You may notice the term “infertility” was not used in the title of this article. I believe the term alone causes a psychological “block” telling us as women and men (because the problem can be related to either sex) that conception is impossible. This message leads to stress, negative beliefs and anxiety. As more and more studies confirm, there is a strong link between the beliefs, attitudes and stresses of the mind and body and the ability to conceive. A study in San Diego, published in Fertility and Sterility, found women who expressed negative emotions prior to starting IVF were 93 per cent less likely to conceive than those who maintained a positive attitude. So, I begin by telling my patients they have problems or challenges with fertility; that the concept of pregnancy and childbearing is not impossible (unless there is a literal physiological reason a woman or man cannot conceive).
In East Asian Medicine the approach
to any disease or disorder is to address the person
involved in his/her entirety. This means all aspects
of life are reviewed, and many arenas may need
adjustment. Fertility is no different. Lifestyle
choices such as diet, stress, sleep patterns, work,
etc. are reviewed and adjusted accordingly. Typically,
weekly acupuncture appointments and daily herbs
are prescribed (these are general guidelines for
treatment and may be adjusted according to each
Dietary changes are often necessary
in our processed, refined, sugared culture. Other
healthy practices such as Yoga, meditation
and/or cardiovascular exercise are often recommended
to help reduce stress and regulate one’s Qi (pronounced
like cheese without the “se”) – also referred to
Some general guidelines for men to enhance fertility include: Reducing stress;
wearing loose fitting underwear; avoiding alcohol,
tobacco, caffeine, x-rays, steroids and increased
heat in the genital area; regular cardiovascular
exercise; getting enough rest and sleep. Men can
supplement their diet with zinc-rich foods, such as pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds to increase sperm count and motility (The Infertility Diet, Reiss, F.).
Some general guidelines for women
to enhance fertility include: Avoiding alcohol,
caffeine and tobacco; reducing stress, eating soups
rich with whole grains, vegetables and small amounts
of meat; various forms of exercise dependent upon
their East Asian Medical diagnosis; getting enough
rest and sleep.
While large studies do not yet
abound regarding East Asian Medicine’s efficacy
with infertility, it has been used for thousands
of years with success and smaller studies are
beginning to support the abundant anecdotal evidence.
recent studies have shown acupuncture and herbs
can increase blood flow to the uterus, thereby
increasing the likelihood of pregnancy (conducted
at Cornell and UCLA). Others have shown acupuncture
can restore normalcy to the endocrine system,
triggering ovulation. In a small but significant
Germany (Fertility and Sterility, 2002), 80 IVF
patients received acupuncture treatments both
before and after embryonic transfer; 50 per cent
women receiving acupuncture conceived while the
control group had a 26 per cent success rate.
Relaxation and stress reduction, a common effect
is key in increasing fertility and for an overall
improvement in quality of life.
In addition, acupuncture and herbs
are significantly more cost effective and less
“toxic” than the “conventional” western
medical treatments but can be simultaneously
these therapies if the patient decides to pursue
both modalities. It has also been my experience
that using East Asian Medicine in conjunction
with Western Medicine decreases the short and
long-term side-effects of hormone-based fertility
while increasing effectiveness.
Knowing there are natural options
to further assist you during this stressful and
exciting time can help you feel more in
control throughout the process and increase your
Jewel Sommerville is a Doctor of Acupuncture and practitioner of Chinese Herbal Medicine. She is the owner of Holistic Health Rhode Island, a center offering multiple holistic modalities. Holistic Health Rhode Island is located at 5835 Post Road, Suite 113, East Greenwich, RI; # 401-398-2933.