An Introduction to Infertility in Chinese Medicine

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In Chinese Medicine each and every organ system simultaneously nourishes and moves the next. If there is an imbalance in any of the systems, this will have an effect on the body as a whole both physically and mentally. This complex interaction is what creates and ensures health. For this reason of codependence, every organ system can influence fertility and when disturbed cause symptoms of infertility. These are therefore often a considerably complicated mix of symptoms rather than a clear text book case.

In the West infertility is given many labels such as PCOS or fibroids, however in Chinese Medicine we can easily divide the symptoms into four main patterns. Today I will talk about disturbances of the Kidney, as I find these to be the most common patterns.

The main organ system involved in unexplained infertility is the Kidney. The Kidney holds the bodies Jing (Essence), which is our source of youth and fertility. The Kidney Essence is responsible for the maturation of the reproductive organs. A deficiency of Jing will give rise to a late onset of puberty, any obvious developmental issues, little development of the sexual organs, like for example small breasts and/or under functioning of the ovaries. Early greying or signs of early aging are also signs of a Jing deficiency. In relation to fertility this would also indicate early signs of menopause, long cycles and little or no bleeding. Treatment of this syndrome will be focused on the quality of the eggs or the sperm, with specific herbal formulas, nourishing foods and acupuncture.

Kidney Yin deficiency is very common today as both men and women tend to start in later years with creating a family. Furthermore, lifestyle factors can drain Yin, such as stress, overworking and lack of sleep. Yin represents the body’s substances, that being body fluids and blood. Women often have problems with blood levels, and Yin deficiency symptoms will arise if women are undernourished. Yin can quickly become depleted from fad diets, fast or processed foods causing malnourishment and an inappropriate amount of rest. Signs of Yin deficiency include little or no periods or heavy periods due to heat in the body. Physically the body may be thin, there could be sweating at night, low grade afternoon fever, a feeling of anxiety and nervousness and difficulty sleeping, as well as dry skin and hair. The treatment focus will be on nourishing Yin (body substances) through diet, herbs, acupuncture and lifestyle changes. 

Kidney Yang deficiency can also be a cause of infertility. Yang is the warmth and energy in our body; it is our Qi. Where Yin nourishes, Yang moves. Yang can become deficient after long term exposure to cold, a long standing Yin deficiency which exhausts Yang, or due to excess exercise draining the energy of the body. Symptoms of this syndrome include puffiness and lethargy, low libido and lack of motivation, lower back and/or knee pain, diarrhea and an aversion to cold weather. Dysmenorrhea, painful periods, can occur as the Yang energy is unable to move the blood. The treatment principle will be concentrated on warming and tonifying Yang through the use of herbs, diet, acupuncture and an appropriate amount of rest.

As the Kidneys play a major role in fertility it is often the case that both Kidney Yin & Yang could be deficient. When this is the case there can be a confusing mix of symptoms. This diagnosis is often the case in women with unexplained infertility, present in women in their late 30’s onward and not presenting with one particular outstanding symptom. A BBT, basal body temperature, chart will often show a slow reluctant rise in temperature and/or only a small rise in temperature at ovulation.

Depending on the diagnosis, I would therefore create a treatment plan suited to each part of the cycle. The menstrual cycle can be divided into four phases. The first, Yang phase is the shedding of the endometrium and the ripening of the follicle, the second phase being the Yin phase with the thickening of the endometrium and growth of the follicle, leading up to ovulation, and the fourth phase being the degradation of the lining. Each phase is important and depending on the issue, there may be a problem in only one or all four phases. Herbal formulas and specific acupuncture points are then created in order to treat and assist in each of these 4 phases.

Chinese medicine is a particularly useful form of treatment to help both men and women dealing with infertility. It is also important to look at one’s lifestyle and make changes to assist in regaining fertility.

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