A friend of mine recently asked me if my sister, who is getting her masters in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, could tell her about if acupuncture could help her conceive since her husband and her had been trying to get pregnant with no luck and since the option of IVF, (in vitro fertilization), was too costly for their family. “We want this so badly, but with all our loans, with the economy and our business right now, we literally can’t afford IVF, especially if we want to use that savings for when the baby arrives” she said.
This post is for her, and for so many women out there who do not know enough about this more affordable option which has no side effects, and who are struggling with this sensitive, physically draining and immensely emotional issue. However, it’s worth mentioning that there are some men and women out there who are completely infertile due to complications and cannot get pregnant. For those people, IVF is a necessary option, or the cheaper option of surrogacy when the surrogate is a friend or family member. However, acupuncture could put an end to the agonizing struggle in relationships of the ability to conceive.
I have seen how effective acupuncture can be for myself, (when I had morning sickness during my pregnancy, acupuncture literally cured me), as well as with family members who suffer from ailments like kidney problems amongst others and has helped them. As I talk to Justin Penoyer L.Ac. below, he shows us how it has proven time and time again to work for fertility alongside Chinese medicine.
My sister introduced me to Justin who is an amazing practitioner. He lives in San Diego, California, where he maintains a holistic primary care practice, is licensed in acupuncture and specializes in the application of Integrative Chinese medicine and Functional medicine in the treatment of stress, pain, endocrine disorders, and infertility. Of course there are other locations to get this kind of treatment, such as Fertility acupuncture Melbourne and across the world, but Justin is our local practitioner. Here, we interview him of his expertise on acupuncture and Chinese medicine for treating infertility.
CM: How does TCM, (Traditional Chinese Medicine), help treat infertility?
JP: The full answer to this question is quite extensive as there are many ways that Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat infertility conditions. This list is by no means extensive, but let’s introduce some of the more important points of consideration:
First, it is a holistic approach to infertility.
TCM is a holistic medicine that is able to interconnect and make sense of the complex set of factors that contribute to infertility. Stress decreases conception rates. Environmental toxins decrease conception rates. Inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, low body temperature, poor sperm quality, improper cervical mucus pH, lack of sufficient cervical mucus, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, poor diet, lack of exercise, and onward. There is no one thing that will prevent you from conceiving a child because infertility is always a complex set of factors. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a 3,000 year old track record of being able to systematically tie it all together and reduce to the most simple components so that you may comprehensively correct each issue preventing you from conceiving.
It can enhance the HPA Axis, (Hypothalamus, Pituitary Gland, and Adrenal glands, which are some of the principle foundations of your overall health and fertility). Many of the hormones that drive your menstrual cycle and are responsible for conceiving and retaining a developing fetus are produced by these endocrine glands. The fertility herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine provide the only known course of treatment to increase the efficiency of your HPA Axis and regulate the proper production and communication among hormones such as estrogen, FSH, and progesterone. When we improve the function of your HPA Axis we significantly increase the likelihood of a successful conception.
It can also elevate basal body temperature and target hypothyroidism. Many cases of infertility I’ve treated have been due to functional hypothyroidism and low basal body temperature. Traditional Chinese Medicine is often successful in using Chinese herbs to correct both of these issues.
It regulates menstruation.This is straight forward-the quality and regularity of your menstrual cycle is equivalent to your general state of fertility. Traditional Chinese Medicine provides one of the best medical treatments for correcting menstrual irregularities and enhancing the efficiency of those elements responsible for a healthy egg for fertilization.
It can decreases inflammation of fallopian tubes and mucosal membranes. Medical science has known for years know that inflammation is the source for most modern ailments and diseases.
Inflammation of the fallopian tubes cause them to swell and can actually close or partially close the tube, thus preventing passage for fertilizing sperm. When the cervical membranes are inflamed they will produce cervical mucus of improper pH that is inhospitable to sperm and hinders their ability to travel the reproductive canal to fertilize an egg. If the uterus is inflamed, the lining will be too thin and likewise unreceptive to not only to sperm, but also to fertilized eggs whether from natural means or from an IUI or IVF. Miscarriages are often due to an inhospitable uterine lining.
Even partial or mild cases of inflammation decrease your overall ability to conceive. There are many factors that produce chronic inflammation, and with a skilled practitioner, you will be able to identify each one and utilize meditation, dietary changes, and Chinese herbs to eliminate inflammation and produce an environment in your reproductive organs that is conducive to sperm and conception.
It helps reduce moderates stress levels to increase fertility. We can reduce it down to this: when you are perpetually stressed every factor involved in successfully conceiving and carrying a child is affected. The cause of and duration of your stress impacts your body in various ways depending on your body type and psycho-emotional well being.
If stress is preventing you from going to bed by 10 pm and getting a full 8-9 hours of sleep, you will become less fertile. If stress is causing menstrual irregularities your fertility decreases. When you skip breakfast, skip meals, and eat in a hurry your body will eventually become weak and infertile. These issues are just the tip of the iceberg when we examine the myriad of ways that stress-physical, emotional, and spiritual-impact your health and ability to conceive.
Traditional Chinese Medicine uses acupuncture to calm the patient and regulate the various physiological factors involved in regulating stress. Acupuncture has displayed a truly remarkable ability to innervate the Vagus Nerve to control your body’s stress response, as well as active Alpha brain waves that are seen in the brains of Buddhist monks in deep meditation.
