Improving Fertility and Conception with Acupuncture, Diet, and Lifestyle ChangesJenny (Jian ping) Shi, M.Sc., C.M.A.A.C. June 28, 2022
(Originally published July 2018; updated June 2022)
One of the most remarkable functions of the human body is its ability to procreate. This ensures the continued survival of the human race.
In the pre-industrial era when the pace of life was slower, good fertility was taken for granted. But in modern times, the fertility of today’s women is compromised by fast-paced living, multi-tasking, inadequate sleep, and hormonal disruptions caused by stress. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, a person’s overall health status is of critical importance in maintaining fertility and conceiving a healthy child.
In addition, modern food processing – which puts profit ahead of nutrition – can leave women inadequately nourished to carry a baby to term. Furthermore, women who postpone starting a family until late in their reproductive years may find it difficult to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term.
For thousands of years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has accumulated abundant clinical experience in fertility enhancement. The earliest records of gynecological practice were inscribed on animal bones and tortoise shells during the Shang Dynasty (1500-1000 B.C.); and descriptions of medicinal plants to treat infertility have been found to date back to 475 B.C.
Treating Infertility Successfully
For the most part, all women are born with the ability to reproduce. TCM believes that when fertility problems occur, it’s because vital balance has been disturbed, or some blockage in circulation and energy flow may exist. Chinese medicine practitioners view each patient as unique, and make a treatment plan to specifically meet the patient’s needs, based on their constitution, predisposition, and their current condition. With such a long and venerable history, Traditional Chinese herbs and acupuncture have earned a reputation as effective natural strategies for treating infertility. Thus, this treatment approach can be highly effective without unwanted side effects.
Causes of Infertility
Many factors can disturb fertility, but once the problem solved, the body is restored to health and conception can happen naturally. Causes of infertility can be complicated and wide ranging:
STRESS – is at the top of the list. Chronic stress may arise from work problems, a relationship, or any situation you can imagine. Even the effort it takes to get pregnant can be stressful sometimes. In my practice, I have advised some professional women to take a leave of absence from their job if the level of their stress is too high and they are having trouble conceiving or carrying a baby. Some of them get pregnant right away, once the stressors are removed.
ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTANTS – can accumulate in the body, and may cause allergic reactions or toxic overload in reproductive organs (in females, the uterus functions as a storage depot for excess toxins carried by the body). This is often the case when couples are diagnosed as having “unexplained infertility.” Furthermore, electromagnetic and radiation pollution can challenge the immune system to such an extent that conception ability is reduced in two ways: 1) sperm count can be negatively affected, and 2) egg quality can be harmed. This can come from cell phones, computers, wireless networks in the home, and power lines.
MALNOURISHMENT – This is perhaps the most important culprit that prevents the body from conceiving is malnutrition. Diet matters. Every cell in the body is only and completely made from what we eat and drink. For achieving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy to full term, it is essential to take in good nutrition to nourish the body and build up energy. This will prepare the body for a big job: conceiving your future child. Nowadays, fast food and junk food have widely replaced real food – yet fast foods lack precious nutrients, and are packed with artificial hormones, antibiotics, harmful chemicals and empty calories. Your child’s well being starts from within you! I rarely see a patient with good nutritional status (and reproductive organs intact) who is unable to conceive.
Acupuncture for Increasing Fertility
In the 21st century, research has been widely reported in newspapers, magazines, and journals showing that the ancient art of acupuncture has the ability to boost fertility for both males and females if properly administered by an expert. Acupuncture works to strengthen the immune system, balance hormones, and increase energy. It has been practised for at least 3,000 years, and thousands of people have regained their health with its help.
Acupuncture also works to relax the body, decreasing the level of stress and inflammation quickly. Acupuncture is also able to clear blockages, increasing blood flow to the uterus and promoting the fertilized egg implantation. As well, acupuncture can boost male fertility by improving the quality and quantity of sperm and optimizing hormone levels, which in turn enhances sexual vitality. After treatment, female patients can expect to have normalized menstruation, a better sex drive, and improved overall health.
