The distraught patient… fertility and Chinese Medicine

When studying Chinese Medicine in school I was never prepared for the emotional roller coaster ride of treating an infertility patient. I studied acupuncture point prescription and herbal protocol for enhancing the endocrine system, but there was never a mention of assisted reproduction with drugs and surgery. When I opened my own practice, I found myself integrating ancient medicine with modern cutting-edge fertility treatments. You have to be a quick study to keep up with this new approach in treating the many patients that come knocking at the doors of Chinese Medicine clinics!

“Fertility enhancement” is the term I like to use with my patients — from my point of view “infertility” sounds so doomed and final. These patients need hope, understanding, and a treatment plan that can increase the chances for becoming pregnant with a healthy baby! Happily, Chinese Medicine is effective in doing just that.

The Science Behind Fertility Treatments

Many studies have been published and books have been written that show the profound benefits of acupuncture and herbal medicine for enhancing fertility. One recent study from Israel showed a 42.5% pregnancy rate when acupuncture treatment was used in conjunction with assisted reproduction, as compared to the 21.3% of assisted reproduction without acupuncture treatment. This gives a huge leg up to the fertility patient.

These exciting studies and books have piqued the interest of fertility doctors, clinics, and patients seeking additional help in achieving their dreams of becoming parents. It is commonplace for fertility clinics to also recommend acupuncture treatment alongside the IUI (Intrauterine insemination fertilization) and IVF (In vitro fertilization) protocols for their patients. These studies have actually altered the number of fertility patients that are seen weekly in my practice.

Now I find myself catapulted into a new world of drugs, IUI, and IVF protocols while learning how to assist and support my patient every step of the way in this gut wrenching, anxiety producing journey.

The Challenge

Now this is where the challenges really begin for me. Most of these fertility patients would never have chosen or sought out the expertise of an acupuncturist or herbalist before arriving at this difficult place in their lives. My fertility patients come from all walks of life, backgrounds, and cultures and with their own unique history and health issues. In these situations, not only are we treating the physical health of the patient but also their emotional health, which most often can be precarious at best.

Often I must follow and support the already established high-tech assisted reproduction treatment plan. These patients come from fertility doctors armed with their hormone injections, dates and times, and numerous step-by-step procedures. I am the backup, the cheerleader, the voice of reason, and a place of refuge from the cold and clinical fertility clinics.

Why Infertility?

Women are now waiting longer and longer to start families, and in NYC this is the rule rather than the exception. The older patient has a greater challenge at becoming pregnant due to a reduced egg reserve as well as a reduction in the quality of the eggs. This makes assisted reproduction commonplace as well as a huge moneymaker for doctors, clinics, and hospitals.

But age isn’t the only factor — fertility is also being affected by the high levels of chemicals and toxins that are in our environment, our food, and our water supplies. Reduced sperm counts, increased miscarriages, and reduced fertility are on the rise due to the overexposure of environmental toxins and chemicals. This is the very reason that I stress a cleansing diet that is organic plant based, with lean organic meats and wild mercury free fish, along with herbs and acupuncture.

How Does Acupuncture Work for Fertility?

Let me count the ways:
· it increases blood flow to the ovaries and uterus
· improves the endocrine system by regulating the function of the thyroid, adrenals and the
reproductive hormones
· stimulates follicle quality and growth
· builds healthy lining
· increases ovulatory function
· reduces the FSH
· reduces the side effects of the high doses of drugs used in assisted reproductive protocols
· and reduces stress and anxiety.

Chinese Medicine can help cultivate a healthy fertility environment both physically and mentally with herbal and acupuncture treatments for patients undergoing assisted reproduction protocols.

But what about the patients that don’t respond to aggressive reproductive procedures? Many reproductive clinics and hospitals give up and suggest adoption or egg donors as the next step towards becoming a parent. In some cases these are the only options, and in some cases this could not be further from the truth.

Case Study

I’ll always remember the very first fertility patient that came to my newly opened practice more than 10 years ago. I had such a vested interest in helping her reach her dream, and I so wanted Chinese Medicine to come to the rescue.

Her name was Lorna, and she was not the typical fertility patient as she was only 34 — quite young to have already started down this path. She was from Chile and had moved to NYC with her husband when he was transferred for his job.

Lorna had gotten my name from her insurance company and I was now number three on the list of acupuncturists that she had visited. The previous acupuncturist had asked her to chant during her treatment that it was not her fault that she had not become pregnant. I had to assure her that this was not how it was going to be while we were working together. She was skeptical at best.

She was without a strong support system and felt lost, distraught and downright depressed. During the lengthy intake process I learned that she had had under gone three IUI and two IVF cycles, and all had failed. The doctor over seeing her case had told her that her only options for becoming pregnant were through an egg donor program. He even had egg donor profiles in his office that she could choose from.

I thought this strange and a conflict of interest, but she told me she was done with him, the drugs, and all the rest of assisted reproduction. After all, there was no hard medical evidence to support his recommendation. After this ordeal, she was open to a completely holistic, natural approach to becoming pregnant.

So it was all on my shoulders to help her achieve her goal and I was up to the task. Lorna had gained over 40 pounds in the past two years with the overload of fertility drugs, bad eating habits, and lack of exercise. She felt bloated, exhausted, and wanted to sleep all the time. She was not working and had very few friends since she was new to this country. Her confidence and self -esteem was very low due to all the failed attempts at becoming pregnant. Her husband was supportive but very busy with his new job and away from home much of the time. She needed some social support and connections in her new city.

On the physical side, her menstrual cycle was irregular with very little flow, she did not ovulate, and she had very scant cervical mucus. Her thyroid was sluggish, although her reproductive hormones were all within normal ranges, even her FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). She had reason to believe that she could in fact become pregnant but need a little help from Chinese Medicine!

The Treatment Plan

The first step was to regulate her period, get her active and eating a balanced diet, reduce her stress and anxiety, and find ways to build her trust and confidence in acupuncture. I asked her to chart her cycle so we could see the improvements month to month and I recommended weekly acupuncture and herbal treatments.

Lorna joined a nearby gym to help regain her fitness and help with the weight loss. Little by little she was taking steps to improve her body, life, and confidence. She started smiling and enjoying her new life here in NYC. This was such a joy to see!

Her Chinese Medicine diagnosis was spleen qi vacuity with damp accumulation and heart qi vacuity with liver blood vacuity. She had a stagnant condition that needed to be addressed before she could ever get pregnant. For this condition she took herbal formulas twice daily which were precooked for her from raw herbs and had weekly acupuncture treatments for over eight months.

With each passing month her condition improved. Soon she had a 28 day cycle with good rich blood flow and she ovulated each month mid-cycle. To her delight, her weight returned to the 115 pounds that she had been before the fertility treatments. Her mood had improved and she felt positive again. She even returned to Chile for one month to visit her family and ground herself again. We sent her with a suitcase full of herbs to take while away.

Acupuncture Worked!

One month after her return from Chile and eight months after beginning acupuncture and herbal treatments she became pregnant. It was such a huge accomplishment for both of us. We had become a team working together. She was patient and trusted the process and in the end it paid off. Lorna gave birth to a healthy baby boy and went on the have another boy (without any help) two years later!

Lorna taught me many lessons about the inner strength that can be tapped when needed. She chose to tap into that place in the face of despair and unfounded medical advice, and come out a stronger and more resilient person. Her Christmas card this year showed two adorable boys that have her beautiful olive complexion and dark brown eyes with big bright smiles.

Lorna inspires us all with her strength and perseverance.