Chinese Medicine & Your Fertility
If you’ve been following my blog for a while you already know that acupuncture is one of my favourite fertility treatments. It helps promote fertility via the use of tiny needles which positively change the hormonal output from the brain to the ovaries and uterus. The mechanism of action of this ancient medicine has been explored in thousands of high-quality studies, and there is a robust and ever-growing evidence base for it’s use and efficacy in fertility and pregnancy.
In addition to regular acupuncture treatments I also do a thorough Chinese medicine intake with my fertility patients. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) provides a ton of additional insight into why a patient may be having a difficult time conceiving. One size does not fit all when it comes to fertility and traditional Chinese medicine is a wonderful tool to help further personalize your fertility & acupuncture treatments. TCM can also provide some specific diet and lifestyle therapies to complement your holistic fertility protocol.
Chinese medicine it is believes that there are two main components that may be contributing to infertility: deficiency or excess. This means that there is either something lacking in the body or there is too much, causing a patient to be either depleted or congested. Within the major categories of deficiency and excess there are also sub diagnoses related to different organ systems in the body. It’s important to figure out if your symptoms are related to deficiency or excess, since the lifestyle and dietary changes will be dramatically different depending on the root cause of your infertility struggles.
- Blood Deficiency: This condition can be caused by either true dehydration or iron deficiency anemia, and results in inadequate blood flow to the pelvis. Without a strong blood supply to the reproductive organs it becomes more difficult to build an adequate uterine lining for implantation. You can prevent fluid deficiency by drinking plenty of water. An electrolyte replacement like my favourite sugar-free option from Vega (not sponsored, just love) can help ensure that the water you’re drinking is staying in your cells and not immediately being flushed from your body via the kidneys. TCM also suggests eating more of the following foods to build blood: cooked vegetables (orange, yellow, dark green), broths and soups, meat, aduki beans, apricots, beets, eggs, dates, figs, dong quai tea, grapes, kidney beans, nettles/nettle tea, parsley, spinach, spirulina, rice, watercress & beets.
- Kidney Deficiency: Kidney yang deficiency is often a key culprit in infertility, especially for women trying to conceive in their late 30’s and 40’s. Chinese medicine believes that the kidneys govern reproduction in both males and females. Fertility qi is stored in the kidneys, and this reproductive energy decreases each year after your first menses. To treat / prevent a TCM kidney deficiency it’s important to avoid or minimize alcohol, caffeine & other stimulants and recreational drugs which can further deplete kidney qi. I also typically prescribe a combination of oocyte supportive supplements to my ‘kidney deficient’ patients in order to enhance and preserve fertility.
- Heat Deficiency Causing Cold: Internal cold is mainly caused by the foods we eat, and it’s one of the most frequent TCM diagnoses that I see in my fertility patients. When you consume too many raw and cold foods, especially during fall and winter, you create a ‘cold’ environment in the uterus. TCM is all about balance and working with the natural rhythms of nature so it’s important to stick to a warm and mostly cooked diet in the cooler months to avoid adding more cold to an already chilly environment. You can get away with eating more raw salads & cold smoothies during the summer, but make sure you’re still adding a warming element like ginger, cinnamon or cayenne. For my ‘heat deficiency’ fertility patients I recommend they eat primary cooked and warmed foods, and drink plenty of warming teas throughout the day.
- Qi Deficiency: This deficiency is often induced by long term stress and can result in weakness, fatigue, exhaustion and paleness. This is the TCM equivalent to a western diagnosis of “burn out”. Extreme diets, emotional stress, lack of physical movement and mental fatigue are all common contributing factors to this deficiency state. Under times of exhaustion the body steals resources that should be going to reproductive health and hormone production, making it very difficult to conceive. My qi deficient patients are often prescribed adaptogenic herbs to help the body adapt to stress. These herbs can modulate cortisol output through the adrenal glands to down regulate the fight or flight response after years of chronic stress. It’s also important to engage in frequent self care while on your fertility journey. I recommend that my qi deficient patients make a list of 5 – 10 things that make them feel calm and nourished and do one of those things every single day. It can be as simple as lighting a candle and putting on your favourite music while preparing dinner, or as extravagant as a weekly massage.
- Blood stagnation: This TCM condition is most similar to our western understanding of inflammation. It occurs when blood and other fluids don’t flow properly leading to stagnation in the blood vessels and a backup of excess fluid. You can reduce fluid stagnation by exercising daily, dry brushing and doing frequent contrast showers to promote blood flow. It’s also important to eat lots of anti-inflammatory foods if you have a diagnosis of blood stagnation. Most of your diet should be made up of lean organic proteins and lightly cooked vegetables.
- Qi Stagnation: Chronic stress inhibits the part of your nervous system that is supposed to relax you and assist with digestion & reproduction. This type of long term stress can permanently alter the brain / adrenal axis that regulates your fight or flight response. When your pituitary gland is no longer able to turn off these stress signals it creates issues with the processing of hormones, and can inhibit fertility via increased stagnation of energy (aka qi). You can treat qi stagnation with lots of self care and adaptogens. This type of excess patient also typically responds well to vigorous exercise like jogging, spinning, HIIT and hot yoga to promote flow while providing a stress-busting working.
- Excess Damp Heat: This condition is primarily caused by an inflammatory diet and sedentary lifestyle. Too much meat, alcohol, fried foods and dairy can cause an accumulation of fluid in the body, which is referred to as ‘dampness’ in TCM theory. Patients with an excess of damp heat need to avoid alcohol, sweets, juices (especially orange juice), spicy food, greasy & fatty food, pork, beef, dairy, lamb, seafood, nuts and dairy. Cooling iced teas like sage and peppermint with a bit of lime can also reduce heat in the body.
It’s important to note that most fertility patients have a combination of a few of the TCM diagnoses mentioned above. I encourage you to seek out a naturopathic doctor or acupuncturist for a proper diagnosis and personalized Chinese medicine diet & lifestyle protocol.
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- J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. Acupuncture for treating polycystic ovary syndrome. 2016, Mar;17(3): 169-180
- Int J Women’s Health. Increase endogenous opioids, mitigating adverse stress response: 2014;6:313-325
Did you know that naturopathic doctors have extensive training in traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture? If you have more questions, or if you live in Oakville and would like to add acupuncture or traditional Chinese medicine practices to your current fertility program you can book your first visit online here.
This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Naturopathic doctor or primary care physician. Do not use the information in this document for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. Always speak with your Naturopathic doctor before taking any medication or nutritional or herbal or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read online.