Reproductive Difficulties Resolved
During my 30 years of practice, I have utilized a combination of acupuncture, herbs, and nutritional therapy to successfully treat the following reproductive disorders:
• RECURRENT MISCARRIAGE – Miscarriage is the most overwhelming loss a woman and her family can experience. It is nature’s way of being both harsh and kind. It is harsh because there was so much hope and expectation wrapped up in the pregnancy. It is kind because this conceptus was not healthy, and the couple has been spared the agony of a later loss or a significantly affected baby. One of the most common reasons for early pregnancy loss is inadequate progesterone production, the same factor that causes luteal phase defect.
Herbs like Dong quai (Angelica sinensis), Shude (Rehmannia glutinosa), Shanyao (Dioscorea opposite), Astragalus, and Baizhu (Atractylodes macrocephala) are prescribed to treat progesterone deficiency. These herbs will help to create a stable progesterone level, so the patient is able to carry the pregnancy until the placenta takes over its own progesterone production. The herbal prescriptions for regulating progesterone and preventing miscarriage differ according to the pattern of underlying deficiency. We determine the cause of the problem by observing symptoms presented by the patient which reveal her particular deficiencies or excesses.
The role of acupuncture is to tonify kidney chi. I have had good success with this treatment approach so far, because recurrent miscarriage cases respond well to Chinese medicine treatment. If we follow the classical TCM paradigm of practice, it is like having a powerful healing system to safeguard a healthy pregnancy to its term.
- UTERINE FIBROIDS AND ENDOMETRIOSIS – These conditions affect millions of women between age 30 and 40, and may affect teenage girls too. Both conditions are characterized by abnormal tissue growth inside or outside the uterus. Symptoms include severe pain before or during menstruation, heavy and irregular menstruation, and mood swings on certain days of the cycle. Without treatment, the progression of these conditions can damage reproductive organs and cause infertility.
According to TCM theory, these conditions are caused by blood stagnation, liver congestion, and kidney chi deficiency. As a result, the reproductive function is seriously impacted. A major function of the kidney and liver meridians is expelling toxins and wastes from the bloodstream. When this function is weakened, the immune system may be disturbed and abnormal immune reactions can be triggered, including abnormal tissue growth in the female reproductive organs.
For patients with endometriosis or fibroids, it is important to eliminate all junk food and drinks. Only fresh organic food can provide the essential nutrition to boost immunity and support liver and kidney function properly. Furthermore, both conditions can be triggered by hormone imbalance such as high levels of estrogen, which can be traced to artificial hormone additives from dairy products and meats in the diet (also known as xenoestrogens).
TCM treatment for endometriosis and fibroids includes herbal formulas, acupuncture, and optimized nutrition. Chuanxiong (Ligusticum chuanxiong), Dansheng (Salvia miltiorrhiza), along with almonds and Motherwort herb are often used for resolving liver chi stagnation and cleansing excessive amounts of hormones. They also stimulate blood flow while introducing more fresh blood, oxygen, and nutrition to the affected organs.
Acupuncture treatments aim to nourish kidney chi (both Yin and Yang), invigorate blood, break liver stagnation, and expel liver toxins.
TCM textbooks describe treatments for endometriosis and fibroids as dissolving stagnation and nourishing blood. The improvement of these conditions will greatly increase the chances of conception. However, it is necessary for patients to be self-disciplined in adopting a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes the body responds immediately; other times it takes up to about 8 months of treatment for large fibroid growths to resolve themselves to the point where a person can successfully conceive a baby. Usually, motivated patients with a positive attitude are rewarded by speedy recovery.
- POLYCYSTIC OVARIAN SYNDROME (PCOS) – The incidence of polycystic syndrome has increased steadily over the past 20 years; it attacks women of childbearing age, but touches teenage girls too. The symptoms include: menstrual blood containing stringy tissue or mucous; irregular menstruation (prolonged or missed period); propensity to yeast infections; vaginal itching; acne and hairy skin; fibrocystic breasts, chronic fatigue, etc.
