By Neil Weinberg
When the soil is well-prepared, the harvest will be bountiful.
Ancient Chinese Proverb
Anna sat lovingly holding her newborn baby girl in my office. Tired but ecstatic, she was overjoyed to finally be a mother. Discouraged for years after a diagnosis of unexplained infertility, it was only out of desperation (and an acute awareness that her biological window of opportunity was short) that she decided to try an alternative cure. She had given up all hope of ever becoming pregnant and her conventional health practitioners had given up as well. Now, a little over a year later she came in to have me hold her daughter.
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term. The prevalence of infertility has been increasing dramatically over the past few decades. There are many theories as to why couples are increasingly finding conception difficult. Among these are an increase in hormones in food and the environment, toxins in food, air and water, and delayed maternal age. Regardless of the causes, more and more couples are seeking assistance with fertility issues. Some prefer to utilize the services of fertility clinics (whose numbers have skyrocketed in recent years as the technology of assisted reproductive technology (ART) has advanced) and/or use fertility drugs. Others prefer a more gentle, holistic approachutilizing herbs, supplements, and lifestyle modifications. In addition, as research documenting the efficacy of Chinese medicine in treating infertility continues to mount, ever increasing numbers of people are choosing this therapeutic method, either by itself or in combination with western allopathic treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Although the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to help with reproductive imbalances for both men and women goes back more than two thousand years, recent research has presented concrete evidence of its benefits. One example of this appeared in the April 2002 issue of Fertility and Sterility which presented a well-designed, controlled study that demonstrated positive results for dramatically increasing success rates for couples undergoing IVF treatments. Women who were treated with acupuncture immediately before and after embryo transfer had significantly higher rates of successful implantation. Not fully understood from a western perspective, it is suggested that the ability of acupuncture to increase blood flow throughout the body as well as its ability to affect the autonomic nervous system, reducing contractions at the time of implantation creates conditions that optimize endometrial receptivity.
Other potential benefits include: improved ovarian blood flow, increased ovarian response, and thickening of the endometrial lining. Among the many medical conditions related to fertility, which can benefit from acupuncture treatment are low sperm count, poor ovarian response, luteal phase defect and tubal spasm. Research evidence supporting the benefits of acupuncture treatment is so strong that many fertility clinics are employing acupuncturists as part of their medical team, or making referrals to them to help maximize the reproductive health of their patients and increase their success rates.
I have witnessed extremely positive results in my clinical fertility treatment experience. In many cases, women who have been unsuccessful for years have become pregnant within a relatively short period of time with acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy. Regardless of the complexities of the conditions, the goal of treatment from a Chinese perspective is always the same; to restore balance to the system and create an ideal environment in which an embryo can thrive. Metaphorically, this is akin to preparing the soil in a garden in the fall prior to planting seeds in the spring. Acupuncture and herbs provide the water and nutrients and optimize the conditions for optimal germination and growth.
Two recent successful cases are described below:
Sandra is a 38 year-old woman who was recently married. After two years of failing to become pregnant, she decided to try acupuncture on the recommendation of a close friend who I had helped to achieve a healthy pregnancy. We first worked on regulating her menstrual cycles, which were irregular, short in duration and light in flow. She implemented some minor lifestyle and dietary changes, and began to take a daily herbal formula and had weekly acupuncture treatments. During the following three cycles her periods began to normalize and following the completion of her fourth cycle she became pregnant. She is now the happy mother of a healthy one-year-old daughter.
Patti and Jim had several factors working against them. His sperm count and motility were both sub-optimal and she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and did not ovulate regularly. As is a typical pattern, she started treatment first, started feeling better and convinced her husband to start therapy with herbs and acupuncture as well. Theirs was not an easy road. It took over a year of treatment and a miscarriage but it did ultimately have a happy ending. They are now proud parents of a healthy son.
While not every treatment ends in a successful pregnancy, many do, and often these are cases in which the individuals had given up hope of ever becoming parents. As you might imagine, this is gratifying beyond words for all involved. Chinese medicine can provide renewed hope and results, for those hopelessly mired in the diagnosis and despair of infertility.
Neil Weinberg is a licensed acupuncturist and holds a Diplomate status in Oriental Medicine from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. He has pursued advanced clinical studies in Asian reproductive medicine. He provides wellness care at the Integrative Medicine Center and has been serving the Ithaca community for over 10 years. He will be offering a class on this subject on October 17 at GreenStars West-End Store. Sign up for this or other classes (see page 5) at the Customer Service Desk or call 607.273.9392.