Enhancing Fertility for Natural Conception

Enhancing fertility is an area in which Chinese Medicine particularly shines. The forces of creation involved in our reproduction are utterly extraordinary: both stunningly complex and breathtakingly brilliant in equal measure. The exquisite intelligence at work in our reproductive biology is awe-inspiring and humbling. Working with couples to optimise their fertility and help them realise their hopes for a child is a deep honour.

However, human fertility rates are decreasing with both male and female fertility implicated for a host of reasons, conditions and environmental factors that are contributing to this trend.

Women are often starting their families later in life when ovarian health is perhaps past its best, sometimes after years of birth control interventions that can take their toll on reproductive health. The nutritional content of food is increasingly compromised by mass agricultural methods, lifestyles often push us to burn the candle at both ends and making ends meet drive many of us to work harder, longer days with less and less restorative R&R. Such factors together with each person’s own pathological dynamics contribute to undermining folliculogenesis (the natural process of egg recruitment in a woman), sperm viability and reproductive health.

It is now acknowledged that 90% of couples without any discernible fertility problems can take up to 2 years to become pregnant with a mere 18-20% chance of success per cycle. In spite of the global population figures, it would seem that getting pregnant is harder than we think and becoming harder all the time. Understandably, this reality can clash with our expectations and family planning.

So when should a couple take action to seek support?

The NICE guidelines currently recommend that a couple consider fertility investigations after a year of trying if there is no known existing problem such as endometriosis, PCOS, compromised menstrual cycle, low sperm count etc. However, where the woman is over 35 years old or where there is a previous history of fertility issues with either partner, then fertility investigations are advised after 6 months of trying to conceive.

Issues abound that can compromise fertility and natural conception and yet many of these factors can be improved or resolved with Chinese medicine:

  • Advanced maternal age
  • Hormonal imbalance associated conditions
  • Anovulation, abnormal uterine bleeding, irregular menses
  • PCOS, fibroids and polyps
  • Luteal phase defect
  • Tubal obstruction
  • Hostile mucus
  • Poor endometrial quality
  • Recurrent miscarriage
  • Unexplained infertility

Fertility treatment at the Natural Medicine Clinic is a staged process. For a woman seeking natural conception, the following steps are generally involved:

  1. An initial consultation with both partners will assess their overall health and discuss any issues relating to nutrition and lifestyle that may be affecting their fertility.
  2. Following at least one monitored month of Basal Body Temperature (BBT) charting (which is easy to learn), the four phases of the woman’s menstrual cycle (period, follicular, ovulatory, luteal) can be assessed to inform a treatment strategy that will aim to adjust and improve the menstrual cycle in a highly focussed way, according to the specific features that are contributing to any sub-optimal fertility.
  3. If there are specific conditions affecting fertility, these must be treated first and it is likely that the couple will need to stop trying to actively conceive during this time. However, this is not time lost, as the improvement in fertility and her capacity to carry full term, is gained.
  4. Once menstrual cycle health and viability is established, attention is turned to supporting folliculogenesis, the natural process of egg recruitment in a woman. This is a 120-150 day process whereby the eggs in her egg bank are slowly recruited as the follicle that is to encapsulate each egg develops. Essentially, this means that from the day she starts taking her herbal prescription to support folliculogenesis, it will be 120-150 days before the eggs and follicles that will be benefitting from the medicine are presenting ready for fertilising.
  5. During this time, acupuncture is a valuable aspect to the treatment strategy. While the herbal prescription attends to improving the quality and quantity of the woman’s follicles presenting each month, acupuncture fine tunes her cycle and overall health, ensuring that each phase of her cycle transitions to the next as optimally as possible.

The above process requires 3-6 months of commitment AFTER any pathological conditions are resolved and the green light for trying to conceive is established. Following the initial consultation and first month of BBT charting, a treatment plan can be agreed together with milestones established to assess treatment progress.

Supportive Treatment during IVF & ART

Embarking on a path of ART (Assisted Reproductive Technologies), whether it be IUI, IVF, IVM, ICSI or any related technique, can be very demanding, stressful and expensive. Although the actual fertilisation process will be facilitated by the ART procedure, there is a lot we can do to enhance and support the success of this precious window of opportunity. Couples choose to undergo ART for many reasons and they will invariably have undergone several investigative procedures in the build up to making this big decision. Common reasons for choosing ART include the following:

  • Unexplained infertility
  • Stress and infertility
  • Poor egg quality
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Luteal phase defect
  • Poor endometrial quality
  • Polycystic ovarian failure
  • Endometriosis
  • Advanced maternal age
  • High FSH levels
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Blocked fallopian tubes
  • Amenorrhoea
  • Autoimmune infertility
  • Uterine fibrosis
  • Secondary infertility
  • Recurrent miscarriage

Many of the above conditions can be greatly improved or even resolved with a thorough course of Chinese Medicine treatment, especially if undertaken as a first option before procedures such as IVF, which can leave a legacy of additional disturbance on the finely balanced reproductive system.

However, time may be of the essence or the problem may be unresolvable such as completely blocked or permanently damaged fallopian tubes. In this instance, there is still a lot that Chinese Medicine can offer to help enhance the chance of success with an ART/IVF procedure such as:

  • Improving follicular quality and quantity for a more fruitful yield at egg collection
  • Pre/Post embryo transfer acupuncture
  • Improving endometrial quality for a better chance of implantation
  • Improving luteal phase viability
  • Vitalising the blood to reduce early miscarriage
  • Treating autoimmune reasons for subfertility

The treatment of infertility with Chinese Medicine, either as the primary or adjunct therapy, is both established and well-proven, with a growing and impressive body of evidence-based research to endorse what has been known and practised by CM physicians for many centuries.

Our experience has shown that getting the right physiological, nutritional and emotional support before, during and after ART procedures not only makes for a smoother experience but for greater chances of success.

Being calm, relaxed, positive, buoyant and feeling supported impacts quite literally on a woman’s reproductive health, a reality that both Western biomedicine and Chinese medicine acknowledge. Reproductive physiology in Chinese Medicine includes a special meridian called the Bao Mai that directly links the heart to the uterus, and emphasises the importance of the woman’s emotional wellbeing for reproductive health.

Meanwhile, biomedicine confirms that the hypothalamus gland is not only the “emotion brain centre” physiologically, but also the source of crucial hormone triggers essential for a well-functioning reproductive system.

Psycho-emotional wellbeing is fundamental to all aspects of our health but this is nowhere more poignantly and immediately reflected than in reproductive health. At the Natural Medicine Clinic, helping you feel good and stay positive during your reproductive journey is what we’re about!

ART/IVF Support Consultation

We recommend that clients come for their first consultation at least three months before their IVF cycle is scheduled to begin to maximise the benefits. We will recommend a personalised plan for how we can improve your reproductive and general health to enhance your chances of conceiving successfully. Even without the luxury of three months preparation, there are still significant ways we can help regarding embryo transfer, luteal phase viability and improving both the thickness and blood flow to the endometrial lining.