You’ve been trying to conceive for over a year with no luck.
Now you and your partner have had extensive hormone testing. Your partner’s semen analysis indicates his sperm are healthy, plentiful, and champion swimmers. Your ultrasound shows a healthy uterus and ovaries.
You’ve had an HSG test (hysterosalpingogram) and your fallopian tubes are open for business.
For the most part, you menstruate and ovulate regularly, everyone your age seems to be making babies left and right, and you’re still not pregnant! So what’s the deal???
A diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” can be frustrating and sometimes devastating for couples trying to conceive. With no clear idea what’s delaying pregnancy, western medicine offers very little hope for treatment.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can offer sound explanations and effective solutions. There are many possible TCM diagnoses related to unexplained infertility.
Here are the three most common causes of unexplained infertility:
#1 – Infertility as a Natural Response to Stress
While TCM can identify various causes based on your unique physiology, history, and lifestyle, the most common cause of unexplained infertility is stress.
Muscles tighten, breath quickens, heart beats faster and blood pressure rises. Cortisol and adrenalin are released as your body is prepared for “fight or flight.” These and other physical responses can increase strength and stamina and enhance your focus or ability to react to a stressful situation. The problem with modern “stresses,” however, is that they tend to occur more at a constant low level compared to the stress our ancestors experienced from the threat of being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. This means your body is all too often in a state of “fight or flight” and repeatedly being flooded with stress hormones.
If you’re continually stressed out you may be initiating a “normal” reaction to stress in your body – fertility shut down. Stress hormones send a clear message to your body that it’s not a good time to conceive” – after all, why make a baby if you’re about to be chomped by a saber-toothed tiger!
In addition to increased adrenalin and cortisol, stress can also cause elevated levels of estrogen and/or prolactin which, in excess, can impair fertility.
From an TCM perspective, high levels of stress can impede the free flow of energy or qi (pronounced “chee”) in the body.
A woman with “qi stagnation” will often suffer from migraines, digestive upset, PMS symptoms including irritability and painful breasts, and will have a unique quality to the pulse where it feels “wiry” like a guitar string. Sometimes the tongue will take on a dusky hue, reflecting the stagnation in the body.
Once the qi becomes sluggish or stuck, the blood circulation may also stagnate resulting in painful, irregular menstrual cycles. Qi and blood stagnation may also contribute to endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and uterine fibroids. Occasionally, women with Qi and blood stagnation will not be aware of any symptoms, yet the stress continues to affect their bodies and fertility negatively.
#2 – The Body’s Inability to Hold a Pregnancy
In TCM, the same qi that is responsible for healthy digestion also is responsible for the action of “holding and lifting” within the body.
A deficiency or weakness in this qi may result in bruising, varicosities, and hemorrhoids – (the blood not being held within the vessels), prolapsed organs, fatigue, loose stools, gas, bloating, and cold extremities.
A patient with this presentation may tend to gain weight on the lower half of her body (pear-shaped). If the qi that “holds and lifts” is weak, the body doesn’t have enough energy to carry a baby to term and may result in either miscarriage or inability to conceive.
A Chinese medicine practitioner can treat this pattern with herbs, acupuncture, diet and lifestyle changes that strengthen the qi, improve the digestion, and promote the body’s ability to maintain a pregnancy.
#3 – Infertility Due to Weak Reproductive Energy
In TCM, “Essence” is reproductive energy and the genetic material we inherit from our parents. It’s like a deep-pockets savings account of qi that is not meant for daily spending.
Essence controls all of the growth and development, reproductive function, and aging processes in the human body. Some signs of declining Essence are sore and cold knees and/or low back, a history of delayed onset of the menses, scanty blood flow during menses, low sex drive, fatigue and frequent urination. Weak essence can be caused by genetic inheritance, too much sex for men, too many pregnancies for a woman, or chronic over-taxing of energy by stress or poor diet and lifestyle.
These patients may exhibit poor sperm or egg quality, high FSH, and an inability to conceive or carry a baby to term. If the Essence is weak and a baby comes to term, he or she may have developmental issues.
Though western medicine tends to write off these patients as a lost cause with “advanced maternal age,” with consistent treatment OM techniques can help to reverse the effects of aging and increase the likelihood of successful conception and healthy pregnancy.
Oriental Medicine Can Treat Unexplained Infertility
A diagnosis of unexplained infertility need not be a dead end on your road to parenthood.
Acupuncture can harmonize and revitalize the body’s Qi, improving circulation of blood and energy to all vital organs. Most people find acupuncture to be a very relaxing experience leaving you energized and better able to manage the stress in your life. Treatments can restore depleted qi and help improve your reproductive potential.
Your practitioner may also recommend herbal medicine and/or diet and lifestyle changes to help make your body a welcoming place to grow your baby.
Your commitment and participation will help to optimize the success of your treatments. Simple things such as what to eat, what to drink, how to dress, stress level, or how much to sleep can drastically affect egg quality during its 85-day journey to maturation, likelihood of successful fertilization, as well as the subsequent implantation and development.