Conception! miracle of nature. The act of conception requires variety of complex processes to occur without hindrance and at the exact opportune time.
Case Studies – Assisted Fertility
The female reproductive system needs to produce enough viable eggs so that at least one can mature and be deposited in the fallopian tubes at the right time. The male has to have sufficient amount of properly motivated sperm that have to navigate through an inhospitable environment in a short period of time to reach the site of fertilization and then have to find the egg and penetrate the tough protective outer layer to finally fertilize it. The fact that on average only one sperm out of 40 million finally reach the egg is in itself indicative of the oddity of conception. Today over 6 million American couples of the reproductive age are unsuccessful at conceiving children. Fertility problems have been steadily rising since the industrial revolution and it is anticipated to continue. Affecting both men and women equally, it has wide ranging physical, economic, social, and emotional ramifications. Because of the complex nature of conception, the underlying causes affecting fertility are also numerous and complex. Some of reasons for infertility include non-viable eggs that do not fertilize, sperm that are not able to reach the egg, and fertilized eggs that fail to develop well in the early stages. Specific causes attributed to the female include endometriosis, blocked fallopian tubes, irregular ovulation, hostile uterine environment, low progesterone levels and advanced age (over 34). Western medicine has developed solutions for infertility by intervening in the process of conception with such techniques as In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), sperm or egg donors, surrogate conception. Yet even with these advances the process of conception is still a chance game. For example in IVF, a costly and often painful procedure only one in three fertilized eggs have a chance of implantation and they still have to endure the rough first stages of growth in the womb.
Infertility is one of the fastest growing areas where Chinese medicine and acupuncture have made a dramatic impact. For example recent research has shown that IVF procedures conducted in unison with acupuncture treatments for the couples, can double the chances of implantation fro 30% to over 60%. Chinese medicine, in its treatment of fertility, does not interfere with the process of conception, but rather, works with the person’s body as a whole and treats the entire system to regulate the hormonal balance, strengthen the reproductive organs, and enhance quality and quantity of eggs and sperm. As such, Chinese medicine is an optimum complementary approach to infertility. The scientific and medical community has recognized this fact, as evidenced by the many fertility clinics offering comprehensive treatments including acupuncture and Chinese medicine to their patients. In my clinic, we often work with the local fertility clinics to offer comprehensive treatment protocols for fertility.
From a Chinese medicine perspective infertility has many beginnings. Most cases include some degree of constitutional or acquired deficiencies of the kidney essence. Excessive physical and mental overwork depletes the kidney yin and yang energies. Excessive sexual activity at too early an age (before and during puberty) weakens the kidneys and damages the energetic meridians required for conception. Too many young girls do not protect their reproductive organs from colds by engaging in sports such as swimming during periods and otherwise not keeping their lower back warm and protected. This often leads to invasion of cold in the uterus obstructing the pathways and preventing conception, in fact in many northern regions, this is a common cause of infertility. Diet also plays a key role in conception; too much cold, iced, raw foods and drinks can damage the Yang energy in the body. Greasy fatty and dairy products can produce mucous which flows downwards and congeals in the reproductive organs obstructing conception. Last but not least, emotions and stress play a key role as well. Strong emotions, stress and depression can significantly alter the hormone levels in the body and cause stagnation of Qi. In many cases a combination of these factors are involved requiring a comprehensive treatment involving herbs, acupuncture, dietary / lifestyle changes and energetic exercises.
In our clinic we focus on working with couples to prepare their bodies and minds for a successful conception. I recommend that couples consult with a licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine to develop a complementary plan to assist them in their journey to parenthood. In the mean time here are some practical things you can do to prepare your mind and body for conception.
The female body goes through fluctuations during the reproductive periods where the body has to produce more of certain hormones and less of others. This fluctuation often leaves the female body depleted of blood, Qi and other vital substances. In order to ensure that the body has all the essential nutrients before during and after ovulation, a varied diet is required consisting of different nutritional complements.
For starters, eat a wholesome, well balanced diet rich with chlorophyll, complex carbohydrates, organic whole grains, essential fatty acids from fish, nuts and seeds and fresh vegetables. Foods rich in vitamin A are good such as eggs, carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, papaya, and various melons, whole grain cereals, and various nuts rich in B vitamins. Vitamin E has been considered to be the fertility vitamin. Foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, watercress, pumpkin seeds, almonds, sunflower oil, olives, papayas, wheat germ are rich in vitamin E. Essential fatty acids stimulate the production of sex hormones and are essential for healthy egg development. Foods rich in EFAs include oily fish, fish liver oils, seeds, nuts, pulses, beans and unrefined vegetable oils, such as olive oil. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and foods such as kiwi, blueberries, blackberries, cherries are also good. Drink at least 60 ounces of water per day and always at room temperature.
To help replenish the lost blood after the menstruation, eat foods that nourish and build blood. These include dark green vegetables, beets, beet tops, spinach, kale, organic lamb, chicken, and eggs. Sesame seeds, barley, millet, adzuki beans, kidney beans, black beans, soybeans, and mung beans. Lycium berries, litchi fruits, mulberries, are also good to tonify the blood and nourish the yin.
