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Natural Fertility: Boosting Fertility with Chinese Medicine

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by | 6 views
by Lorne Brown BSc, Dr. TCM, FABORM
www.acubalance.ca
 

Infertility, or what I prefer to call sub-fertility (the inability to get pregnant after one year of unprotected sex), affects one in six couples in North America. The good news is that if you or your partner does not have a structural infertility problem, like blocked fallopian tubes, there is a lot you can do to improve your fertility naturally.

In Chinese medicine, the most important time to boost fertility and optimize the health of your baby-to-be is during the three to four months before conception occurs. Western medicine now knows that the egg that is selected to ovulate each month is recruited three to four months before ovulation, so it is during this crucial period that hormone levels and overall health and wellbeing affect the development of the potential egg and the thickness and receptivity of the uterine lining. That's why, in Chinese medicine, we say the best way to achieve a healthy pregnancy and baby is to nourish the soil before you plant the seed.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been used for centuries to optimize reproductive health and boost fertility. And there is a growing body of Western medical studies showing the benefit of acupuncture and Chinese herbs both for natural conception and to enhance in vitro fertilization (IVF).

But, in addition to these treatment modalities, Chinese medicine uses diet, exercise and stress reduction to rebalance the body and restore fertility. And even if you don't have fertility issues, following what I call "The Three Free Therapies"-diet, lifestyle & exercise, and stress reduction-can ensure that you are in the best health to get pregnant and have a healthy baby.

Our Fertility Diet incorporates 2,000 years of Chinese medicine food therapy, current nutritional research and a groundbreaking study based on the Harvard Nurses' Health Study that tracked over 18,000 women. The results of the study found a six-fold increase in fertility in women who ate a certain diet and maintained a certain lifestyle.

Both current research and ancient Chinese practice show that healthy eating for fertility is based on a natural, whole-foods, plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet that includes the following:

Whole Foods

Whole foods are foods that are in the state that Mother Nature made them (the apple versus apple juice), minimally processed, and refined as little as possible before being eaten. Whole foods provide maximum nutrients, fiber, enzymes, antioxidants and taste without added artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, sweeteners or trans fats.

Slow Carbs

Slow carbohydrates are a group of carbohydrates that are slowly digested, causing a slower and lower rise in blood sugar after being eaten. They include beans, peas, lentils, whole grains and most vegetables. Eating slow carbs helps to minimize insulin resistance, regulate blood sugar, balance fertility hormones and prevent gestational diabetes.

High insulin levels send fertility hormones out of whack, increasing levels of testosterone (the male hormone responsible for facial hair, acne, and hair loss) and decreasing levels of progesterone (the hormone responsible for building a rich uterine lining).

Plant-Based Foods

Plant-based foods include a rainbow of high-fiber fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. These foods are loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients that counter inflammation (a common cause of infertility) and nourish your reproductive system.

A plant-based diet means that most (but not necessarily all) of the diet is based on plant foods. In addition, we recommend deep water fish like salmon, small amounts of grass-fed meat, and free-range poultry and eggs.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats and oils are those that are pressed naturally from whole-plant foods (coconuts, nuts, seeds, avocado, olives) and short-lived, deep sea fish like salmon, herring and mackerel. OmegaVeg with echium oil (from the borage plant family) is another good source of healthy fats that combat cellular inflammation and improve hormonal sensitivity.

Healthy Weight

Maintaining your optimum weight by eating a plant-based diet, watching portion size, and exercising daily is crucial for fertility. Strive for a body mass index (BMI) of between 20 and 25 and a waist circumference (WC) of less than 35" for women and less than 40" for men.

Exercise & Lifestyle

Exercise may be as important as diet for balancing your hormones and improving your mood.

Exercise burns calories and helps regulate your insulin levels, reversing some of the metabolic imbalances that contribute to weight gain and fertility problems.

And, in addition, when you exercise your body rewards you by releasing a cascade of feel-good hormones (endorphins). These endorphins are Mother Nature's antidepressants, lowering your stress and boosting your sense of wellbeing.

You can get the positive effects of exercise by just walking for 30 minutes every day. You can amplify the effect of your workout by incorporating more activity into your daily routine: try parking your car a few blocks from work or your destination, take stairs instead of an elevator whenever possible, hike, bike, swim or join a dance class. There are so many ways to get moving!

Stress Reduction

Chronic stress can have a powerful effect on your body as whole and your fertility in particular. Stress is when you perceive a threat (this can be a negative thought as much as an external danger), and your body releases a cascade of stress hormones, including cortisol, to put you in a flight or fight response.

Signs of stress and high cortisol include:

 * Irritability
 * Difficulty concentrating
 * Food cravings
 * Disturbed sleep
 * Frequent illness
 * Abdominal weight gain

Stress shuts down all non-essential systems and directly affects the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovary Axis (HPO) which regulates fertility hormones. As well, stress diverts blood supply away from the ovaries and interferes with your body?s ability to respond to even balanced hormones.

We have already mentioned exercise as a potent way to manage stress. The five herbs in AdrenaSense also help the body to adapt to stress. As well, self care, meditating and mind-body programs can help reduce distress and promote deep relaxation.

Take time each day to nurture yourself: read an inspiring book, have a massage, go to the spa, keep a journal, garden, pamper yourself with a bubble bath with candles and music, or have a walk in nature.

Meditating, connecting to what's important to you, and expressing gratitude all help to counter stress and promote a greater sense of wellbeing. This allows your body to relax and naturally rebalance your reproductive hormones.

Finally

Humans are social beings, and studies have shown that having a supportive community of family and friends is the most important determinant of mental and physical health.

Studies have described a "tend and befriend" response to stress in women where women seem to deal with stressful situations by bonding together with other women and nurturing each other.

Dr. Randine Lewis, author of the Fertility Cure, uses the healing power of sisterhood in her fertility retreats and treatments. If you are feeling isolated, seek out a mind-body or fertility support group in your area.

When to see a fertility specialist:

 * Under 35 and have been trying to conceive for one year
 * Over 35 and have been trying to conceive for six months

What to look for in choosing a Chinese medicine practitioner

It is important to ask whether the clinic or practitioner you are considering focuses their practice primarily on fertility and has had experience and additional training in Chinese medicine reproductive health. You can go to the website of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine to find practitioners in your area who have been certified by the ABORM.

Dr. Lorne Brown, BSc, Dr. TCM, FABORM, is the founder and clinical director of Acubalance Wellness Centre. As a sought after authority on fertility and Chinese medicine, Dr. Brown has been featured in national publications like Maclean's and The Globe and Mail and has frequently appeared on local and national TV and radio, including CBC, CTV, City TV and Shaw TV.

by Lorne Brown BSc, Dr. TCM, FABORM (www.acubalance.ca)

Research

Acupuncture and Assisted Conception. Cheong Y et al, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Nov 2008, Issue 4. Cochrane Review.

Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis. Manheimer E et al. BMJ 2008, 336: 545-549.

Ovarian blood flow responses to electro-acupuncture stimulation at different frequencies and intensities in anaesthetized rats. Stener-Victorin E et al. Autonomic Neuroscience. 2003 October 31; 108(1-2): 50-5.

Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: tend-and-befriend, not fight-or-flight Psychol Rev. 2000 Jul; 107(3): 411-29.

Acupuncture in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Current Experimental and Clinical Evidence. Stener-Victorin, E. Jedel and L. Manneras. Journal of Neuroendocrinology. 20, p 290-298.

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