Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) suggests that there are three main causes of infertility: deficiency syndrome, stagnancy syndrome and heat syndrome.
According to Dr. Subhuti Dharmananda from the Institute for Traditional Medicine, the deficiency syndrome prevents the hormonal system from properly influencing the sexual and reproductive functions.
The stagnancy syndrome prevents the sexual and reproductive organs from functioning despite normal hormone levels and a normal ability to respond to hormones. This has the impact of restricting circulation to tissues.
The heat syndrome may be associated with an infection or inflammatory process. It can produce abnormal semen quality leading to male infertility, while gynecologic infections can maintain female infertility by blocking the passages, altering the mucous membrane conditions or influencing the local temperature.
Herbal and Acupuncture Treatments in TCM for Infertility
All three syndromes can be treated with Chinese herbs, acupuncture or a combination of both. These traditional Chinese approaches can also, and are often, combined with Western medicine in treating infertility.
Evidence of using herbs to treat infertility dates back to around 2,000 years ago. With the cultural importance of family, it is no wonder that TCM has been used to treat infertility for thousands of years.
TCM practitioners treat infertility by getting to the deeper, underlying root of the problem, instead of treating the most apparent problem. Like an architect, TCM practitioners believe that the foundation is most important in a “home” or body. Therefore, they strive to balance the “foundation” of the body. Once the foundation of the body is healthy and qi (life energy) flows freely throughout the body, the body should be able to correct the problem of infertility on its own.
The Effectiveness of TCM in Enhancing Fertility
In China, the use of herbs have generally taken three to six months to restore fertility, according to Chinese clinical studies. Japan’s treatment times tend to be longer on average, six to 15 months, due to doctors giving lower dosages of herbs and because they are restricted to using a smaller variety of herbs. The U.S. is generally in between at about six to 12 months; it has nearly the full range of Chinese materials, but it generally gives smaller doses.
Acupuncture is another effective way of restoring fertility. It can be used as a complementary treatment with Chinese herbs, Western medicine or both.
Acupuncture helps qi flow through the body along pathways, also known as meridians. It aims to balance this flow by stimulating points along the meridians with thin needles. Acupuncture aids in blood flow to the reproductive organs and stabilizes hormone levels. This will increase ovarian function in women and sperm production in men.
A German study published in 2002 showed that acupuncture may be helpful to couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Of 80 women in the study who underwent IVF and received acupuncture, 34 women got pregnant. Of another 80 women who only received IVF without acupuncture treatment, only 21 women became pregnant. A later American study revealed similar results, showing that 51 percent of the women who had both acupuncture and IVF treatments became pregnant, while only 36 percent of the women who only received IVF treatment without acupuncture became pregnant.
Acupuncture also helps with men’s sperm count and sperm quality. In a study published in Fertility and Sterility in 2005, men who received acupuncture had fewer structural defects in sperm and an increase in the number of normal sperm than men who received no acupuncture.
If the herbal and acupuncture treatments succeed, not only will there be restored fertility in the patient, but he or she should feel better as a whole, because the TCM practitioner would have created balance throughout the entire body.
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