TCM also treats an-ovulation. Infertility is often associated with inadequate or no ovulation, (an-ovulation). Traditional Chinese Medicine recognizes several conditions that produce a state of poor or an-ovulation in women, and with the help of a skilled TCM physician you can utilize acupuncture and Chinese herbs to correct them.
The Traditional Chinese medical model has a vastly expanded understanding of how conception happens and what factors in the body are responsible for it. Some of these medical theories can be comprehended in terms of Western medicine, many cannot. Using acupuncture and Chinese herbs the skilled physician will support and improve the functioning of each one of the organ systems responsible for conception. Kidney Yang and Essence, Spleen Qi, Liver Qi-these are medical terminologies that are used to explain complex physiological dynamics that influence one’s ability to conceive. They may sound strange to you at first, but if you set aside your unfamiliarity, you will find a far stronger and complete knowledge of how your body accomplishes the task of conception and pregnancy.
CM: What would a general first visit entail for someone who has never gotten acupuncture, but is interested in it for fertility?
JP: Before the initial visit both partners will complete a comprehensive health intake covering a wide range of physiological and psycho-emotional health factors. During their first visit we spend about 90 minutes together, beginning with a comprehensive medical intake of both partners so that I may diagnose their particular type of infertility according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Unlike some Western medical views on infertility, TCM has a much more robust and refined understanding of fertility and is able to diagnose and treat many types of infertility conditions.
After I reach the correct diagnosis, the couple and I discuss a range of dietary and environmental factors relevant to their pattern of infertility, and each are assigned homework items to be done every day-such as 15 minutes of meditation, walking, yoga, not skipping meals, and so forth. From there each partner is treated with an acupuncture “prescription” based on their particular diagnosis, and after the treatment, I prescribe a Chinese herbal formula that is consumed as a tea twice per day.
My couples are treated twice monthly, and with each session we expand continue the education and hold each partner accountable for doing their homework every day and staying on tract throughout the treatment course, which is 100 days, (3.5 months). Every couple I’ve worked with has conceived in one to three courses of treatment.
CM: In your practice of treating patients, is there any proof that acupuncture works for fertility without the use of IVF?
JP: Thus far I have a 100% success rate in treating infertility without anything but Chinese medicine, and 90% of my patients have successfully delivered a child in excellent health. On average, skilled TCM practitioners average a 40-60% success rate throughout their career, (which exceeds that IVF whose live birth rate averages 12-35% depending on age group). If a couple insists on pursuing an IVF, statistically speaking, they have a 67% higher chance of a success when it is preceded by 3 months of acupuncture. There are hundreds of studies conducted in the last two decades that demonstrate TCM’s ability to treat the complex set of factors that contribute to infertility conditions, which is why acupuncture has been included in the top fertility clinics around the world.
CM: Who can consider acupuncture for infertility? Are there any cases where someone cannot?
JP: Acupuncture is relevant in every case and should be the first course of treatment considered. It is highly effective, a fraction of the cost of IVF, and has no side effects. But remember that acupuncture alone will likely not be enough, and it is customary for Chinese medicine to use acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and lifestyle corrections to treat fertility cases. In certain cases some of these options may not be appropriate, though this is quite rare. It is also very important to remember that treating infertility aside, Traditional Chinese Medicine is able to enhance fertility, increase conceptions rates, prevent miscarriage, decrease complications during delivery, and improve genetic integrity to produce healthier happy babies. I can’t emphasize that point enough. Please, take six months to prepare your body for conceiving and delivering baby. You’ll thank me.
CM: What about men, can TCM help men in regards to infertility?
JP: Everything we’ve discussed above pertains to the male half of the equation as well. Unlike women, whose eggs were produced and ready to go as babies, men are constantly producing sperm and thus sperm quality is completely impacted by his diet, environment, and stress levels. Sometimes even having abnormally low testosterone levels could have an effect on the production of sperm, which could make it significantly harder to naturally conceive. I hadn’t heard about this until a friend told me about it, but something like these hcg injections for men could help to treat infertility as it can increase the amount of sperm that is being produced. However, it may not be as effective in all individuals. Western fertility practitioners will tell you that nothing can be done for sperm health, which is tragic. With a competent TCM practitioner, spermatic disorders are often easily reversed with Traditional Chinese Medicine if the patient is fully compliant. As I stated before, this requires acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and a gamut of lifestyle changes.
CM: What is treatment like? Is it painful?
JP: There are many styles of acupuncture, sizes of needles, and skill levels of acupuncturists that will determine if the treatment is painful or not at all. I practice a form that is often painless.
CM: Are there any side effects from acupuncture?
JP: No-if the acupuncture is properly applied by a trained practitioner. There are doctors, chiropractors, and various other practitioners who have little to no real training in acupuncture that can be dangerous. Research your acupuncturist to ensure they have at minimum a 4 year degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
I hope this article is helpful in answering any of your questions on acupuncture and Chinese medicine for fertility and I want to thank Justin Penoyer for his detailed responses and time in helping the Chai Mommas community!
If you have any other questions, we would be glad to answer them, just comment below or even send us an email.