by Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., PhD
About one in ten women who are ready to conceive find that they have trouble doing so naturally. Infertility in women is thus a very common condition, one that has a profound impact on women and their partners. Acupuncture and TCM is proven to be extremely beneficial to women who are trying to get pregnant, both as primary and complementary care.
Dr. Cai at Art of Wellness has thirty years of experience, both in China and in the U.S., as a specialist in women’s healthcare and infertility in women. She has studied and worked with some of the most influential doctors in the field in both countries, and has helped hundreds of women achieve healthy pregnancies.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a system of health care that goes back thousands of years. Women’s health care has been a key part of this system all of that time. Conditions such as irregular or painful menstrual periods, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and infertility have all been recognized, studied and effectively addressed by TCM for many centuries. Women who are having difficulty solving these problems with their medical doctor may find not only relief from pain, but a true solution that addresses their whole being–body, mind, and spirit.
Diagnosis of Infertility in Women in 8 Exact Steps
Any time a woman of childbearing age has a partner with healthy sperm, and they’ve been trying for two years without conceiving, we define this as infertility. But age makes a difference. If the woman is over 35, and it has been one year, we will diagnose infertility.
There can be many factors or causes involved in the infertility diagnosis, some chemical, some mechanical:
- Hormonal imbalances can cause irregular cycles, which means shorter or longer than the usual number of days (28-30), sometimes with no sign of ovulation, sometimes with high FSH (follicle stimulating hormone).
- Fallopian tubes may not be open due to scarring or previous PID (pelvic inflammatory disease).
- Endometriosis or an STD (sexually transmitted disease) can also cause blockage.
- Sometimes the uterus can be congenitally misshapen, or inside there may be fibroids, polyps, lining issues, twisting, chronic inflammation, etc.
- Occasionally, antibodies can get into the cervix and block the sperm.
- In rare cases, the uterus may be tilted to the front or back, positioning the cervix so that it is either very high or very low or over to the side, making it difficult to receive sperm. These patients must rely on IUI (intrauterine insemination) to get the sperm where they need to go.
- Autoimmune issues can cause a woman’s immune system to produce antibodies that reject the sperm.
- Blood incompatibility between the parents–for example, if the woman is RH (Rhesus factor) negative with a RH positive man–can happen sometimes after a first pregnancy or miscarriage. This is more common in older women.
Top 5 Different Causes of Infertility in Women
According to TCM, there are several differentiations of an infertility diagnosis. TCM practitioners differentiate between various causes and treatment plans for dysmenorrhea based on when the pain occurs (before the onset/during the period), the quality and location of the pain, associated symptoms like bloating, the appearance and volume of flow and accompanying emotions and sensations such as dizziness or fatigue. Some types are due to an excess, either of cold, or of stagnation of qi or blood. Others are due to a deficiency of qi or blood.
- Kidney Deficiency – If a woman’s menarche occurred later than usual (typical is age 12-14), that might indicate some weakness of the reproductive system. To perform its normal functions, the uterus needs a rich and plentiful blood supply. Constriction of the capillaries that supply blood to the uterus occurs when there is too much cold in this area. Certain lifestyle behaviors can cause diminishment of ovarian health, sometimes leading to premature ovarian failure. Naturally over the age of 35, many women can begin to show signs of kidney deficiency.
- Blood deficiency – Poor digestion or a diet with insufficient nutrition can create a situation in which blood is not providing enough nourishment to support the ovaries and uterus.
- Liver qi stagnation – Long periods of emotional stress and irritability can cause qi/blood flow to become stagnated, interrupting the flow of energy through the system.This can cause irregular periods or a lack of ovulation. Blockage in the flow of qi restricts the supply of necessary energy to developing eggs, fertilized egg or embryo.
- Dampness – Insufficient nutrition from diet, poor digestion, and/or being overweight can cause dampness and water retention to accumulate in the reproductive system. This condition can lead to pelvic inflammation, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), painful periods and blockage of qi.
- Blood stasis – Can be caused by physical trauma to the uterus due to surgery or injury. It can also stem from a Cold uterus condition (too much cold exposure or icy-cold drinks/raw food during periods). Lack of proper blood circulation relates to painful conditions such as the formation of clots, ovarian cysts, tumors or fibroids that create a physical blockage. Blood stasis can also lead to thin lining or even absence of periods.
Both kidney and blood deficiency can cause irregular periods, anovulation, short cycles, light flow, poor uterine lining, and the type of pain during periods that is helped by massage or heat.
Blood stasis and dampness can cause endometriosis, severe menstrual pain (not helped by heat or massage), ovarian cysts, strong hormone suppression, and lack of ovulation.
Top 5 Infertility Treatments with TCM
TCM treatments for the different kinds of infertility in women include:
- Acupuncture: In TCM, the objective is always to use the stimulation of specific points to clear blockages in the systems in order to keep qi and blood moving fluidly, clearing the way for harmonious cooperation between the organs involved in the system. Weak areas are tonified, or strengthened, while areas bloated with excess are relieved of pressure.
- Cupping: This is a method of acupressure that uses glass cups to create a vacuum effect in specific points. It is used to dispel stagnation and excess heat and stimulate circulation of blood and qi.
- Moxibustion: burning a stick made of mugwort near a specific acupuncture point is something patients can do at home to help a cold uterus condition.
- Herbal supplements: Herbs can really help to support the woman’s cycle and even re-activate ovaries until average menopause at age 45-55.
- Nutrition and Lifestyle Guidance: An acupuncturist will recommend an appropriate diet for nourishing the whole body as well as correcting any Yin/Yang imbalances. In addition, certain behaviors related to bathing, exercise and even clothing choices may be affecting a cold uterus condition and need attention and adjustment.
TCM Doctors Offer Solutions for Infertility in Women
Advances in technology in recent years have been a boon to couples who are struggling, especially for women who have physical barriers to achieving conception and carrying a pregnancy, such as blocked tubes. IVF (in vitro fertilization) allows us to move past these roadblocks with surgery.
However, a woman still needs good hormone levels for better outcomes for conception, pregnancy and birth. For those with elevated FSH or low AMH (anti-müllerian hormone) who require IVF, adjunctive acupuncture and TCM will help to address these problems and increase the chances of success. One German study showed that success with IVF cycle was 15% higher than without acupuncture.
Each woman’s situation is unique and personal to her. Scientific study and medical research are only in recent decades beginning to acknowledge the connections between a person’s thoughts and emotions and her physical well-being, but women intuitively know that their less visible, harder-to-describe feelings are inextricably linked to their reproductive processes. Finding an acupuncturist who really listens and understands this might be the key to reaching a new level of quality of life, as well as realizing a dream of having a child.