Your friend or doctor may have recently recommended acupuncture to you for fertility, but you may find yourself wondering, “How does it help?” In this article I discuss various aspects of fertility and explain some of the ways in which Chinese Medicine treatment supports and improves fertility.
I will cover the following topics:
1) Hormone Balance
The first thing we need for optimal fertility is healthy hormone balance. Chinese Herbal Medicine is an incredible tool for supporting healthy hormone levels, and it can be tailored specifically to support the different stages of hormone activity and reproductive organ function that occur throughout the menstrual cycle.
Chinese herbalists commonly prescribe three distinct formulas to match the three phase of the cycle: the menstrual stage (cycle days 1-4), the follicular phase (cycle days 1-14), and the luteal phase (cycle days 15-28)—assuming a 28-day cycle with ovulation on Day 14. The particular herbs used support the body’s natural process and optimal hormone balance in each given phase, and acupuncture also contributes by facilitating proper communication between different endocrine glands such as the pituitary and the ovaries.
Aim of Treatment:
Menstrual Phase: To facilitate the complete and efficient shedding of the endometrial lining, while alleviating symptoms such as cramps and clots.
Follicular Phase: To support the final stage of follicle maturation and to support a strong and decisive ovulation.
Luteal Phase: To support optimal progesterone levels, aid the liver in processing excess estrogens, and support healthy embryo implantation.
2) egg Quality
Did you know that your lifestyle choices in the months leading up to ovulation have a huge impact on the quality of the egg and follicle that you release? When you were born, your ovaries already contained all the eggs you would ever have, but your eggs remain in an immature, dormant state until they get recruited for ovulation.
As an egg is preparing for ovulation, it goes through a process of follicular growth and development which is strongly affected by the internal environment in the body and the mother-to-be’s lifestyle choices—and this can make the difference between an egg that fertilizes and implants well, and one that doesn’t.
Amazingly, acupuncture and herbal medicine can actually enhance egg and follicle quality. These therapies can increase blood flow to the ovaries (resulting in better oxygen and nutrient delivery to developing follicles), and they can also increase ATP (cellular energy) production in the ovaries, which is something that declines as we age and is a factor in the decline of egg health as women get older.
To learn more about the research that demonstrates the malleability of egg quality, read the book It Starts With the Egg by Rebecca Fett. You’ll also see why setting aside a few months for preconception care before you start trying to conceive is a wonderful idea!
3) cervical mucus
Producing enough fertile cervical mucus leading up to ovulation is an important factor in female fertility, because it helps sperm survive in the female body and also facilitates their journey to meet the egg. Adequate fertile cervical mucus extends your fertile window and makes it possible for the sperm to be ready and waiting to fertilize the egg when ovulation occurs.
We use fertility-enhancing Chinese herbal formulas that are effective in promoting fertile cervical mucus production. To learn more about the different types of cervical mucus and how to use them to track your fertility throughout the month, check out Toni Weschler’s wonderful book Taking Charge of Your Fertility.
Did you know that it’s possible to get your period without having ovulated? Some women make the mistake of tracking their periods with a basic tracking app that calculates their window of fertility purely by dates. Unfortunately, these date-based apps can’t confirm that you have ovulated, and the estimated window of fertility is based upon a generic calculation.
I have my fertility clients track and confirm ovulation using a combination of ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) and basal body temperature (BBT) charting. These two methods will help you narrow down the exact time in your cycle when you are ovulating. It’s important to track your ovulation date accurately so that you can time intercourse appropriately!
Your BBT chart will reveal if you are having a strong ovulation, a weak ovulation, or no ovulation at all. If your ovulation needs some help, we can use acupuncture and herbal medicine to regulate your hormones, stabilize blood sugar (important for ovulation), boost your follicle health, and stimulate your ovaries to promote a stronger ovulation.
5) endometrial lining
Once the egg is fertilized, it needs an ideal place to implant and grow—a rich endometrial lining. Acupuncture and herbal medicine work together to facilitate the development of an appropriately thick, nutrient-rich endometrial lining by increasing uterine blood flow and enriching the nutrient and oxygen supply to the uterus.
Inflammation in the body and in the uterus can disrupt the embryo’s ability to implant and interfere with the body’s ability to hold a pregnancy. Both acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine have the power to decrease inflammation directly, and acupuncture also counteracts the stress response to soothe the body’s inflammatory response.
Be aware that low-grade, chronic inflammation can be much harder to spot than acute inflammation, but it can manifest in symptoms like on-going sinus congestion, digestive problems, or joint pain. If inflammation is present, it’s essential to identify and eliminate any lifestyle factors that may be triggering the body’s inflammatory response. Chronic stress and food sensitivities are two of the most common triggering factors, but other examples include mold exposure, toxic chemical exposure, imbalances in the body’s microbiome, and gut dysfunction.
We all have varying levels of stress in our lives. Unfortunately, chronic stress directly inhibits reproductive function in both men and women by affecting thyroid function, reproductive hormone levels, and even blood circulation to reproductive organs.
For example, women should be aware of the “pregnenalone steal.” Pregnenalone is the “mother hormone” that the body uses to make both progesterone and cortisol. When we are stressed, the body will “steal” pregnenalone from the progesterone pathway and instead used it to make cortisol. This is highly problematic, because progesterone is essential to supporting implantation and embryo development.
Fortunately, acupuncture is a wonderful antidote to stress, as it is deeply restorative and directly impacts the central nervous system. The relaxed, yet energized, feeling that people experience after an acupuncture treatment is partly due to the fact that acupuncture switches the body out of the “fight or flight” stress response and into the “rest and digest” healing response. This state of deeper breathing and relaxation indicates to the body that the environment is safe and that our internal energy reserves can be expended on healing and reproduction.
Minty, Melty, and More Fertile
Not only is acupuncture a deeply healing therapy that promotes optimal health and fertility, but it also fosters wonderful feelings of relaxation, rejuvenation, and serenity. Within the last week, I heard the most perfect pair of comments from two new clients that exactly captured the energizing, yet calming experience of acupuncture. At the end of each treatment I asked, “How are you feeling?” One client replied, “Amazing…. I feel minty!” and the other sigh and dreamily replied, “I feel all melty.”
Rest assured, you will feel refreshed and restored after each acupuncture treatment, and you will be one step closer to achieving the healthy pregnancy you desire.
Julie Johnson is a licensed acupuncturist, board certified herbalist, and the owner of Seven Seeds Acupuncture. She is an NCCAOM Diplomate of Oriental Medicine and a Fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine. She specializes in women’s health and she is passionate about self-care and eco-friendly living. She loves combining these passions to help her clients get healthy and stay healthy for a lifetime.