According to TCM, this condition is considered as a disorder that involves quite a few organs. It is a disorder of ovulation and endocrine activity. In early cases, patients may experience a difficult pregnancy; then they find out the problem is caused by PCOS. Like endometriosis or fibroids, the incidence of PCOS is directly related with diet. Usually there is too much estrogen and luteinizing hormone circulating in the bloodstream. Some women have impaired glucose metabolism also. Therefore, they have to avoid desserts, white rice and flour, and eat only complex carbohydrates and whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, millet and buckwheat. Green vegetables are very good at restoring blood sugar balance and promoting disposition of excessive estrogen and LH; patients should eat as much as possible.
A carefully chosen herbal prescription for PCOS can achieve multiple effects. A combination of herbs can be prescribed to regulate menstruation and ovulation, and correct deficiency or excess of the related organs, and resolve blood stasis. Although it takes time to reach complete healing, with a combination of diet, acupuncture and herbs patients can expect positive results in multiple levels.
However, follicular development within the ovary is a process that takes a few months. To ensure follicles are healthy and capable of transforming into healthy eggs, please be advised that you must improve your lifestyle even before you start to seek professional help. There are no short-cuts in the big job of growing a baby.
I can’t put enough emphasis on the importance of diet. Only good quality food can nourish the body, establish harmony between mind, body, and spirit. Modifying your eating habits is the first and foremost requirement for preparing your body to conceive. Like farming, before spreading seeds the farmers plow their soil, fertilize carefully, and make sure the earth is fertile to be suitable for planting. Here are some general recommendations for couples who are planning to start a family:
1) Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. If possible, avoid medications and over-the-counter drugs. Many chemicals and synthetic medications have been introduced to the marketplace over the past 100 years, yet the human body is not good at digesting or excreting these substances. So they may stay within your system for long periods, and the impact on your body and that of your fetus can be harmful.
2) Avoid junk food such as deep fried foods, chips, colas, margarine, artificial sweeteners, and any chemically preserved, processed, canned, frozen, freeze-dried, sterilized, and cleverly wrapped “fake foods”. What you eat has a direct effect on your baby’s health. It has been proven clinically that junk food can be the cause of infertility for some couples. In my clinic, patients who removed junk food were able to conceive more easily.
3) Eat organic foods when possible. Food produced in a traditional manner is the best. There is increasing fear among consumers now because genetically modified foods are not labelled, so you may be eating GMO food without knowing it. So it is wise to choose organic food, so you are spared the risk of consuming potentially unhealthy GMOs.
4) Eat more vegetables and plant-based food. Plant food is rich with vital nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Generally speaking, vegetables are alkaline with which we can create a proper alkaline balance; in the body, the entire metabolic process depends on an alkaline environment. Animal food is needed by most of us, but it is acidic. Overacidity corrodes body tissue. If left unchecked, it will interrupt the body’s function (reproductive function included). For adults, it is better to eat 80-90% plant food, 10-20% animal food, which will build up a nutritional condition that our bodies can depend upon for an efficient performance.
5) Take supplements. Vitamins and minerals are vital for reproductive health. Natural vitamins are preferred, because synthetic vitamins are chemical and may contain impurities. Antioxidants like grape seed extract, pine bark extract, and Coenzyme Q-10 are recommended for eliminating free radicals and neutralizing environmental toxins.
6) Physical activity is an essential part of maintaining reproductive health. Outdoor exercise is beneficial in all four seasons. Sunlight helps the body produce sex hormones and other endocrine factors. Fresh air is as precious as sunshine to human body, without which we can’t live.
In closing, I wish you well and offer you encouragement as you begin the process to build up your reproductive energy. Let the wisdom of Chinese medicine lead your way to healing and hope; to help you fulfill your dream to conceive a healthy baby. Children are gifts from heaven.
• The Road to Improved Fertility with Diet, Stress Reduction, Naturopathy: https://vitalitymagazine.com/article/the-journey-to-fertility1/
• Success Story: Overcoming Infertility: https://vitalitymagazine.com/article/success-story-infertility/
Jenny Shi received her Doctorate in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture from the renowned Hubei Traditional Chinese Medical College in China. She certified in Pharmacology at the University of Illinois and has extensive teaching and research credits, including projects sponsored by the UN World Health Organization. She has been in practice for more than thirty years and has run her own clinic in Toronto since 1997. For an appointment, please call (416) 707-7552.