Acupuncture and IVF Part I: Keep the Blood Moving

If you are female, there are thousands of primordial or dormant follicles inside your ovaries, which have been there since you were a fetus.  Some of these are recruited during each menstrual cycle, and start to grow.  These are called antral follicles.  One antral follicle becomes the primary follicle, and matures to a size of about 21 mm, while the others waste away.  The primary follicle gets ejected into the fallopian tubes at ovulation, where it may be fertilized by sperm.

The optimal time to begin acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments is at least 3 months before you begin any Western interventions.  This is because it takes at least 3 months for an egg to come to full maturity.  Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can have a positive effect on the quality and function of these follicles while they are developing and maturing. 

The outer casing of the primary follicle goes through changes, which form the corpus luteum.  The corpus luteum produces progesterone.  This progesterone helps the fertilized follicle (now an ovum) to stay implanted in the uterine wall, and start to grow.  If there is no fertilization, then the drop in progesterone (and other hormones) that occurs during menstruation makes the corpus luteum break down and get eliminated.

This blood flow in and out of the ovary is very important, and it’s something we work on with Chinese medicine and acupuncture.  The follicles, corpus luteum and ovum must all receive proper blood flow and exchange of nutrients, and there must be complete removal of wastes from the ovary during each cycle.  If your Yin is depleted (and blood is a component of Yin), then the fluids in your body have become dry and stagnant, and this entire process gets gunked up.  Basically, you need an oil and filter change!

Common side effects of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) medications such as Clomid and FSH stimulating medications include headaches, ovarian cysts, nausea, gastrointestinal distress, bleeding, and heat sensations.  In Chinese medicine terms, these artificial hormones cause heat and qi stagnation (and they deplete Yin).  Ironically, the majority of women with fertility problems—especially older women—are already deficient in Yin (and, therefore blood).  Western fertility treatments do not address this underlying Yin deficiency.  Even when the treatment results in a successful pregnancy, the patient is often left drained and depleted—and, prone to future health problems.

With acupuncture, we can move Qi to reduce stagnation and prevent the build-up of heat in the body.  We can nourish the Yin to balance the build-up of Yang caused by the hormone injections.  Combining acupuncture with Western hormone treatments is a proven way to get fewer side effects and smoother, faster results in your fertility journey.

We used to think only women had a “biological time clock” ticking.  Men, it was thought, continued to be reproductive power houses until about age 70, when there would be a 15-20% increased rate of miscarriage in their younger female partners.  It turns out that as men age, their semen quality (if not quantity) changes, such that they lose between 15-50% potency in their sperm as they age between 20 and 40.

By receiving acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine for a few months (as well as dietary and lifestyle consultation), men can improve the quality and motility of their sperm, before trying to get their partner pregnant.  In short, a healthy mom and dad will lead to a smoother fertility journey, and healthier offspring.

The Yin and Yang of Fertility and Pregnancy: Part 2

In my last blog, I discussed ways for women to nudge themselves into the “Yin cycle” in order to increase their fertility and facilitate an easier and healthier pregnancy.

In addition to these lifestyle recommendations, acupuncture is a powerful tool for optimizing conditions for a healthy pregnancy.  Research shows that acupuncture significantly improves fertility as a stand alone treatment and/or combined with IVF.  Acupuncture improves circulation to the ovaries—which makes for healthier eggs, and to the uterus—which increases the chance that the lining will be strong enough to hold the eggs to full term.  Acupuncture is also a powerful stress reliever and hormone balancer during an emotional time of a woman’s life.

I have assisted many women in their 30’s and 40’s to achieve successful pregnancies.  The most common fertility issues I encounter in my practice are:

  1. High stress lifestyle: woman needs to relax and get into Yin mode.
  2. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) causing hormonal imbalances.
  3. Long term use of birth control pill causing hormonal imbalances.
  4. Obesity or extreme weight loss causing hormonal imbalances.
  5. Other hormone imbalances such as hypothyroidism.
  6. Endometriosis and fibroid tumors.
  7. Perimenopausal older women with waning Kidney Qi.

In addition, most miscarriages occur within the first 3 months of pregnancy.  I often treat women regularly through week #12 to prevent miscarriage.

Other pregnancy related issues I frequently encounter in my practice include: morning sickness, heartburn, back pain and sciatica, edema and leg swelling, hemorrhoids, carpal tunnel syndrome, fatigue, and depression-anxiety.

Finally, acupuncture is highly effective for breech presentation and labor induction.  I perform labor induction in my office and at birthing sites on women who are due or post-due with excellent results.

The Yin and Yang of Fertility and Pregnancy – Part I

Yin and Yang are the male/female positive/negative polarities of nature whose interactions influence the destinies of all living things.  Yin and yang—egg and sperm– oppose each other and at the same time have an interdependent relationship.  Conception arises from the marriage of Yin and Yang.

Yang energizes, warms, transforms, generates, circulates, defends and protects.  It is a creative and active force.  It initiates.  It corresponds with “doing”.

Yin cools, moistens, nourishes, replenishes, and contains.  Stillness, rest, inwardness, receptivity and fertility pertain to Yin.  Yin provides the medium and material basis for life to take hold.  It corresponds with “being”.

The Yin cycle is one in which energy is being accumulated, assimilated and stored.  To prepare oneself for pregnancy, and to maintain a healthy pregnancy, one must get into the Yin cycle.

How to get into the Yin cycle:

  1. Emphasize gentle flowing exercise such as walking, swimming and yoga.  Intense aerobics, high impact jogging and heavy weight lifting take energy away from the meridians that flow through the reproductive system.
  2. Get into bed by 10 pm every night.  If you’re not ready to sleep, relax with a good book.  Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
  3. Eat a nourishing diet rich in healthy fats such as flax and fish oil, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.  50% of your diet should consist of vegetables: greens, root vegetables, seaweeds and cruciferous varieties.  Emphasize whole grains (but avoid wheat), beans, eggs, tempeh, and small amounts of humanely raised meats.  Gently cooked foods are better than raw.
  4. Now is not the time to overextend yourself with ambitious new work projects and social commitments.  Try to scale things back to the essentials, and maintain a consistent routine.
  5. Focus on inward development such as meditation, keeping a journal, or expressing your creativity through drawing, gardening, etc.
  6. Avoid becoming rigid with these recommendations.  Obsessive control defeats the purpose of opening up and letting go (and makes you more tense and Yang).  If you’re feeling deprived, fixated, worried or self-critical, you may be substituting militant rules as another form of self-imposed stress.  A scoop of ice cream or stressful work week does not make you a bad mother-to-be.  Try to follow these guidelines 80% of the time.  Remain mindful and positive.  Most important: find ways to de-stress and let go.