Being told you are infertile is one of the most devastating things a couple can hear. As an acupuncturist in practice for over 10 years, I have sat with many women as they recount their letters and numbers: FSH, LH, number of follicles, estrogen levels, etc. Western medicine offers miraculous opportunities to couples dealing with fertility struggles, but it is a stressful, difficult process, hard physically and emotionally. Acupuncture offers something unique: a different perspective.
First of all, I never use the word infertile. So few people are truly infertile, meaning incapable of ever having a baby. Most people face fertility challenges. May sound like I’m just trying to be PC but I’m not. Words are powerful, and our beliefs about ourselves are powerful and telling a woman she is infertile is a horrible label that can send a woman into depression or high stress which alone can hamper her chances of getting pregnant. Chinese medicine looks at a body’s physical age, not primarily the chronological age. That means a heavy smoker with a bad diet and history of drinking might be “old” at 29 whereas many women today who eat well, exercise and manage their stress are “young” at 40. The perspective in Chinese medicine is holistic – the body works as a whole, the hormones, fallopian tubes, uterus, they are effected by all the other systems and cells in the body, and vice versa. When the ovaries of older mice who had stopped ovulating were placed in a young mouse, they started to produce eggs again. It is not just that we need to fire chemicals at the ovaries, we need to nourish and strengthen the whole woman, or man, to encourage fertility.
Western medicine and Assisted Reproductive Therapy (ART) have so much to offer and they help thousands of families every year to start families that were once not possible. I have a lot of respect for Western medicine. But I do deeply believe that the mind, body and spirit must all be treated in order to have a healthy happy fertile body, and that is where acupuncture is invaluable. Acupuncture has been shown to improve the success rate of in vitro fertilization by up to 40%, a staggering number. It is also the only therapy that has been shown to increase the thickness of the uterine lining, also extremely important for pregnancy. It can regulate the hormones and hence help regulate the menstrual cycle, also key in getting pregnant. But it works on another level too. Acupuncture helps the patient relax, it helps the body release hormones associated with deep relaxation. And this allows the body to function so much better all on it’s own. Stress is a fertility crusher. Allowing the body to relax is so important as it allows the body to do what it is designed to do, be healthy, be in balance and function.
There are other important contributions that Chinese medicine makes to fertility treatments including guidelines on diet therapy, food that are thought to enhance fertility, herbs that can regulate hormones and stress levels. And even Qi Gong and meditation exercises that can have a real impact on how a person feels, and how well their body functions. But perhaps most of all, I love that Chinese medicine is positive, it is hopeful, it is empowering to the woman, to the couple. It says, ok you’re 40, so what? Let’s get you to the healthiest most rich and fertile place possible for your body. You may be doing ART while getting acupuncture and that’s wonderful, the two work so well together, but here is what you can do to really boost your chances of success and it doesn’t involve needles or drugs or charts. It involves holistic healing, herbs, whole food, and mindfulness. And that is a gift. An ancient gift that can help support our modern ways of helping mother nature to create a miracle, the miracle of life.