Unexplained Infertility: A TCM Perspective
About 60% of the women that come to my practice for infertility treatment are coming with unexplained infertility. This is an obvious large percentage and therefore an important area for me to explore. When I say unexplained, I am giving the western diagnosis that was given to these women before they came to me. For me however, in Chinese medicine you are not going to see a woman coming with infertility showing no explainable root cause. The root cause is simply not understood from a western viewpoint.
The common patterns that cause infertility, and that are not associated with a particular western disease include Kidney Jing (Essence) deficiency, Kidney Yin and/or Yang deficiency, Liver Qi and/or Blood stagnation or deficiency, Spleen Qi deficiency, Damp/Phlegm accumulation. Depending on the syndrome, the root cause can come from exposure to external factors, incorrect eating habits, unhealthy or unclean food and/or drink, stress, or other emotional problems, or a life imbalance such as too much work and not enough rest. These are but a few things that can influence the organs and cause infertility.
The Role Food and Environment Plays in Fertility
Let’s start with external factors that influence fertility. It is important for a woman to stay warm. Especially the feet and around the mid to low line. Men need to insure they are not overheating, in fact sperm thrive at about 20 degrees Celsius. The temperature of food is also important and a point generally not raised in western medicine. Don’t overcook or deep fry your food, don’t eat raw foods as this weakens the digestive system.
Eat your food in a calm and serene manner, not at your desk. Don’t consume cold drinks either. This will also put out the digestive fire which will lead to putting out the reproductive fire. A good example of the worse type of food is ice cream. The ingredients include cream, which is phlegm producing, sugar which causes hormonal imbalances, and it is cold which puts out the digestive fire. Foods that I generally tell my patients to avoid include dairy, cold or fatty foods, sugar, caffeine and too much meat. As for other foods it depends on the person and their constitution. This incorrect eating will cause the Spleen Qi deficiency, leading to low energy and absorption issues and may lead to damp and/or phlegm, which is sticky and blocks energy and fluid in the uterus.
If you are not absorbing all the nutrients in your food, then you are not getting enough vitamins, minerals and trace elements, and these are essential to maintain the body functions and ensure fertility. Take supplements if you are in any way deficient and not eating about 500 grams of organic vegetables a day.
Other Root Causes Which Influence Fertility
Other factors that influence fertility are syndromes such as Liver Qi stagnation, which is caused by long standing stressful situations or Liver Blood deficiency caused by low blood levels, perhaps from your inability to absorb iron from food or excess bleeding. Liver Blood stagnation occurs normally from low blood levels or from internal or external cold. The Liver in Chinese medicine stores Blood as well as guides Blood in and out of the Uterus. As the Liver is the organ most effected by stress it stands to reason that stress will cause a Blood disharmony. Dealing with stress is therefore a priority. Reduce your work load if you want to conceive. Take time for yourself and for your partner.
In Chinese medicine the Kidneys are perhaps the most important organ involved in reproduction. Kidney Jing is present from birth. If the infertility is derived from a Kidney Jing deficiency this is a fundamental reproductive insufficiency from birth. Kidney Jing is responsible for foetal development, birth, growth and puberty. It is the origin of the libido and sexual desire and promotes the opening and closing of the uterus. The Kidneys are responsible for our youth and therefore any premature decline. Emotionally, the Kidney are affected by trauma, shock and emotional upset which may lead to the release of small amounts of prolactin, which tricks the body into thinking it is pregnant. The best treatment for a Kidney disharmony is acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas as well as dealing on a psychological level with any emotional issues.
Finally, a word about the Heart. The Heart homes the Shen, which is our consciousness. It unites the Yin (Blood) and the Yang (Fire). It promotes the opening and receiving of sperm to egg as well as embryo to endometrium, so the implantation. Overwork and lack of rest and sleep will disturb all the organs but in particular the Heart Fire which will be unable to send energy (Qi) to the Kidneys and will cause infertility.
Lifestyle Factors That Influence Fertility
I would like to bring your attention to other factors that impact fertility. Smoking has been known to accelerate follicular depletion, bring menstrual abnormalities and mutations of the embryo. Marijuana impairs ovulatory function and alcohol decreases fertility in women and semen quality in men. Stimulants like caffeine delay conception and increase miscarriage. So, as you can see it is imperative to avoid these substances.
When a patient comes to me with ‘unexplained’ infertility I dismiss this diagnosis, as there is always a root cause and it’s just a question of getting to the bottom of it.