Treating infertility is becoming a specialist area within TCM and I feel very lucky whilst completing my Masters of TCM to have been able to study under “experts” such as Jane Lyttleton and Lily Liu (featured on Channel 9’s ACA program). Their wealth of experience, as well as that of TCM doctors such as Dr Lifang Liang working in San Francisco, is invaluable particularly in the relatively new area of combining herbal medicine and assisted reproduction techniques.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a long history related to infertility, as far back as 200 A.D herbs were documented as being used to treat infertility and miscarriage. Recent research has demonstrated the effectiveness of combining TCM and western medical treatments such as IVF procedures.

Traditional Chinese views are that infertility tends to arise from one or more of three prominent causes:

  1. A "deficiency" syndrome prevents the hormonal system from properly influencing the sexual and reproductive functions.
  2. A "stagnancy" syndrome prevents the sexual and reproductive organs from functioning despite normal hormone levels and normal ability to respond to hormones.
  3. A "heat" syndrome, which causes the affected organs to function abnormally. Heat syndromes may be associated with an infection or inflammatory process. (Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine).

TCM diagnosis is based on observation of the tongue, palpation of the pulse, and questions regarding general health and lifestyle. The Basal Body Temperature chart (BBT) is used to aid diagnosis, as are western medical tests and investigations.

Acupuncture and herbal therapy can be combined or used alone, depending on the diagnosis and patient preference. Fertility naturally declines with age and so it is sometimes advisable for couple to seek western medical treatment whilst pursuing TCM approaches.

Chinese herbal prescriptions usually contain between 5 and 20 herbs, and no one herb is considered useful alone to increase fertility. The prescription is varied through the phases of the menstrual cycle to stimulate the normal ebb and flow of the hormones. Most ingredients are of plant origin- roots, leaves, flowers and barks. Acupuncture is also applied differently during these phases to treat underlying causes and to encourage the hormonal changes that occur in a normal cycle.

The advantages of TCM

  1. Minimal side effects.
  2. Treatment aims at balancing the menstrual cycle not over riding it.
  3. In treating root causes, general health is improved.
  4. Response to Western medical treatments such as IVF is improved.

Conditions treated

  • Amenorrhea (absent cycles), or infrequent or irregular cycles, disorders of ovulation.

  • Post contraceptive pill amenorrhea (failure to recommence normal cycles after suppression by oral contraceptives).

  • Premature menopause.

  • Hyperprolactinaemia.

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome.

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease.

  • Endometriosis.

  • Blocked fallopian tubes.

  • Recurrent miscarriage.

  • Infertility of unknown cause.

  • IVF support- most clinics prefer patients do not take herbs whilst undergoing IVF and other assisted reproduction techniques. Treatment before and after is however very useful. Acupuncture is generally accepted during treatment cycles.

  • Male infertility – low sperm counts, poor morphology, reduced motility.

Treatment sessions for natural fertility are tailored around the stages of the menstrual cycle and generally a minimum of 3 cycles is recommended, however treatment for 6 to 12 months can sometimes be necessary.  When treatment is being used in conjunction with IVF or other western medical therapy it is preferable, but NOT essential to begin before the western medical treatment cycle.