A study published in December 2011 issue of the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine showed that women who received Chinese herbal medicine treatments had been twice as likely to get pregnant than women who received conventional drug treatments for infertility or IVF1.
The findings also suggested that the quality of the menstrual cycle—a key component in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnosis—is crucial to the successful treatment of infertility in women.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, reviewed a range of studies that involved 1,851 women, aged 18-45, who had received treatment for infertility.
The reasons for infertility in those women included endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), amenorrhea and advanced maternal age.
The researchers reviewed seven randomized controlled trials, one non-randomized controlled trial, 13 cohort studies, three cases series and six case studies. In these studies, women received either Chinese herbal medicine alone, Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, or Chinese herbal medicine in conjunction with Western drugs or surgery.
The results showed a 3.5 greater likelihood of achieving a pregnancy with Chinese herbal medicine therapy over a four-month period compared with conventional drug therapy alone. They found Chinese herbal medicine achieved on average a 60% fertility rate, compared with 30% for standard Western medical drug treatment or IVF. Meta-analysis of selected cohort studies showed a mean clinical pregnancy rate of 50% using TCM compared with 30% for IVF.
Why is Chinese Herbal Medicine Effective for Infertility?
As the findings suggest, Chinese herbal medicine is twice as effective as conventional drug therapies to help women conceive due to its ability to improve the quality of a women’s menstrual cycle.
“In TCM, the kidneys, liver, heart and uterus form the core of reproductive activity and together they help regulate the menstrual cycle,” explains IMI’s registered TCM practitioner Gianna Buonocore, “Acupuncture and herbal medicine can increase the chance of getting pregnant by improving the function of these organs, which in turn promotes qi (energy) and blood flow to critical areas of the body.”
“Emotional stress, infection, trauma, poor nutrition and a hectic lifestyle can disturb the supply and flow of blood and qi, which leads to problems such as irregular bleeding and ovulation.”
Other problems caused by impaired flow of blood and qi include endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), amenorrhea and advanced age.
In addition to an uninterrupted flow of blood to all areas of the body, including the reproductive organs is the quality of blood. According to Chinese Medicine, blood is a vital yin substance, which nourishes the ovaries and uterus. “If the blood characteristics are poor then the developing eggs will be of poor quality and the endometrial lining will be too thin for implantation,” explains Gianna.
The aim of TCM therapies is to reestablish balance in the body. In the very first consultation, a TCM practitioner will check a patient’s tongue and pulse and assess their general state of health. This enables the practitioner to diagnose a pattern of disharmony in the body and put together a treatment plan.
“No two individuals will present the same symptom picture,” says Gianna. “It follows, that every herbal prescription is unique to the individual’s needs and this ultimately contributes to a successful outcome.”
IVF Support with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs
IVF is a physically invasive procedure and is emotionally stressful. Our practitioners usually advise women to first try natural therapies before considering the more invasive options.
“IVF and IUI are not for everyone, although studies have shown that acupuncture can improve the success rates of IVF or IUI 2, 3,” says Gianna, “the wonderful thing about TCM is that it stimulates the body's own natural capacity to conceive.
TCM can be used alone or in combination with IVF or IUI treatment to increase fertility. It can be used to reduce stress, improve the function of the ovaries to produce better quality eggs, prevent the uterus from contracting after an IVF/IUI procedure as well as to lessen the side effects of the drug used.
1. Ried K, Stuart K, 2011: Efficacy of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine in the management of female infertility: A systematic review; Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Vol 19 Issue 6, 2011; 319-31
2. Paulus W E, 2002: Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy; Fertility and Sterility, 2002(4); 77: 721-4
3. Dieterle et al, 2006: Effect of acupuncture on the outcome of IVF and intracytoplasmic sperm injection: a randomized, prospective, controlled clinical study; Fertility and Sterility, 2006; 85: 1347-51