- Ariella is 32 and has been trying to get pregnant for the last year.
- As soon as she stopped taking the pill, she experienced irregular cycles, and headaches and cramps around her period
- Her family doctor’s only suggestion was to see a fertility specialist who suggested IVF which was too expensive.
- She tried tracking her cycle with an app but it wasn’t helping.
More than 10% of American women struggle to become (or stay) pregnant. Infertility has been on a steady incline over the past few decades and it’s estimated that by 2025, there will be close to 10 million couples struggling to have a baby.
Fertility challenges may be common but in Ariella’s case, I suspected that the root of the problem had been hiding for a long time. My first clue was that she’d started taking birth control pills over a decade ago in order to deal with similar symptoms of her period. The pill may have masked the symptoms, but they didn’t solve the problem. If she wanted to get pregnant, we would have to deal with the root cause.
Kymberly Kelly is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in New York City. She has a Master’s of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego, California and is a Diplomat with the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). She specializes in fertility enhancement and pregnancy support so I knew she would be just the person to discuss Ariella’s case with.
The Chinese Medicine Approach
Just like functional medicine, Chinese medicine looks at the individual and knows that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. They know that the entire body constitution must be considered to solve an issue. Kymberly explains that fertility issues are not just about the sex organs. You have to look at the systems and find the pattern constitution. For example, she would look at someone dealing with headaches and consider what happens alongside those headaches. This might be triggers or other symptoms that will give a clearer sense of what treatment is going to solve the problem not just mask it. This is quite true for those suffering from Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which is a common cause of infertility.
Internal Weather Conditions
Chinese medicine describes phenomenon that are happening in the body by likening it to what was happening in the outside world. So, for example, you might talk about the body’s internal environment as windy, dry, damp, hot or cold the same way you would describe the weather. These conditions are apparent to the trained eye of a Chinese medicine practitioner and help tell the story of what is happening with the different bodily systems that could be causing an issue. Plus, your internal body condition will respond to the external conditions. So, if you have a damp constitution, you might feel worse when it’s humid or raining outside. You might also feel worse when you eat ‘damp’ food like tofu or dairy. But, there is a way to balance out these internal conditions.
Diagnosing Body Constitution Patterns
There are no diagnostic tests to determine if you are damp, dry, hot, or cold internally; Chinese medicine tests are subjective. Kymberly explains that she has to ask a lot of questions around sleep, digestion, thirst, and temperature to see what the body is experiencing and how all of the systems are functioning together. She feels different pulses, to get a clear picture of what’s going on in the body. And, she will take a look at the tongue. Does it have teeth marks around the edge, thick coating, or really distended veins underneath? Each of these things can be significant to determining the internal state of the body.
Chinese Medicine Treatment for Infertility
Each patient is going to have their own unique treatment plan based on the assessment of their constitutional patterns and the internal state of their body. However, Kymberly says that 99% of treatments for fertility include acupuncture. Acupuncture works well to adjust the qi in the body and reset certain systems. She often starts with that and then adds herbal treatments one at a time so that she can determine what’s working and not working. It’s a process and it may take some time and some treatment-tweaking to restore fertility.
Stress, Infertility and Acupuncture
Stress can dramatically affect fertility, especially if it is chronic. If the body is in a permanent parasympathetic state, the environment is not right for creating new life. When we think of it in terms of fight or flight, a body in this state will not do anything to decrease the chances of survival (as a pregnancy would) so it shuts down fertility. So many of us are dealing with constant low-level stress that it can be hard to believe that this is the cause of infertility. Acupuncture can counter that parasympathetic state and calm the central nervous system down. Reducing stress is often step one in dealing with infertility.
Reproductive Battery Pack
Chinese medicine recognizes that there are many systems that support the reproductive system. Clearing or restoring Qi flow to these systems can be critical in solving infertility issues. The kidney systems is one of these crucial systems because it must be in balance for the body to create follicle and to build some endometrial lining. Each must be functioning for ovulation to come to fruition at ovulation. The liver system is also crucial because it is closely linked to the release of hormones through the cycle. A well functioning liver system will help the hormonal transitions through the cycle with ease, which is ideal for fertilization. Stagnation of the liver system, on the other hand, can lead to challenges with reproduction. These organ systems have a role to play in the overall energetic system and the blood system. If either or both of these experience stagnation, the result can cause fertility issues.
Food and Infertility
Chinese medicine regards food (and it’s role in the body’s constitution) a little differently than a nutritionist. While I might look at the nutrients, Chinese medicine is a little more focused on the nature of the foods. So, instead of the vitamins and minerals they are looking at the temperature, the thickness, the dampness and how those attributes impact the body’s internal environment. According to Chinese medicine, those can affect the way the body functions. And, eating warm food is better for digestion (because cold signals a shut down while warm activates). Having said that, Kymberly is a big proponent of Chinese medicine in combination with good nutrition – she would just caution against eating cold or raw things. She is also a big proponent of bone broth, especially for women wanting to get pregnant.
Are Menstrual Cycle Apps Useful?
One of the things that Ariella was doing was tracking her menstrual cycle using an app. These apps can be helpful but, as was the case with Ariella, they don’t always tell the whole story. Instead, I had her track her temperature which revealed that she was not ovulating when she thought she was. Kymberly agrees that it’s important to track everything that is happening in your body throughout the course of your cycle. This would include body temperature, cervical fluid and any other indicator of hormonal shifts.
Top 3 Tips for Getting Pregnant
- Track Your Cycle
Don’t rely strictly on an app, track as many indicators as you can to paint as clear a picture as possible.
- Balance Nutrition
Eat nutrient rich foods that are warm (not cold or raw). Specifically, ensure you’re getting enough protein (bone broth and other animal protein is ideal), plants with chlorophyll, as well as essential fatty acids like you’d find in avocado, coconut and olive oils, and fatty fish.
- Reduce Stress
This includes stressing about getting pregnant! Remember, it can take time. It can take 6-12 months for a perfectly healthy couple to get pregnant so don’t put too much pressure on each cycle.
These tips proved successful for Ariella. One of the most important clues to solving her mystery was when we realized that she was not ovulating in the middle of her cycle as the app assumed. She was actually ovulating on day 21!
While she wasn’t able to see Kymberly (due to living on the other side of the country) she did see an acupuncturist. We worked together on monitoring her cycle (the right way) and balancing her biochemistry.
Specifically, Ariella started taking omega 3s as well as evening primrose oil. We also added magnesium and did two months of calcium d glucarate to help her better detoxify estrogen (creating a better estrogen to progesterone balance).
After two months on the nutrition changes and weekly acupuncture, her ovulation moved from day 21 to day 16. She was also feeling much more even, had less cramps, and her premenstrual headaches were much better. Two months after that (which was four months after starting everything), she got pregnant naturally.
Ariella was of course thrilled and has gone on to have a healthy baby boy last year. Of course I also supported her during her pregnancy and she really felt great during that whole time. She was taking the Prenatal Brilliance and Brilliant DHA, zinc, phos choline and magnesium and continued with those postpartum while she was nursing.
Eliminating Health Mysteries
For Ariella, we were able to get to the root problem (and avoid expensive IVF) to create a perfect environment for pregnancy. Do you know someone who is struggling to get pregnant? Perhaps this episode could help them reach their dreams of pregnancy.
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