“When should I start acupuncture treatments for fertility?” This one of the most common question I receive from women who are trying naturally or through assisted means. And my answer is almost always, “as soon as possible.”
About 9 to 12 months before a particular ovulation, a group of eggs are signaled to develop in the ovaries. About 3-4 months before ovulation, these eggs start interacting with the ovarian environment. Then one egg (we assume the most viable one) gets to ovulate and the rest are reabsorbed into the body. So the egg you ovulate this month has been in development for possibly the last 12 months. Recent research studies have shown that the health of the egg is most likely determined shortly before the ovulation and the health of the ovarian environment can affect the egg development. This does not mean that a woman has to have acupuncture for 12 months to experience benefit to your fertility. In my practice, I regularly see women and couples conceive naturally with as little as one or two months of acupuncture support. Research has shown that as little as two treatments delivered as late as the day-of-embryo-transfer still had a profound benefit to implantation rates1. So it’s never too late to start acupuncture, but it’s also never too early to better prepare.
And acupuncture is not the only thing you can or should do to improve your body’s environment. With all of my patients, I go over recommendations for adjusting the diet, lifestyle, and attitudes. I believe these are the greatest factors that women can control to improve the fertile potential.
Diet: I honestly think that we are literally what we eat. The cleaner we keep our diet, the cleaner our bodies will be. This means eating mostly organic, hormone-free, antibiotics-free, pasture raised, wild caught, etc. whenever possible. Many conventionally grown foods with pesticides and herbicides contain chemicals that are known to be hormone disruptors and/or reproductive toxins, which can affect the reproduction. Clean foods convert to clean tissue and clean stored energy that will provide a better environment for the newly implanted fetus in utero in the first few crucial weeks of its development. In IVF labs across the country, it is noted that survival of the embryos are better when the purified water is used in the embryo growth medium and when the air is purified in the laboratory. This illustrates the importance of the environment provided for the growth of the embryo.
According to Chinese medicine, raw and cold foods can impair the proper digestion, which can hinder the energy production necessary for fertility. Over and over again, patients are surprised by how much their digestion improves, they feel less bloated and have much healthier bowel habits just by changing from eating a bowl of raw veggies to cooked meals. Also, minimize processed foods, artificial sweeteners and fast foods.
Some of our daily habits, such as coffee and alcohol have been shown to impact fertility. A large scale European study involving over 3,000 women from 5 different countries in Europe showed that women who drank more than 500mg of caffeine per day (mostly coffee) slowed conception rate, especially in first time pregnancy2. This study was first initiated by the Yale Medical School five years prior, which showed the similar result. There is about 100-200mg of caffeine in an 8oz cup of brewed coffee; there is only about 25-45mg of caffeine in a 8oz cup of green tea. This may be an option for those heavy coffee drinkers to help reducing the daily coffee intake.
On another note, when eating, I recommend to try eating without checking emails, watching TV, and/or talking on the phone. Consider the food as source of nourishment and healing, and not just as something you do because of hunger and a necessity.
Lifestyle: In many female athletes, irregular menstruation or absence of menstruation is commonly reported3. From both the Chinese medicine and Western medicine perspective, this is not conducive to optimal fertility. Exercise is important in a healthy lifestyle; but over-exercise and/or vigorous exercise has been linked to increase in rate of infertility and increase in implantation failure and decrease in live birth rate in IVF4,5. From the Chinese medicine’s view, over-exercise is equated with too much expenditure of energy (Qi) which should be reserved for fertility. I recommend keeping the heart rate to 120 or below per minute with activities such as Yoga, Tai Chi, or leisurely walking when you are trying to conceive.
A question I frequently do not get asked regarding lifestyle is the sleep. This is the most underrated and ignored aspect in my opinion. Many of us tend to take sleep for granted. In Chinese medicine, quality sleep is essential in restoring and preserving fertile potential. Recent research shows that sleep deprivation can affect ovulation, testosterone production, metabolism, immune system and possible maintenance of pregnancy6–12. So, please try to get enough sleep- it’s when the body can repair itself. For those who have trouble sleeping, I highly recommend acupuncture and guided meditation/relaxation techniques to help sleeping before trying and relying on drug therapy.
Attitudes: Try and keep a broad perspective and try not to get caught up in all the day-to-day drama. I believe things works out one way or another, and often we do not know how that resolution will come about, but it always will resolve. Try and find time to meditate or just close your eyes for a few minutes and breathe a little to bring your awareness to the present, which most of us seem to forget to live in. Practice daily dose of gratitude, which has been found to have a positive benefit on state of well- being. And, be forgiving to ourselves and to others for no one is perfect.
Chinese medicine is all about balance and balance is a process, not a destination. More balanced body and mind will lead to the healthier happier future babies, and parents.
Jeanie Bussell is one of the top acupuncturists in the Midwest specializing in the treatment of infertility and women’s health and is a co-author of Fully Fertile – a 12 Week Program to Optimal Fertility by Findhorn Press. Jeanie practices with her husband, Jason Bussell, in their clinic near Chicago (http://www.acfom.com/) and also serves as the Director of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine for the Tiffani Kim Institute in Downtown Chicago. Jeanie is currently working on her PhD to be completed in 2015.
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