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Infertility: Meaning, Causes and How to Overcome it

Infertility means a lot to the happiness of some couples. This article gives tips to improve the fertility for couples struggling to conceive.

A partial view of a couple with the man holding a pregnancy test

Malaysia’s infertility rate, is steadily rising. Infertility is a condition where a couple is unable to conceive after a year of trying. Data from the United Nations’ World Population Prospects shows that in 2022, the fertility rate in Malaysia saw a 0.87% decline from last year. In 2021, the rate was a 0.91% decrease, and in 2020, 0.85%. 

This declining trend is hardly a surprise, especially since infertility is linked to social factors such as anxiety and depression. Considering how stressful the last few years have been due to the pandemic, the loss of jobs, and an increase in stress, it’s no wonder that the rate of infertility keeps climbing. 

Fortunately for couples looking to get pregnant, infertility might be manageable. Read on to find out what causes infertility and some tips that could help in overcoming the condition.

Causes of Infertility  

Internal and external factors can cause infertility.

External Causes of Infertility 

A study on Malaysian infertile couples published in 2020 cites the following lifestyle behaviours as contributors to the ever-declining fertility rate in the country: 

  1. Postponement of marriage 
  2. Later age of the first child 
  3. Higher divorce rate 
  4. High educational status of women 
  5. A modernised society 
  6. High standard of living 

Among these behaviours, the postponement of marriage leading to delayed childbearing may be a major contributor. This is because the human body experiences many physiological changes as it gets older. For example, the quality of semen would begin to decline when a man reaches the age of 35.

Although ageing affects fertility in both men and women, the female reproductive system is more vulnerable. A woman’s eggs reduce in quality and quantity over the years. As a result, her fertility will have rapidly declined by the time she is 35 years old.

Apart from the six factors listed, other factors that may cause infertility include poor nutrition, smoking, substance abuse, a lack of physical exercise, radiation from mobile phones and mental instability. 

A woman looking disappointingly at a pregnancy test with the back of a frustrated man in the background.
Malaysia’s infertility rate has been on an uprise over the past few years.

Internal Causes of Infertility According to Traditional Chinese Medicine 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Liver, Spleen and Kidneys are the three most important organs because of their roles in regulating blood and qi. Of the three organs, the Kidneys are responsible for the reproductive system.

This doesn’t mean that other organs don’t have an impact on fertility. According to TCM, someone is fertile when all systems of their body and mind are working efficiently. A well-rested person of great physical and mental vitality would have properly functioning systems. 

TCM classifies the roots of infertility, based on gender. Male infertility can be caused by: 

  • Kidney Yang Deficiency 

Symptoms: Cold, fatigue, paleness, excessive clear urine 

  • Kidney Yin Deficiency 

Symptoms: Night sweats, anxiety, irritability, fidgety 

  • Liver Qi Stagnation 

Symptoms: Emotional and physical imbalance 

  • Dampness/Heat 

Symptoms: Decreased urine output, bloating 

  • Qi and Blood Deficiency 

Symptoms: Fatigue, chronic illness 

  • Heart and Spleen Deficiency 

Symptoms: Insomnia, palpitation, poor appetite 

The causes of female infertility are: 

1. Uterine blood stagnation  

TCM sees that this type of stagnation can lead to endometriosis and fibroids. These conditions are characterised by inappropriate tissue growth in the reproductive system. In turn, these conditions may damage the reproductive organs and prevent conception.

2. Hormonal imbalance

In TCM, imbalanced hormones can trigger polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), with infertility being one of the symptoms. Another condition induced by hormonal imbalance is premature ovarian failure (POF), which causes a woman to lose ovary function before she turns 40. 

How Couples can Overcome Infertility  

A couple struggling to get pregnant can try the following tips: 

1. Stop smoking  

Smoking is a danger to health in general and is linked to conditions that may result in infertility. In men, smoking could cause oxidative stress that may damage the DNA. In women, smoking can disrupt ovary function and speed up the progression of menopause. 

2. Exercise 

Physical exercise is great for health, but for overweight women, it can also prevent hormonal imbalance and boost fertility. Regular moderate exercise is also recommended to help men achieve better fertility potential.

3. Eating a well-balanced, fertility-friendly diet 

A diet that promotes fertility consists of foods rich in calcium (broccoli, leafy green vegetables, salmon and dairy products), manganese (spinach, carrots, nuts, bananas, whole grains) and zinc (pork, chicken, almonds, eggs, shellfish).

In general, consuming foods rich in protein, carbohydrates and vitamins is great for everyone, much less anyone wanting to conceive. In contrast, avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine, as both have negative effects on fertility. 

A woman feeding a man healthy food; fruits and vegetables spread on the kitchen island in front of them.
Infertility can be managed with a healthy, balanced diet.

4. Avoiding unnecessary medications or recreational drugs 

Recreational use of potentially harmful and illegal drugs like marijuana can alter reproductive processes due to their components. Even a drug such as ibuprofen, which is available over the counter, can affect ovulation if it is consumed for more than a week.

If you’re a woman trying to conceive, speak to a doctor or physician about getting a prescription with natural ingredients which can help regulate ovulation and balance hormones. 

5. Limiting mobile phone use 

Evidence suggests that radiation from mobile phones and electronic gadgets might damage the male reproductive organs. Men who are trying to have children should make an effort to reduce usage of their gadgets. 

6. Minimising stress 

Studies have observed a link between anxiety and depression with male and female infertility, mostly because stress can impact hormones. Although minimising stressful situations is easier said than done, couples must do what they can to stay relaxed.

Acupuncture is a treatment that has been known to manage stress effectively. Other than reducing stress, acupuncture can help improve fertility in many couples, especially when combined with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. 

For some couples, the meaning of infertility burdens them. It may cause unhappiness and dissatisfaction in their relationships. However, knowing that taking care of one’s overall health might improve infertility may be the game-changer they have been waiting for.

This is an adaptation of the articles, “Male Infertility Vs Female Infertility”, “The Fertility Diet” and “Of Birds & Bees”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang’s website. 


  1. Macrotrends. Malaysia Fertility Rate 1950-2022 [online]. Available at: <https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/MYS/malaysia/fertility-rate> [Accessed 31 May 2022]
  2. Research Gate. 2020. Psychological distress and quality of life of Malaysian infertile couples [online]. Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/348000554_Psychological_distress_and_quality_of_life_of_Malaysian_infertile_couples> [Accessed 31 May 2022]
  3. Reproduction & Fertility. 2021. Effects of lifestyle factors on fertility: practical recommendations for modification [online]. Available at: <https://raf.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/raf/2/1/RAF-20-0046.xml> [Accessed 31 May 2022]
  4. National Health Service. 2021. Pregnancy, breastfeeding and fertility while taking or using ibuprofen [online]. Available at: < https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/ibuprofen-for-adults/pregnancy-breastfeeding-and-fertility-while-taking-ibuprofen/> [Accessed 1 June 2022]

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