Western reproductive medicine can do the following things: promote follicular development with certain medications, promote ovulation with other medications, perform intra-uterine-insemination, and in-vitro-fertilization. Western reproductive surgeons can also perform often necessary surgeries to create a fertile environment where polyps, fibroids, uterine anomalies and cervical anomalies are present. Without these types of interventions many infertile women would never have children.
Traditional Chinese medicine can often regulate systemic dysfunction naturally. That means that TCM can contribute to helping the PCOS patient ovulate without Clomid or perhaps with a lesser amount of Clomid. In the morbidly obese PCOS patient, weight loss is of paramount importance in increasing the ability to conceive because excess fat stores androgens and converts androgens to estrogen thereby creating a hormonal imbalance that is unlikely to enable conception. Acupuncture and herbal medicine along with exercise and life-style changes can make weight loss and its attendant health benefits possible.
In the endometriosis patient, acupuncture and herbal medicine cannot eradicate endometriosis but it can reduce the inflammatory environment associated with this disease. An interesting example of this is the patient with stage 1 endometriosis who does not present with pelvic distortion but cannot get pregnant. Why not? Her husband’s sperm is fine and other than the endometriosis there are no contributing factors that are contributing to the state of infertility. Even other autoimmune disorders have been ruled out as possible contributing factors. The infertility stems from an inflammatory intrauterine environment that either destroys the embryos or makes the uterine lining inhospitable to an embryo which is trying to implant. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can often regulate this environment by reducing this inflammatory process.
Many men have low sperm count as a result of a minor vericocele. Surgeons do not operate on minor vericoceles because the benefit does not exceed this risk. The cause of a vericocele is pooling and stagnating and over-heating of blood in the pampiniform plexus. The pampiniform plexus is the veins in the testicles. The sperm- killing-heat is caused by the pooling and stagnating of blood. Acupuncture and herbs can strongly move qi (energy, metabolism, circulation) and blood in the testicles. As a result of this, the blood is less congealed, the blood flow is more functional and the heat is diminished, contributing to increased sperm count. Even in the face of a major vericocele, the surgical outcomes are successful 50% of the time. This means that even with surgery there is a 50% possibility that the count will remain low. One of the reasons for this is that long term blood stagnation and heat in the testicles causes tissue necrosis (death) and sperm cannot be adequately produced. The determination of success can only be made after the surgery. The recovery time after the surgery is six months.
The reason that this is the case is because the inflammation which is caused by the surgery takes that much time to be reduced. Utilizing acupuncture and herbal medicine after a vericocelectomy shortens recovery time by two months making the total recovery time four months instead of six. Men with any sperm anomaly should refrain from taking hot baths, saunas or riding a bicycle for long periods of time as all of these activities facilitate increased testicular temperature.
What about the patient who wants to do an IVF with her own eggs but her FSH is 18 and her doctor states that donor-egg is the only option? The doctor, essentially, is correct. He or she views this patient as one who either will not respond to gonadal stimulation and therefore produce either no eggs or produce too few to justify the continuation of the IVF cycle. So the reproductive endocrinologist offers the donor egg option with full integrity and with the patient’s best interest in mind. But, here is what I have witnessed on more than a few occasions: I will treat the patient with acupuncture and herbal medicine and her numbers will regulate. Not necessarily to a ‘perfect’ level, but to levels which will facilitate having the reproductive endocrinologist have a ‘second-look’. Subsequently many IVF cycles have been completed with a great many successful outcomes and many failures too. But I choose not to focus too much importance on the failures. It is the successes that would have never occurred had acupuncture and herbal medicine not been utilized on the patient who was told that donor-egg was the only option. In other words, inclusion of TCM has only an upside potential.
Accounts for a substantial amount of infertility. Almost every patient that I have reports that her lining is “beautiful” according to her reproductive endocrinologist. The scientific truth however is that the morphology of the lining is not analogous to intraendometrial vascularization. This means that even though your lining may be thick it does not mean that there is enough blood flow getting to the lining. This is why sometimes even in the absence of any observable or diagnosable pathology, infertility manifests. Acupuncture and herbal medicine have been shown to increase endometrial vascularization and thereby increasing implantation potential.
The idiopathic patient
Idiopathy means ‘no known cause’. What ‘no known cause’ means is that the limited Western medical diagnostic capabilities available today are only able to diagnose what they can, not what they cannot. In other words, there are many subclinical causes of infertility that have yet to be discovered and which, to date, have no remedies. Over time, this will change. This is by no means meant to be a derisive comment of Western reproductive medicine. IVF has brought thousands of children into the world and created thousands of happy families. These successes would not have been possible in the ‘infertile population’ prior to the advent of this incredible technological breakthrough.
