. Thinning excessively viscous cervical mucus
  3. Preventing auto-immune rejection
  4. Increasing sperm count and motility

These issues vary among couples and treatment plans should be modified accordingly. For those trying to conceive naturally it may be more important to focus on promoting healthy cervical mucus and increasing sperm counts. Whereas full development of endometrial lining and discouraging auto-immune rejection more urgently affects the process and outcome in couples undergoing IUI and IVF therapies.

 

Phase III—Strengthening and Tonifying

Aging, genetic and environmental factors, along with disease exposure may all result in diminished or abnormal endocrine stimulation in the body. This can often be improved with precise stimulation of acupuncture points and supplementation with Chinese medicine. Recent and ongoing research continues to expose these mechanisms. For example, CV4(關元), SP6(三陰交), and ST36(足三里) three commonly prescribed points for infertility, have been shown to regulate reproductive endocrine function through activation of GnRH neurons.**

 

Conclusion

Infertility is a challenge. There are many factors which need to be investigated and corrected carefully. And thankfully there are many treatment options available. As you continue to pursue your goal of a healthy pregnancy, whether just beginning fertility treatments or frustrated to the point of surrender, acupuncture and Chinese medicine should be considered as part of your integrative care plan.

 

 

References

*Chandra, A. PhD. et al. “Infertility Service Use in the United States: Data From the National Survey of Family Growth, 1982–2010.” National Health Statistics Report. 1/22/2014. No.73
Cochrane S, et al. “Prior to Conception: The Role of an Acupuncture Protocol in Improving Women’s Reproductive Functioning Assessed by a Pilot Pragmatic Randomised Controlled Trial.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016.
Hullender R, et al. “Impact of whole systems traditional Chinese medicine on in-vitro fertilization outcomes.” Reprod Biomed Online. 2015 Jun;30(6).
Liu, F et al. “Study on the underlying mechanism of acupuncture in regulating neuroendocrine activity in dysmenorrhea rats.” Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. 2009 Feb;34(1):3-8
Manheimer, E et al. “Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis.BMJ. 2008 Mar 8;336(7643):545-9.
**Wang, SJ. et al. “Experimental study on acupuncture activating the gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons in hypothalamus.” Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2010 Mar;30(1):30-9.

 

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香附——XiangFu (Cyperus rotundus)

香附The July issue of PLOS ONE included a research article entitled, “Dental Calculus Reveals Unique Insights into Food Items,
Cooking and Plant Processing in Prehistoric Central Sudan.” You can find the original article here. The researchers obtained dental calculus samples from several burial sites in Sudan, some dating back over 7000 years. In addition to discoveries regarding cooking and eating habits of pre agrarian humans the samples also indicated consumption of cyperus rotundus. The common name of this plant in English is purple nut sedge. Though it is often thought of as an invasive weed, it is also known for its nutritional and medicinal value.

In Chinese medicine cyperus rotundus is known as XiangFu (香附). This herb was first recorded during the Later Han Period, around the middle of the 10th century C.E. It is now still a commonly used herb in clinical Chinese medical practice. In both Taiwan and China XiangFu is one of the most commonly prescribed herbs for treatment of dysmenorrhea.

There are several ways in which XiangFu can be prepared; most commonly it is dry fried before being included in a prescription but it can also be soaked in vinegar or wine. The common form is used for its regulatory and pain relieving effects on menstruation. It can also be used as an analgesic in cases of stagnation type pain in other areas of the body, but most commonly around the flanks and intercostals. In cases of both menstrual pain or flank pain, XiangFu is used when the system of pattern diagnosis indicates a stagnation of qi or liver qi. Other symptoms of this type of pattern may include decreased appetite, irregular menstruation, indigestion and nausea, acid reflux, a deep rough pulse, and a short temper. For cases in which gastric symptoms are more apparent it is often added to formulas such as XiangFuSan(香附散) wherein it is combined with cooling herbs such as ZhiZi(梔子), ChuanLian(川連), ChenPi(陳皮), and BanXia(半夏). This compound formula can control stomach acid, relieve inflammation, suppress nausea, and alleviate epigastric and flank pain. For cases of menstrual pain XiangFu is often combined with formulas such as XiangFuXiongGuiTang(香附芎歸湯), XiaoYaoSan(逍遙散), DangGuiShaoYaoSan(當歸芍藥散), JiaWeiXiaoYaoSan(加味逍遙散), or SiWuTang(四物湯). These formulas help to regulate menstruation and relieve cramps, as well as alleviate psychological symptoms of mood swings, irritability, depression and nervousness. Research has shown that XiangFu can mitigate the intensity of uterine contractions (1). While part of the normal menstrual cycle, if contractions are overly intense the resulting hypoxia to surrounding tissues will result in cramping and pain. This is what is meant by qi stagnation.

In discussing their results, the researchers suggest that chewing the tubers of the purple nut sedge may have decreased the prevalence of cavities through an antibiotic effect. While this is true, it may in fact be an unintentional secondary effect. It is more likely that in addition to filling in for nutritional gaps in diet, that XiangFu was also used as a medicinal to alleviate gastrointestinal and menstrual discomfort.