Many women, younger and older get pregnant easily; but it is unlikely that they are reading this...For other couples, planning for and having a baby may prove difficult and can be very frustrating. In order to increase your chances of getting pregnant, we help to create an inviting environment for an embryo to implant and develop. Let's see what to look for in
a healthy menstrual cycle; diet recommendations; lifestyle tips to enhance fertility; and how acupuncture can have a powerful effect on your reproductive system...alone or in conjunction with Western medicine.
A Healthy Menstrual Cycle 1-2-3
Awareness of your body always gives you power. Whether you are using Western medicine and manipulating your cycle with drugs or you are not using artificial means, it is essential to know what a healthy menstrual cycle looks like. An ideal cycle is regular; it lasts 28 days (25-35 days is a good range); it contains little PMS; most blood is bright red; and has no blood clots. There are also others things to look for:
1.The time prior to ovulation is your follicular phase. This is the phase in which follicles grow and one follicle becomes dominant. At ovulation time, the dominant follicle releases an egg.
The follicular phase is considered the yin part of the cycle in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
All women have cervical discharge throughout the month. The discharge is healthiest when it is clear to white, not any other color. The discharge that indicates fertility is called S-type and this begins around 6 days before ovulation with the rise of estrogen. This discharge will be clear, stretchy and have the consistency of raw egg white. A substantive discharge means increased fertility because it facilitates pathways for sperm to enter the uterus. This discharge is considered yin in nature.
If you are lacking this type of cervical discharge, you might be yin deficient.
Please note: Pharma-drugs that dry up or interfere with cervical fluid are antihistamines, atropine, N-SAIDS, and antidepressants.
2. Ovulation is the release of the egg. The egg lives for 6-12 hours after it is released. The sperm lives for up to 5 days. The prime time to start engaging in intercourse would be 4-5 days prior to ovulation, 48 hours being the optimal time.
3.The phase after ovulation is the luteal phase.
This phase is more yang in nature. Once you begin to bleed, Traditional Chinese Medicine says that you are most deficient and are more vulnerable. To avoid depletion while you are bleeding, keep your feet warm, don’t walk around the house barefoot, and don’t swim in cold water. While you are bleeding and right after, it is important to nourish your blood. Knowing your cycle allows you to encourage each phase to perform optimally.
In general both men and women should eat organic foods when possible and avoid meats that have been treated with hormones or fish that contains mercury. Women, you need to eat food with essential fatty acids (EFAs), e.g. soy products and wild caught salmon. Essential fatty acids are also found in non-hydrogenated cold pressed oils like flaxseed; winter vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots; and all dark green, leafy vegetables. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
A Yale University School of Medicine study found that the risk of infertility was 55% higher for women drinking 1 cup of coffee per day, 100% higher for women drinking 1 and 1 ½ - 3 cups, and 176% higher for those drinking more than 3 cups of coffee per day. Hmmm... coffee...wow...guess I will start drinking more delicious teas and stop drinking soda pop altogether. Great!
Chinese medicine takes an energetic view of our bodies and our organs, meaning that bodily energy needs to move freely and stagnation causes problems. The energy of the kidney system is very important for reproduction.
For men and women, foods that nourish their kidney essence include: chicken or duck and eggs from both; seeds and nuts; oysters; seaweed and algae. For women, certain foods help nourish your bodies during the different phases of your cycle. Foods that nourish Yin include: fruits such as raspberries, pineapples and grapes; vegetables such as asparagus and beans; adequate proteins, especially tofu and fish; and organ meats such as kidneys, brains and hearts.
Avoid spicy, pungent foods. Foods that nourish Yang include warming foods: ginger; ginger tea; beans; grains; and vegetables such as mustard greens, winter squash, cabbage and kale. Avoid ice cold drinks, ice cream and foods that are very cold. In general, it is a good idea to avoid ice water and ice cream during pregnancy attempts. Sipping and warming iced drinks in your mouth helps as well. Foods that nourish blood include: fruits such as blackberries, raspberries and grapes; organic meats and poultry; soup stock made from the bones of the meat and poultry; and vegetables such as turnips, spinach and dark, leafy greens...mmm...I love steamed Kale.
LIFESTYLE TIPS TO ENHANCE FERTILITY
Both men and women need adequate amounts of sleep and minimal stress. Naturally, fertility issues send stress levels skyrocketing, but that makes it even more important to find ways to relieve stress. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, relaxing with friends and any other calming activities that work for you are encouraged.
MEN: skip saunas, hot tubs and tight clothes, all of which heat up sperm, thus decreasing their optimal potential.
WOMEN: enjoy the foods noted above, exercise as a stress reliever and to maintain health but don’t overdo it. Excessive exercise depletes Yin.
ACUPUNCTURE Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have a long history of benefiting fertility.
Benefits of acupuncture include:
1. Improved uterine lining
2. Increased blood flow to the uterus
3. Regulation of hormones
4. Reduction of stress associated with fertility problems
Recently a study demonstrated that sperm quality and motility was improved after the men received acupuncture treatments. The men treated experienced increased sperm motility levels, increased the number and percentage of healthy sperm, and significant improvements in sperm structure and quality as compared to a control group. An important German study that received notable attention in the American press showed that acupuncture significantly increased the effectiveness of IVF success. Impressively, pregnancies were documented in 34 out of 80 patients (42.5%) in the acupuncture group as compared to 21 out of 80 patients (26.3%) in the control group.
It is advisable to begin acupuncture 3 months before attempting to get pregnant, but most women wait until they are actively trying to conceive. In my practice, I see women 2 times weekly until we get a positive pregnancy test result and 1 time weekly for the first trimester to reduce the risk of miscarriage.
