Today it is common practice to use Chinese medicine to treat issues with fertility. Whether this be in conjunction with Western treatments or alone, Chinese medicine certainly plays a significant role. Last week I talked about the importance of the Kidneys* in fertility. In today’s article I will focus on pathologies of the Heart and the Liver which influence fertility.
Both the Heart and the Liver* are strongly effected by emotions. Each organ system has its own emotion. The emotion of the Heart* is the Shen. The Shen is our consciousness, and manifests as joy. The Liver houses the Hun. The Hun manifests as nervousness and anxiety. When the Shen is out of balance the emotions will be hysterical, while the Hun will be angry and show rage. These emotions in turn can cause physical symptoms and can play a role in infertility.
Heart Qi (Energy) Stagnation
We talk about Heart Qi stagnation when the energy of the Heart becomes blocked. The Heart is a very important organ when it comes to ovulating regularly and on time. In Chinese medicine there is an important connection between the Heart and Uterus. In Western medicine we could describe this as the signals the brain sends to the ovaries for the growth and release of eggs.
Heart Qi stagnation is often caused by emotional causes which then causes psychosomatic symptoms. Most cases of chronic anovulation (lack of ovulation) is caused by emotional factors. Sudden shock and/or chronic anxiety or agitation, which may even stretch back to puberty.
As with a Kidney dysfunction leading to infertility, there will be typical symptoms that would indicate Heart Qi stagnation. These would then be what we call a Shen disturbance. Such symptoms could be palpitations, stuffiness in the chest, anxiety, insomnia and big swings in emotions from joy to sadness. Treatment of a Qi stagnation is focused on acupuncture, diet and life style changes.
Liver Qi (Energy) Stagnation
The Liver, like the Heart, is strongly influenced by the emotions. Stress is the main factor that easily obstructs the smooth flow of Liver Qi. Liver Qi stagnation is a very common pattern and can manifest at different times in the menstrual cycle, as the Liver channel crosses the reproductive organs. The free flow of Liver Qi is necessary for several of the processes of the normal menstrual cycle which involve movement. For example, the expulsion of the egg, the movement of the egg down the fallopian tubes and to the uterus – all of these processes require an unobstructed Liver Qi.
When the Liver Qi is unobstructed the ebb and flow of the hormones does so without symptoms. When the Chinese made these observations and developed these theories thousands of years ago they did not know of course that the liver, as we know it in Western physiological terms, is responsible for helping regulate hormone levels.1
Emotional stress at the time of ovulation can prevent the release of the egg and it can also inhibit the movement of the egg. The effect of stress on the Liver Qi is more commonly noticed by women towards the end of the cycle, when it manifests as premenstrual syndrome.
In my practice this is one of the most common patterns I see, as stress is a major factor in many people’s lives. Foods can also cause liver qi stagnation. Such foods include oily, greasy foods, fatty meats, dairy products, overeating, sugar and processed food. When people take a cigarette or a glass of wine to help them calm down, it’s a clear indication that the Liver Qi is stagnant. The cigarette and/or the wine is unblocking the stagnant Qi. This however will only be momentary, and the stagnation will soon return. The correct treatment for this pattern is acupuncture and herbs, with life style and diet changes.
Qi stagnation is commonly caused by emotional issues which quickly turn into physical symptoms. Therefore the cause of infertility can be based in the emotions, and to achieve fertility these emotions need to be dealt with along with, along with general life style changes.
The Heart, Liver, Kidney etc. are in capital letters as when I talk about the them I do so in relation to Chinese medicine which is not only the anatomical organ but also its functionality.