Acupuncture helps improve fertility by regulating menstrual cycles and healing the reproductive system. In general, infertility is caused by either an excess or a deficiency. In other words, the goal of the treatment is to clear something out of the body, move obstructions of the qi and blood, or add something back to the body. This article will discuss what an excess or a deficiency looks like in a woman with infertility, what causes it, and how we can fix it.
Infertility Due to a Blockage or Lack of Proper Flow (Excess)
Some women are unable to get pregnant because there is something getting in the way of conception. This can manifest in various phases of the menstrual cycle, such as irregular periods, cysts, fibroids, severe menstrual cramps, and clots. According to Chinese medicine, there are various forms of excess that can accumulate in the body and cause disease. The excess can be subtle and invisible, known only because of the symptoms it causes. This is generally qi stagnation, which causes symptoms such as pain, irritability, moodiness, or a feeling of distention. Dampness can also manifest subtly, and causes feelings of heaviness, fatigue, and bloating.
An excess can also be seen at the physical level. When blood stagnates it cause fibroids, cysts, clots, and also pain.
Dampness and phlegm can also congeal into cysts, or may be seen in the form of a yeast infection or other diseases with discharge.
While Qi stagnation on its own will cause problems, it can lead to even more problems down the road. This is because it will eventually cause the blood to stop flowing well in certain areas of the body. Because the Liver and other channels flow through the lower abdomen, the build-up can occur there and lead to clotting and painful periods, or physical masses like fibroids and cysts. These channels also flow to the breasts, and can cause pain, swelling, and cysts in this area as well.
The causes of excesses are often due to emotional and dietary factors. Frustration, anger, and other emotions that are longstanding begin to impede the flow of qi in the body.This may also be felt as a high stress level.According to Chinese Medicine, the Liver meridian is in charge of keeping the Qi flowing smoothly in the body. Frustration and stress impede this smooth flow, and cause the symptoms that are related to stress. Many disorders are being linked to stress in Western medicine, and these disorders are often caused by Liver Qi Stagnation in Chinese Medicine. Examples include PMS and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Another common cause of excess is dietary. Diet can cause obstruction in the body, particularly a diet of rich or sweet foods. These foods cause dampness and phlegm. These accumulations are thick and heavy, and can manifest as cysts. They might also cause chronic infections like yeast or UTI’s.
Trauma and scarring, from injury or surgery, is another cause of blood stasis.
When qi stagnation, blood stasis, phlegm, or dampness are present in the lower abdomen, they can obstruct the egg from releasing from the ovary (a common cause of PCOS), or they can prevent the formation of healthy endometrial lining. They can also hinder implantation of a fertilized embryo.
Because the most common causes of these disorders are emotional and dietary, making lifestyle changes is often very important to curing these diseases. In Chinese Medicine, we know the importance of getting to the root of the problem. If you don’t get rid of the causative factor, you will never get rid of the symptoms for good. Luckily, our system of medicine has guidelines to follow that can be personalized to what you need and what you are able to do.
Qi stagnation will respond quickly to acupuncture, because acupuncture works directly on the Qi of the body. Circulating Qi with acupuncture will benefit all types of stagnation/excess. Techniques such as guasha (a scraping technique similar to deep tissue massage) or cupping (a technique utilizing suction) may also be used to encourage blood flow. If the cause of stagnation is stress, the patient must take the time for meditation, yoga, or make lifestyle changes to avoid the stressor as much as possible. To treat blood stasis and dampness, using herbal medicine can help quicken the results. There are herbs that work directly on transforming phlegm and breaking up the blood stasis. Dietary and other lifestyle changes are often essential to healing.
Infertility Due to Depletion/Vacuity
Many women have difficulty conceiving due to depletion, or vacuity, of one or more systems in the body. Common causes of this pattern are overwork, faulty diet, insufficient rest and relaxation, lack of proper exercise, or too much strenuous exercise. Some people also inherit weak systems. Deficiencies typically get worse with age, as the body naturally uses its Kidney stores throughout life. This seems to be the most common cause of infertility, especially in women for which Western medicine can find no explanation, or women who are over 35.
Most of the energy we use on a daily basis comes from the transformation of the food we eat and air we breathe into Qi. Our bodies need sufficient Qi to function properly. The Lungs and Spleen/Stomach meridians are mostly in charge of this process.
The Spleen is also responsible for creating blood from the food Qi. This is very important for women, as they lose blood every month. Blood is important in fertility, because the endometrial lining of the uterus must be healthy and abundant for the fertilized egg to nestle into. The embryo also relies on the mother’s blood for nourishment in the womb, and it is later transformed into breast-milk.
If we need more energy than we can acquire from food and air, or we are not eating nutrient rich foods or breathing deeply and resting, our qi and blood become deficient. If we don’t remediate this, we begin to dip into our deep, Kidney resources. The Kidneys store our Jing, or essence, and ration it out from birth to old age. One aspect of the Kidney essence is the actual egg and sperm. Because of this,poor egg quality and low sperm count can often be improved by nourishing the Kidneys.
The Kidney has two aspects, the yin and the yang. The Kidney yin correlates to fluids, like sexual fluids and fertile mucus. The first half of the menstrual cycle, including the development of the follicle into an egg, is also under the domain of the Kidney Yin. The Kidney Yang takes over after ovulation. It is a warming influence, and causes the Basil Body Temperature to rise. It is a motivating, transforming force. It is important for the libido and is also the lifting, holding force that binds the embryo in the womb and prevents miscarriage.
Acupuncture will send the Qi to these organ-channel systems and repair them. The relaxation induced by acupuncture will allow these systems to heal as well. Moxabustion, a technique using the warming power of burning the herb Ai Ye (mugwort) may be down in the clinic or prescribed for home use. Herbs and diet can be used adjunctively, and other recommendations about other lifestyle factors may be given as well.
Qi and Blood vacuities respond very well to treatment, especially if the patient rests and eats well. A couple months may be all the person needs to feel well. Kidney vacuities can take longer to treat, especially yin vacuity. Fortunately, Chinese Medicine offers us the tools we need to supplement the body and restore health.
Helping women heal their bodies and bring a new life into this world is a very rewarding part of practicing oriental medicine. It is exciting see the fusion of ancient wisdom and modern research enrich the lives of women and their families.
Information for this article from these sources:
Obstetrics & Gynecology in Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia
The Treatment of Infertility with Chinese Medicine by Jane Lyttleton
For more information or to set up an acupuncture appointment in Denver, CO, contact Katie today.
Questions? I’m here to help. Fill out this form to send me an email, and I’ll reply ASAP.