Infertility and Traditional Chinese Medicine

I don’t care much for the infertility industry, though I know some of you are deeply grateful to it for helping you create your precious child. I love kids too. I simply don’t care for the business that infertility has become. In this two-part Health Tip, we’ll explore Western medicine’s approach to infertility treatment and, next week, the path taken by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). 

My first issue with infertility clinics is their utter lack of interest when it comes to approaches less drastic than all the tests, hormones, and surgical procedures. Part of the problem is the gynecologists themselves. Largely because of malpractice fears (their premiums are breathtaking), gynecologists follow a straight-and-narrow menu of high-tech fertility enhancers. It’s worth mentioning that infertility centers are businesses that wouldn’t make as much money offering nutritional counseling as they do by performing in vitro fertilization (IVF).

I’ve never been pleased with the one-size-fits-all mentality at these clinics. Every woman gets the same blood tests (and there are plenty of them), x-rays, ultrasounds, and so forth. There’s far less individual treatment than we strive for at WholeHealth Chicago. Plus, with each test stress levels soar. Some of the procedures can be quite uncomfortable, and for many women every appointment spikes anxiety as they await their results.

Looking at waiting room photos of couples holding their babies, many women agonize “Why not me?”

Stress a key factor
Fertility clinics don’t seem to acknowledge the role of stress in infertility. From the moment you decide to use a fertility specialist, stress levels escalate beyond the stress you had when you were simply worried because you weren’t getting pregnant. The costs alone are enough to ramp up mental and emotional strain, especially if you don’t have the right kind of health insurance.

On the home front, the full range of your infertility work-up can come to dominate your life. Dinner conversation centers on pregnancy and your desk is covered with temperature charts and medical bills while your body is swimming in high doses of the same hormones farmers use to increase livestock production. A calendar replaces both love and lust as the cue for having sex. You might even find yourself saying things to your partner like “I told you Jockey shorts can lower your sperm count!” and “I don’t care how horny you are. We wait ‘til Thursday when I’m ovulating.”

What most fertility centers neglect to mention is that all mammals, humans included, are programmed to limit the number of offspring they produce during periods of stress. If a herd of deer senses there won’t be enough food in the coming months, hormone levels change and the females simply have fewer babies.

Significantly, stress reduces the function of your ovaries, thyroid, and adrenal glands. Understand that you need all three functioning in relative harmony to coordinate a pregnancy.

If you’re already working with an fertility clinic, try these steps to reduce the stress of treatment:
–Attend yoga or tai chi classes.
–Use this excellent fertility guided meditation CD/MP3 by the always reassuring Belleruth Naparstek.
–Consider a session or two of Healing Touch, especially after procedures such as IVF.
–Work with a practitioner of TCM, such as Whole Health Chicago’s Mari Stecker or Cindy Kudelka. More on this on this in next week’s Health Tip.

I’ve also never been thrilled with the explanations infertility centers offer when, after months of trying, nothing seems to work. Rather than saying honestly that they don’t know why you can’t get pregnant, they too often take a blame-the-patient approach, using unhelpful phrases like “your uterus just won’t accept the fertilized egg” or “you have premature ovarian failure.”

Lower-cost fertility options
Before you refinance your condo to pay for IVF, consider these free or very affordable ways to boost your odds of getting pregnant:

Increase fertility by…
–Replacing animal sources of protein with vegetable sources.
–Substituting high-fat dairy for low-fat products.
–Taking these useful supplements: a daily multiple vitamin with iron, a good antioxidant blend, fish oil, and zinc.
–Trying herbal fertility enhancers, such as chasteberry, raspberry leaf, false unicorn, red clover, and Damiana. A skilled herbalist like Seanna Tully at WholeHealth Chicago can prepare a blend for you.
–Having a TCM evaluation.

Avoid these pregnancy inhibitors
–Coffee, tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drugs.
–Eating too many soy products.
–Excessive exercise or dieting with rapid weight loss.
–Low levels of folate, vitamin B-12, vitamin D (get tested for all three), and iodine (just use iodized salt).
–Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) should be under 2.5, not the old normal of under 5.0. Try this self test and then ask your doctor to test you. If your TSH is over 2.5, start taking thyroid replacement.

Next week, how TCM practitioners approach infertility and some happy success stories.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD
Mari Stecker, BA, LAc
Cindy Kudelka, LAc, MSTOM

Posted in Acupuncture/Traditional Chinese Medicine, Blog, I, Integrative Medicine, Knowledge Base, Thyroid, Adrenal, & Sex Hormone Issues Tagged with: , , , , ,

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