The main goal of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is to keep the body in balance or to restore balance. This is one reason why TCM ~ acupuncture is so effective with fertility which depends on a balanced body.
ACUPUNCTURE AND A.R.T. CAN IMPROVE FERTILITY
Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) has improved greatly in recent years, and increasing numbers of couples have benefited from these scientific advances. More and more people are turning to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), either alone or in conjunction with their Western treatments to improve their chances of conceiving and delivering healthy children.
Here we will try to help you to understand when to use TCM, when to use ART, and when to use them in tandem. Keep in mind several Reproductive endochrinologists now recommend acupuncture.
ART works with an eye on the numbers, thereby increasing your chances of a viable pregnancy. In contrast, Traditional Chinese Medicine is holistic, seeing the interconnectedness of all the body’s systems. When healthy and balanced, you are more likely to get pregnant and produce a healthy child. The goal of acupuncture is to return your body to a state of health. The effects are cumulative; they take time; the results get better and better. Even if your Western doctor does not understand the benefits of acupuncture, most physicians now agree that it does not cause harm.
BENEFITS OF TCM
Benefits for women:
1 Improves the function of ovaries allowing the development of better quality of eggs and embryos
2 Can regulate hormones and ovulation
3 Increases blood flow to the uterus
4 Helps thicken uterine lining if it is too thin
5 Strengthens the immune system
6 Reduces stress
7 Lessens side effects of drugs
Benefits for men: Improves semen quality and quantity (Motility, Morphology and Volume)
In a paper presented at the 12th World Congress on Human Reproduction, a group of physicians described acupuncture as the variable that contributed to significant improvements in the number of live births, the lowered miscarriage rate, and improved IVF outcomes. These same doctors have reported prior success with patients who experienced longer histories of infertility and additional successes with patients who had good prognoses. In a recent article in Psychology Today, the author suggests acupuncture and writes, “you may want to consider some natural assists to fertility. You won’t be alone. As many as three-quarters of people undergoing conventional treatments for infertility use some form of alternative therapy as well.”
WHAT ARE OUR OPTIONS?
This chart helps you to figure out how and when to incorporate TCM into your pregnancy plans.
Group # 1 You can try TCM before going the Western fertility treatment route if you are:
1 A younger woman – under 35 years old
2 A woman who has only 1 minor impediment, such as, mild endometriosis, an irregular menstrual cycle, mild PCOS (Polycystic ovary disease), or a hormone imbalance
3 A couple in good health with unexplained infertility and/or no detectible abnormality
Group # 2 You may want to combine ART with your TCM if you are:
1 A woman over 35 years old
2 A woman who has several minor impediments listed above that can interfere with pregnancy
3 A woman whose partner has mild sperm abnormalities. He should also consider TCM treatment
4 Feeling like you are running out of time
Group # 3 You can definitely use ART with your TCM treatment when your are:
1 A woman over 40 years old
2 A woman with major impediments, such as blocked tubes
3 Partnered with a man who has seriously low sperm count or poor quality
These decisions are to be made in discussions with your TCM practitioner and your M.D.
THE TREATMENT PROTOCOL
Many of these recommendations apply to couples undergoing ART as well as those who are not. When you are using TCM~acupuncture exclusively, you may need to give it 3-6 months to ready your body for pregnancy...it's a relatively short time for a life-time of joy. If you plan to combine TCM with other treatments, we recommend that treatment begin 3 months before fertility procedures commence and continue throughout your western treatment. Ideally, patients come twice a week. If the problem is sperm quality or quantity, this plan is useful for men as well as women because the period of sperm maturation takes between 70-90 days. While these procedures are ideal, we have had many people come in just prior to IVF, or during an IVF cycle, and they have still had improvement.
If a woman is undergoing IVF, she will receive acupuncture within 24 hours before and after the transfer. We encourage women to continue with treatment after a positive pregnancy test once a week for the first trimester to help prevent miscarriage. Women who have more difficulty getting pregnant have a slightly higher rate of miscarriage.
What exactly is a TCM treatment? Our treatments, along with acupuncture, may include cupping; electric stimulation; tui na massage; counselling' therapeutic exercises/qigong and heat lamp therapy.
Herbs, rarely used with IVF protocols, are a very useful and important component of TCM, especially in gynecology. Acupuncture points and protocols vary from patient to patient because each person has different needs. For example, a woman suffering from endometriosis will receive treatment focused on moving the blood, whereas a woman who is not ovulating will receive treatment concentrated on nourishing the blood. The constellation of acupuncture points are designed for you as an individual, depending on the factors noted above, your health and your goals.
This article was edited from the original ABCs or Fertility Nov 2005 Dulgosz, L. and Brachs, M. Epidemiologic Reviews, Vol. 14 pg. 83, 1992.Pei, J., Strehler, E., Noss, U. et al. Fertility and Sterility, July, Vol. 84 (1), pgs. 141-7, 2005.Paulus, W., Zhang, et al. Fertility and Sterility April, Vol. 77 (4), 2002. Liang, Lisang. Acupuncture and IVF. Colorado: Blue Poppy, 2003. Magarelli, Paul et al. “Acupuncture:Impact on Pregnancy Outcomes in IVF Patients,” 12th World Congress on Human Reproduction, Venice, Italy, March, 2005. Ibid. “Acupuncture & IVF Poor Responders: A Cure?” Proceedings from the 2004 Pacific Coast Reproductive Society annual meeting in Palm Springs, 2004. Ibid. “Acupuncture and Good Prognosis IVF Patients” Proceedings from the 2004 ASRM meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2004. Oliwenstein, Lori. “On Fertile Ground” Psychology Today November/December, 2005, pgs 64-65.