Using Chinese Herbs for Fertility
The first question I asked my Chinese herb practitioner was, "How do you know this will work?" Her reply was, "How do you know Western treatments will work?" She made a very valid point.
In trying to conceive at a so-called ‘advanced’ age (41), I knew the odds were slightly stacked against me. I had had some blood tests to check my hormone levels and knew they showed my age. My eggs were not there in the thriving multitudes they had probably been in my twenties. I knew I had to take measures to make myself as fertile as possible in the most natural ways possible.
I really didn’t want to end up going the in vitro fertilization (IVF) route unless it was absolutely necessary. Firstly, it is incredibly expensive to undergo IVF, and secondly, it is an extremely invasive route to take. So, being determined to avoid that route at all costs, I looked at natural remedies for low ovarian reserve, higher follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, and conceiving at an advanced age.
Besides embarking on the acupuncture/reflexology route, I also discovered that Chinese medicine is now gaining worldwide popularity because of its effectiveness in fertility-related issues.
Chinese herbs are a combination of plants, leaves, bark, fruit, and roots.
When being treated with Chinese herbs, you will not just get one or two herbs. Your practitioner will probably mix a blend of many herbs that are suited to your particular need. There are hundreds of different herbs, and they can be used in different combinations and strengths. Traditionally, between 8 and 15 herbs will be used in one formula per patient. The herbs are taken in a form of a brewed tea, which is easily absorbed by the body.
If you and your partner were to both go for fertility treatment, you would probably find that the herbs used for both of you are very similar, but used in different quantities. Do not be alarmed if you are just given a little brown bag containing odd-looking ‘stuff’ that you have to drink. Ask your practitioner what the ingredients are if you feel concerned, but think about this: when have you ever asked your GP what was in the chemical tablets he or she prescribed for you? We blindly swallow chemicals all the time, in the form of antibiotics and so on, and we trust the GP has prescribed the correct medicine. Why should it be different for a qualified TCM practitioner?
If you have concerns about what you are swallowing, do more research into it yourself. All the ingredients in TCM have been used for a couple of centuries by now, with good results. A very good site to check out, if you have concerns, is the China Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the United States.
How it works
The main difference between Western and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), from what my practitioner told me, is that Western Medicine (WM) looks at treating the main cause of the issue, while TCM endeavours to treat the person as a whole.
As with reflexology and acupuncture, TCM looks at managing the entire person by focusing on reducing stress and bringing balance to the body.
The IVF method—with hospital visits, injections, having to have sex on certain days to ensure the best conception, and so on—can become incredibly emotional too, which also impacts stress levels. Considering that stress is one of the main causes of fertility issues, it makes a lot of sense to reduce that stress.
TCM has also shown to have fewer side effects than Western medicine, which, despite being better for our bodies, is also better for us psychologically speaking. We feel better, therefore, we stress less.
TCM is used to regulate hormone levels and to ensure a healthy, regular menstrual cycle in women.
It can also be used to bring balance to men and ensure healthy sperm.
Some studies into TCM have been done, although, at this stage, not enough.
The studies that have been conducted show a significant rise in conception rate using TCM as opposed to traditional IVF medication. Doctors in modern China have reported a 70% success rate using TCM on patients with fertility issues.
In a study at a Tel Aviv University, a group of women who were undergoing IUI (Intrauterine insemination) was dived into two groups; the one group of women underwent acupuncture and took TCM as part of their routine, while the other group did not. The group taking TCM had a 65.5 conception rate while the other group had a 39.4 success rate.
Studies using Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) were also conducted in the United Kingdom, involving 1850 women, over a series of different trials. The results showed that there was a 3.5 greater likelihood of falling pregnant while using TCM.
A study using 616 women showed that the mean clinical pregnancy rate for women who used TCM was 50%, as opposed to women undergoing Western IVF treatment, whose mean pregnancy rate was 30%. These results proved that using TCM can increase the pregnancy rate 2-fold, in four months, as compared to Western medicine or IVF treatments. Much of the success rate was attributed to a much better quality of menstrual cycle due to TCM.
My TCM practitioner was also my acupuncturist. Often the two go hand in hand, so don’t be surprised if your acupuncturist prescribes Chinese herbs as well.
As with the initial acupuncture visit, a good practitioner will ask you a series of pertinent questions. Like I said, they will be related to treating you as a whole person, not just the one symptom.
TCM takes into account whether you are a hot or cold person; whether you sleep well or have insomnia; do you have a rapid heartbeat or not; are you a calm person or usually anxious.
Your practitioner will ask you all these questions. Don’t think they have nothing to do with your fertility issues, because they have everything to do with it! So be honest about that alcohol you drink or that pack of twenty you smoke a day.
If, for example, you get hot easily, are often anxious, have a quick temper and suffer from constipation and insomnia, you might have what is called ‘functional excess’. This is not good for carrying a baby to term as the embryo cannot be carried peacefully in the uterus.
It is therefore important to prescribe herbs that will be calming, bringing about balance and restfulness to the entire body.
Similar symptoms as above, in men, can cause low sperm count. TCM can therefore help to increase sperm and make it healthier.
When to take Chinese herbs
A practitioner will tell you that you should begin taking the herbs at least four to six months before trying to conceive. This gives the body a decent amount of time to adjust to change.
- As with any medication, some side effects may occur when taking TCM, but generally there are less side effects from TCM than from WM.
- These will vary, depending on the person. Your herbal practitioner will be able to adjust the herbs accordingly, if you notice any adverse symptoms.
- Never buy herbs from a practitioner who is not highly qualified.
- Always consult a recommended practitioner and ask what each herb is, that is being prescribed. Your practitioner should be able to explain what each component of your mixture is for.
- Side effects are more likely to occur if taking TCM in conjunction with WM.
- Some people also have allergic reactions to certain plants. Be sure to tell your practitioner if you have any allergies, including those to plants or pollen.
A Personal Note
Once I had started taking Chinese herbs, I noticed a small amount of spotting that occurred between menstrual cycles. It was nothing alarming; just some small, light pinkish-brown spots. I asked my practitioner about this and she explained that it was quite normal for a woman to experience some spotting. It can be caused by a drop in estrogen levels before the progesterone takes over. She said that my menstrual cycle was regulating itself and there was nothing to be alarmed about. It stopped happening after the second month.
Note: I am not a medical practitioner and do not prescribe medication to anyone. This article is based solely on my own research into natural remedies and trying to conceive at an advanced age.