To regulate the menstruation, beginning about one week prior to the onset, add more moving, stimulating and warming foods to your diet to prevent stagnation of Qi and blood. These foods include fennel, spinach, ginger, scallions green onions, garlic, orange peel, walnuts, hawthorn berries, cinnamon and various spices.
AVOID: all processed foods, foods containing artificial additives, simple bleached sugars, flowers and soft drinks, spicy, hot, fried and oily foods. Dairy products should be eliminated as they promote formation of dampness. Coffee and alcohol damage the energetic meridians and impair fertility.
Some Home Remedies
• Drink green tea often, it’s a good source of vital anti-oxidants to keep the body clean of the many environmental and metabolic toxins in our body.
• Drink one tablespoon of watercress juice daily or add a few fresh sprigs to a salad
• Mix 1 cup each of lycium berries, and Chinese dodder seeds and make tea. Drink twice daily to kelp nourish the kidneys
• Boil 1 cup black beans and 2 cups of brown rice with 8 cups of water for 20 minutes to turn into soupy porridge. Consume twice daily for three months.
• Roast 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds and add to rice or morning cereal for breakfast
• Make steamed or stewed chicken with lycium berries, yam and walnuts to help build yin
• Make tea from chrysanthemum flowers, cassia seeds and lycium berries and drink three times daily to nourish the yin
• Walnuts, lotus seeds, sunflower seeds and lycium berries can be added to any of your soups, salads or porridges as good source of yin energy.
Potentially Helpful Supplements
• 400 – 800 IU of vitamin E daily is beneficial for the female reproductive system.
• 2-50 mg of Vitamin B complex. And additional B6 supplements are also important.
• 500 mg daily of essential fatty acids (EFA) from Flax seed, primrose or borage oils.
• L-Argenine (16mg daily) can increase implantation chances for IVF procedures, as well as 400 mg daily of folic acid.
• Selenium deficiencies have been linked to female infertility. Take 400 mg daily with 80 mg daily of zinc supplements.
• Damiana, Ginseng, Sarsaparilla, Vitex, and Saw Palmetto are helpful for female infertility.
• Essential Fatty Acids are building blocks for many hormones. These are found in Primrose oil, borage oil.
• Aloe Vera soothes, heals and moisturizes skin. And Comfrey and Witch hazel can be astringent and hydrate the skin.
• Placenta, Tortoise shell, Ass hide gelatin, Siberian Solomon seal, cnidium seeds, Chinese dodder seeds, Japanese teasel root, cordiceps, chrysanthemum, sea horse, fleece flower root, green tea, Chinese yam, and rehmannia are some of the Chinese herbs used for strengthening the kidney essence in preparation for conception.
• Chinese formulations vary greatly depending on the diagnosis and are also varied according to the menstrual and ovulatory cycle of the female.
Mind Body Exercises
Regular physical activity is very important to promote the flow of Qi in the body, regulate and harmonize the hormonal system and prevent buildup pf toxins. Clinical research has shown that lack of exercise and overweight, increases the risks of infertility. In addition to regular physical exercise regiment, a good moving meditation can help adjust the emotions, reduce stress, strengthen the reproductive organs, regulate menstruation, and prepare your body for conception. The Eight Treasures Qi Gong practice is one I often recommend to my patients. Of particular usefulness is the movement section called “White Crane Sharpens its beak”. This exercise benefits the energetic meridians, promotes flow of Qi and Blood, strengthens the uterine muscles and can help regulate menstruation. Conduct the exercise twice daily for best results.
White Crane sharpens its beak.
1. In a quiet comfortable environment, preferably outdoors, stand with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, spine erect, tailbone tucked in and head slightly tilted forward. Drape you arms at your sides, shoulders relaxed.
2. Being a preparatory breathing with a rhythmic, slow and relaxed breath. Inhale deeply softly and imagine the breath extending all the way down to the lower abdomen, about two-finger width below the umbilicus. Exhale gently and softly. Stay in this position for seven breath cycles and begin to relax and calm your mind.
3. Begin the exercise. You will be alternating between left and right side of the body by bending your torso at the hip touching the nose to the knee and stretching your arms to your feet.
4. Inhale: widen your stance to double-shoulder width stance. Raise your hands to the back of your head; interlace the fingers with palms facing back of the head.
5. Exhale. Bend at the hip to the right side over the right leg. As you reach half way down gently move your hands down from the back of your head down your chest the leg and all the way down touching the top of your right foot. Bend down as far as possible try touching your nose to the right knee
6. Inhale: rise gently and slowly returning the hands to the back of the neck maintaining the wised stance.
7. Exhale: repeat the forward bend but now to the left side. Reach forward bending at the hip; touch your interlocked hands to the top of your left foot. The nose touches the left kneecap. Stretch as far as possible
8. Inhale: return to the standing position
9. Repeat the exercise for total of three times per side alternating left and right sides.
• Do not smoke. Smoking has been clinically shown to dramatically increase risks of infertility. In both females and males. Male sperm counts drop significantly with cigarette smoking.
• Avoid alcoholic beverages and caffeine. They produce heat and dry the Yin essence of the body.
• Reduce stress, anxiety and worry. Worrying is very damaging to the hormonal system and can elevate stress response hormones in the body that are counterproductive to reproduction.
• Rest as much as you can. In women trying to conceive should sleep minimum of nine hours every day, with mid day rest of at least 1 hour.