Traditional Chinese medicine, based upon its method of diagnosis does not, as part of its medical vocabulary have a word that is analogous to ‘idiopathic.’ In other words, all cases of infertility can be diagnosed and treated. There are no mysteries or impossible cases.
Each and every case can be, analyzed, differentiated, diagnosed and treated.
TCM can often establish a treatment protocol where Western medicine has none to offer other than donor-egg. TCM uses specific herbal formulas prescribed for a particular patient for a particular disorder, taking into consideration the whole patient as well as their pathology. The whole person is treated, not just their disease. What really does the “whole person” mean? It means that if the patient has a bad marriage, has low libido, chronic headaches, arthritis, depression, anxiety, frustration, a history of surgeries, a history of psycho-emotional trauma, a job she hates, a dying mother, low self-esteem, a smoker, a drinker, a stress eater, etc., etc., these things can contribute to her infertility.
How? Because the mind, spirit and body are inextricably connected. Not convinced? Ok, the why when you are very stressed do you get a headache or a stomach-ache. Why is it that when you are very depressed you have no energy? Why is it that when you pray you feel more empowered? Why is it that when you look better, you feel better and when you feel better you have more energy and when you have more energy you are less likely to get sick and when you are not frequently sick you are not chronically depressed?
Because the mind, spirit and body are inextricably connected. This is why TCM doctors treat the whole person; only treating the disease is like treating a cancer patient with aspirin for their pain.
This is why the best case scenario in the treatment of reproductive disorders (as well as all disorders) is to integrate both methods of medical expertise. The TCM application will help the Western reproductive medical protocol succeed in a shorter period of time. Or TCM may be the difference between success and failure in the Western medical setting; remember, IVF has a 30% success rate which means conversely that it has a 70% failure rate.
Many doctors tell their patients not to take herbs. Can you imagine why? Go ahead, let your mind swirl around and try and latch on to one word that sticks. How about ‘dangerous’? DID YOU KNOW: there are more than one million hospitalizations per years as a result of dangerous side-effects caused by pharmaceutical products. But pharma is big business and it has the money and power to squelch the media. When is the last time you heard about someone dying or even being hospitalized as a result of taking herbs? I’ll tell when: NEVER. When is the last time you heard about someone getting sick, or being hospitalized or dying from herbal medicine? I’ll leave that answer to you.
My view is that most Western medicine when prescribed by an expert in his or her field is safe and effective and usually there are no harmful side-effects. Why is it so difficult for Western physicians to say the same thing about herbal medicine? Is it perhaps because if a patient conceives as a result of herbs that a $10,000.00 to $15,000.00 IVF cycle would be cancelled?
Again, I’ll let you answer that question.
Herbal medicine, when prescribed by a Board Certified herbalist is not only safe, but safer than Western drugs. Can herbs “interfere” with Western medicine in an IVF cycle? No. I have been giving herbs to patients while they have been taking Western medicine for ten years. All that’s happened is the production of babies. Can the Western medical establishment be threatened by herbs or acupuncture? I’ll leave that for you to answer.
Here is a medical quiz. If you had a choice of doing something that could improve your chances of conception, would it be:
5. Herbal medicine
6. Changing your diet
7. Reducing stress
You’re correct; all of these will help. But can you identify the two things above that have a three-thousand-year-old history of successfully treating infertility? There are only two in the list and only two in the world.
What I find amazing is that every infertile couple is not including acupuncture and herbal medicine as part of their protocol to conceive. Some individuals say they “don’t believe in it.” How can you not believe in something that has been scientifically proven to be effective in countless Western scientific studies?
I’ve had my share of non believers; they were believers nine months later when they sent me tear-stained letters of gratitude for helping them become parents. Come to my office and see the photos on the walls, the photos of families, the photos of joyous moms and dads, the photos of their smiling cherubs; all sent from non-believers. I can assure that they are all converts now. In fact, a large referral source for me is from former ‘non-believer’ patients.
I am a staunch supporter and firm believer in Western reproductive medicine. But, TCM has been successfully treating infertility for 2930 years longer than Western medicine. And I want parity. Not for my ego or for the validation of the medicine that I so proudly practice but because parity will enable real patient care; better patient care than we presently have; more successful outcomes, more families granted to those who should but cannot have them.
Based upon the information I have provided herewith, it is my conclusion that to not use Traditional Chinese Medicine as part of an assisted-reproductive-medical-protocol is very short-sighted indeed.
Your world is a garden from which you can remove weeds of doubt and replace them with seeds of hope.
mike berkley, L.Ac., FABORM
Doctor of Acupuncture (RI)
Founder and Director, The Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness