In North America toxicity is a much-misunderstood subject, especially when it comes to herbal toxicity. Toxin is a substance that acts against your health. It is a substance that a healthy person consumes and becomes sick or even worse dies from its consumption. When it comes to toxicity no less then 98% of western prescription drugs are highly toxic. This means that a healthy person will consume them and will fall ill from their consumption. However, when a person is ill, these active ingredients (toxins) help the body shift from a state of illness back into a state of health. These are called medicinal ingredients and not toxins. Chinese herbs like western drugs have these actions that can restore the patient’s health when consumed correctly at the right time. For example, when a patient comes in with severe cough and receives a formula that contains a “so called” toxic herb. He consumes the medicine and two days later the cough is gone and he restores his health. This herb is called medicinal herb and not toxic herb. The problem starts when patients consume herbs because they read or heard somewhere that it will be good for them. Herbs hurt few consumers not because the herbs are bad, but rather because the consumers abuse the herbs following wrong recommendations. If a patient wants to try a natural remedy for her infertility or any other health issue, she should consult a professional herbalist to do the right thing. A perfect example for that is the FDA ban on Ephedra/Ma Huang. Pharmaceutical companies who wanted to make a profit at the expanse of their consumers’ health abused this herb. Ephedra was misused for weight loss and body building and caused health problems for many consumers. The FDA banned this herb with an exception allowing Chinese medicine herbal remedies to continue and use it. The FDA has realized that there is no danger with a correct use of this herb. Major herbs’ wholesalers, such as Mayway corporation, sell these kind of herbs only to licensed professionals and not to the general public.
The advantage of herbs is the usage of their natural composition. One of the main problems with many western drugs is the reductionism notion that isolating an ingredient (also called active ingredient) from an herb equals consuming the entire herb. In reality this is not so. Using an entire plant is using nature on your side. The many different ingredients in a plant act as harmonizing. The herbs are natural just keep in mind that they are active. Active in shifting illness into health and vice versa. It is important to consume herbs when needed in the right dosage at the right time in a correct combination with other herbs (formula).
Chinese medicine has researched the use of herbs for many centuries. The rules and regulations for herbal formulas are numerous. When these rules are not followed the herbs will have an adverse effect. It is the same for western drugs. Physicians have to follow certain rules when advising a patient which drugs are good for her so to avoid complications and side effects. No patient will decide herself what hormones or drugs she should consume without consulting a physician. With herbs, however, many patients believe that “it is natural, it is good for you”. It is natural and it is good for you. You just have to be very knowledgeable to know when and how to use it. I have encountered several times online forums where one patient asks if anyone knows of a good herb to strengthen the uterus lining (for example) and another patient is recommending a herb. I will strongly recommend patients to avoid this kind of information gathering. This is where herbs toxicity comes into play. All in all in a common Chinese herbal pharmacy “toxic” herbs occupy not more then ten percent. When consumed properly there is no toxic problem whatsoever.
Feeling tired may be caused by various factors, among which the most common ones are spleen and lungs’ Qi deficiency and blood deficiency. Feeling tired is frequently a sign that something in the body is lacking. This shortage of energy or blood can manifest itself in many shapes and forms including preventing the reproductive system from operating correctly. If you feel constantly tired you need to examine the following issues: Is your job too stressful, do you eat a healthy diet, do you exercise but not over do it, do you sleep well and finally how much emotional strain do you experience during these difficult trying times of infertility? After you have found the answers make some necessary changes to adjust and help the energy and blood recover. Very often it is recommended to use herbal treatment and acupuncture. This will allow rapid improvement and recovery. In fact the main reason that IVF success rates increase dramatically when administered in conjunction with acupuncture is the rapid improvement in the Qi (energy) state following acupuncture sessions.
At your first appointment you will likely be asked to fill out an extensive questionnaire. In this questionnaire you will be asked a variety of questions ranging from past medical history, life style habits, symptoms you experience and specific questions concerning your infertility issues. When you are done with the questionnaire you will meet with the acupuncturist. The acupuncturist will use the information you provided and in addition will ask you a series of questions to gather further necessary information. The acupuncturist will examine your tongue and palpate you pulse. The tongue and pulse are very important assessment tools for any acupuncturist. With the pulse assessment the acupuncturist will feel the different qualities of the pulse such as being wiry, floating, weak, strong, scattered (28 different types altogether). Each pulse quality indicates several possible conditions and in combination with additional data from the tongue and other symptoms, the acupuncturist can determine the best approach for improving harmony. While observing the tongue the acupuncturist will study the tongue coating for being thin, thick, patchy, missing, yellow or white and the tongue body for being swollen, thin, short, long, pale, red, purple, cracked, deviated etc. The acupuncturist will determine the disharmony present and will explain it to you. You will then have the option to proceed with an acupuncture treatment and/or herbal supplements. If you are undergoing ART treatments, the acupuncture protocol for ART will be explained. If you are having an acupuncture treatment, extra fine disposable sterile needles will be inserted to specific acupuncture points. Normally 6-12 needles are used in each treatment and the treatment lasts from 20-40 minutes depending on the acupuncturist’s assessment. The treatments should be relaxing, peaceful and not painful. Some acupuncture points are more sensitive then others and you might experience stronger sensations that we name De Qi (reaching energy). At the end of the treatment you will feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
As I explained previously, reproductive health and general health are composed by many components. It is clear to everyone that abuse of drugs will cause a serious deterioration of ones health. This however does not mean necessarily a deterioration of ones reproductive health. A woman who is addicted to narcotic drugs or is dependent on prescription drugs can still get pregnant and carry to term. Narcotic drugs have, never the less, a devastating effect on ones health. The brain cells are damaged and many inner organs malfunction. In Chinese medicine we have realized that every single organ has several functions. For example, One of the Kidneys’ functions is related to reproduction. If narcotic drugs and health abuse will impair this particular function of the Kidneys, then a woman will not be able to conceive. However if the drugs impaired a different function of the Kidneys such as strengthening the bones, that woman will still be able to conceive. She will suffer from a different health problem such as weak bones, weak bone marrow, deficient immune system etc. The issue that occupies infertility patients most is of course the inability to conceive. It is very important for every patient to realize that general health and reproductive health are not two separate things. A good general health will always stand on the patient’s side when it comes to treating infertility.
Night sweats, in Chinese medicine, represent a disharmony within your health. We normally name this disharmony Yin deficiency. Yin is the energy within while Yang is the external energy. In reality we only have one energy, and this energy is everywhere in our body. Our energy has a special quality, namely, it expands during the day and it contracts during the night. That is why we feel energetic during the day and tired and ready to sleep at night. Expansion is a “Yang” quality while contraction is a “Yin” one. When the energy is harmonious its movements of expansion and contraction are unobstructed. However when the Yin is deficient, it is especially during the night that our energy starts to expand instead of contract. At this moment we will feel hot and night sweats will occur. Night sweats can be easily remedied with Chinese herbal formulas that strengthen the Yin energy. It is another example for the efficacy of Chinese medicine where western medicine at times stays puzzled.
Acupuncture does not hurt. In most cases the treatments are very relaxing and patients may even fall asleep. There are several sensations that are unique to acupuncture. Many patients who feel these sensations for the first time might confuse them with pain. However, with a short explanation the patient will be able to tell the difference. Swelling, tingling, warmth and electricity-like sensations are sensations we call De Qi (pronounced Chi). These are sensations of energy. Sometimes there is a slight sensation of pinching which is an undesirable sensation. The acupuncturist should be notified and the needle depth reduced until the pinching disappears. All in all, an acupuncture treatment should be a very enjoyable event.
There are more then one approach for using herbs and hormone treatments. From my experience and understanding it is not recommended to use Chinese herbs during hormone therapy. The knowledge behind Chinese herbal formulas is vast and sustained over many centuries. How to combine herbs into formulas? when to apply these formulas? and how to modify them? These questions have all been researched and explored for centuries. Artificial hormones and stimulating drugs have been researched thoroughly according to western medical guidelines. However, effects of combining drugs and herbs and their interactions have not been researched or proven to improve each other. Most Reproductive Endocrinologists will oppose the use of herbs in conjunction with hormone therapy for the exact same reason. Traditional Chinese medicine believes in a slow gradual enhancement of one’s health. For this to happen the herbs lead the patient in a certain direction. Many times I have discovered that stimulating drugs and hormone therapy lead the patient in a different direction. The direction is to retrieve maximum amount of eggs at the shortest period of time for optimum chances with fertilization. My conclusion is that leading the patient in two opposite directions will not benefit the patient. During stimulation the best option will be acupuncture treatments, where no drug-herb interaction is possible. It is important to understand that herbs are natural and good for you as long as they are used in a correct way. Mixing drugs and herbs is not.
It is important to understand first what poor egg quality means. Poor quality ovum (egg) is an ovum that does not perform well with fertilization. The ovum does not respond well and does not develop in most cases into an embryo. The reason that eggs have poor quality is not because we acquire them from an external bad source, it is because the body produces them not the way it should. Many ART patients who produce excellent quality eggs still do not succeed with conception, while other patients with few or only one poor quality egg might succeed in getting pregnant. The patient’s age is a factor, yet the patient’s health is even a bigger factor with the production of quality eggs and the success of conception and pregnancy. The goal of Chinese herbal formulas is to restore the patient’s health and to increase by that the chances of conception and successful pregnancy. When conception rate increases then egg quality increases. I have had numerous patients who have reported bad egg quality who later on succeeded with natural conception or produced excellent egg quality by following cycles of ART.
According to Traditional Chinese Medical Theory the male sperm is part of the kidneys’ essence and functions. There are two kinds of energy, which constitute the kidneys’ energy. One is called Yin energy while the other is called Yang energy. When these energies are vital, the kidneys’ functions of controlling and maintaining the essence are in order and the sperm tends to be vital and vibrant. On the other hand, when the kidneys’ energies are lacking or deficient, the sperm tends to be deprived of life and ability. According to centuries long experience under such conditions, the acupuncturist will use the correct acupuncture points to strengthen the kidneys’ Yin and Yang energies and by that help the sperm regain vitality. It is off course important to assess the harmony in the entire body, as disharmonies with other organs might affect the kidneys and essence as well. Most commonly, acupuncture treatment will include the entire body and the general health. The kidneys sustain general health and in return general health will strengthen the kidneys.
Many herbs are good for solving infertility while many others will cause infertility to worsen. Each herb has specific qualities and actions. Herbs can be hot, warm, cool or cold. They might have any of the flavors; sour, sweet, pungent, salty and bitter. Herbs have specific meridians and organs that they reach out to as well as specific actions that they possess such as clearing heat, invigorating the blood, tonifying the Yin etc. When treating infertility, it is important to understand that root-causes for infertility are many. They can be: blood deficiency, blood stagnation, liver and kidney Yin deficiency, kidney and spleen Yang deficiency, cold uterus, qi deficiency and qi stagnation just to name a few. Each herb or a combination of herbs can remedy one root-cause. It is then not possible to have one single herb, which is good for infertility. Infertility has many root-causes. Each root-cause has to be diagnosed correctly and treated with the right herbs accordingly. Many times I receive emails with questions such as: “I read that the herb Dang Gui will help me solve my infertility, but after taking it I didn’t get my periods for 5 months. How is that possible?” An infertility patient should only take herbs after she consulted with an herbalist.
As I explained in previous issues, each herb has specific qualities and functions. The way Chinese herbs work is entirely dependent on the correct differentiation of the disharmony. The herb Dang Gui has a warm quality. It is sweet and slightly pungent in flavor. It reaches to the liver, heart and the spleen meridians. Dang Gui helps strengthening the blood, removing blood stagnation, regulating the menses, stopping pain and lubricating the intestines. Infertility is a result of various possible disharmonies. Several disharmonies will get better with the consumption of Dang Gui, however other disharmonies will get worse. This means that if you suffer from blood stagnation, Dang Gui might help your problem, however if you do not suffer from blood stagnation, your condition might worsen with the consumption of Dang Gui. In addition, most disharmonies are a complex of several organs that are involved at the same time. It is then necessary to use herbal formula, which is composed of several herbs, targeting the different problems. That is why in three thousand years of Chinese herbal history, thousands of herbal formulas were composed to help with different health problems, and with one exemption all formulas contained 2 or more herbs. In conclusion, taking Dang Gui as a single herb will not help your infertility. In many cases patients will start having irregular menses. The problem is not with Dang Gui, it is rather with the misuse of it. If you would like to take Dang Gui, consult with your herbalist, or with a professional who has extensive herbal medicine background first.
The acupuncture protocol for IVF does not use the same acupuncture points for each patient. The group of points should be selected according to the individual disharmony pattern. During the protocol course the acupuncture points should be modified according to the patient’s health and the progress of the IVF protocol. Certain points are more beneficial during the wind down cycle prior to stimulation. Other points are better during stimulation, while different points yet are preferred during post-transfer/progesterone phase.
Elevated FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) levels represent a deterioration of the reproductive system. This deterioration of the reproductive system is a by-product of deteriorating health and inner harmony. Chinese Medicine works hard at restoring the inner harmony and the innate natural health of the patient. When the inner health is restored, it includes the health of the reproductive system and the normal FSH levels. It is true that women at a certain age can no longer become pregnant, at which time the FSH levels are high. However in most cases it is prematurely elevated FSH levels that actually reflect a poor state of health, rather the inability to conceive.
There are many studies and recommendations for acupuncture and IVF. Having acupuncture half an hour before and after retrieval and transfer, might lend some good psychological help to the patient, however, acupuncture is not a quick fix. To really gain the benefits of acupuncture, a course of several treatments is needed. Chinese medicine has clear guidelines what it takes for a patient to recover and get better. A Chinese medical diagnosis is called for and an adequate number of treatments should be in place. This is a correct Chinese medical treatment and the patient will benefit from it greatly. On days of retrieval, transfer or insemination, my recommendation for patients, who are seeking the help of acupuncture for IVF and IUI, is to go home, rest and have as little stress as possible. As it is, these days are plentiful already. Acupuncture treatments on other days, pre and post retrieval/transfer, will lend adequate and even better support.
According to Chinese medicine the best time to have intercourse and try to conceive is in the morning hours. This is the time when the body is most rested and refreshed as well as the time when the Yang (active) energy rises. At this time the sperm and the circulation are at their best. At night the body is exhausted from the long day. It is the Yin (passive) time when everything goes to sleep. That includes the sperm and the circulation of Qi (energy) and blood. If the mornings are very stressful and time is short, the night will be good as well. Extra stressful mornings will not be very helpful for conception. However if the mornings are not too busy, this will be the best time for conception to occur.
The acupuncturist will place the needles in specific locations around your body. We call these locations acupuncture points. Each person has several hundreds of acupuncture points distributed on all parts of their body. Many points prove to be more useful then others when it comes to infertility treatments. Depending on the acupuncturist and his philosophy, some like to use local acupuncture points on the lower abdomen and on the lower back, while other tend to use distal points on the arms and legs. In my practice, I support a traditional view of the meridians and the idea that the farther the points are located from the inner organs, the more energetically impact there is. I thus tend to use different acupuncture points that are located on the arms and legs below the knees and below the elbows.
To gain the true benefits of Chinese Medicine the patient must understand that there is a difference between Chinese medicine and Western medicine. Chinese medicine has a complete system of physiology and pathology, which is different then Western medicine. The ailments/disharmonies that Chinese medicine is diagnosing are as well different then Western medicine. In Chinese medicine there is no such diagnosis as elevated FSH levels or PCOS. The hormone system in the body belongs to Western medical theory. However, Chinese medicine has its own causes and diagnosis for infertility, such as liver Yin deficiency, blood deficiency, kidney Yang deficiency, liver Qi stagnation etc. These causes for infertility belong to Chinese medicine and cannot be treated with Western medical treatments, because of the simple reason that these causes are not part of the Western medical system. Bottom line is that both medical systems try their best to diagnose and treat infertility, however, mixing the two together will not necessarily produce the best results. For 2,000 years Chinese medicine has worked wonderfully by following the Chinese medical guidelines and treatment principles. For a patient who suffers elevated FSH levels or PCOS these might seem the only causes why she cannot get pregnant. However, the patient must remember that elevated FSH levels is caused by their own body and the same goes for PCOS and blocked fallopian tubes. These problems, which are very real, come to life within the body. That means that your own body causes these problems and that they are not introduced from the outside. In Chinese medicine, the treatment is different then Western medicine. It aims at restoring the original correct body functions. Many times health problems that rise from within are solved from within. In Chinese medicine we say that, for example, liver blood stagnation will cause intra-menstrual bleeding, which is a similar symptom to fibroids. When liver blood stagnation is resolved, the intra-menstrual bleeding stops and may not come back. This might have implications in regards to the fibroids, such as the body stop producing them. The treatment strategy is however different. Western medicine removes the fibroid surgically while Chinese medicine aims at curing the liver blood stagnation. Both might have the same result with different methods. The same is true for infertility. Western medicine will treat PCOS, blocked fallopian tubes and hormonal imbalances, while Chinese medicine will treat liver Yin, kidney Yang, spleen Qi etc. The end result is that the patient will get pregnant. Different methods, different strategies all with the same goal.
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