For some, trying to conceive is a long, winding process that requires a lot of effort from more than two individuals. From doctor visits to fertility treatments that could take more than one attempt to succeed, sometimes it takes a village to get pregnant.
In recent years, more and more Western doctors have been working together with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physicians to tackle infertility problems. If you have been struggling or know someone trying to conceive, read along to learn how to undergo the collaborative fertility treatment and why it may be worth it.
Trying to Conceive while Infertile
World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 48 million couples and 186 million individuals live with infertility globally. One might think that infertility is not a major health issue right now, as there are more than 7 billion people currently living in this world. But WHO stresses the importance of addressing infertility, especially since it can reinforce gender disparity.
WHO writes that although both sexes can suffer the condition, women in a relationship with a man are often the ones blamed for infertility. Society tends to perceive infertile couples negatively, but it’s the women who frequently experience violence, divorce, stigma and mental illness because of it.
The causes of infertility in men and women are unexplainable sometimes, although several factors might contribute to the condition.
Infertility in females may result from disorders of the fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries or the endocrine system (hormone-making system of glands). In males, it may be rooted in the ejection of semen, absence or low levels of semen, or abnormal shape and movement of the sperm.
Meanwhile, TCM theorises that infertility happens due to a disruption in the qi and blood circulation, causing deficiency, stagnancy and heat syndrome. Deficiency can disturb men and women’s sexual and reproductive function; stagnancy may restrict the blood circulation in the reproductive organs; heat may affect semen quality and cause gynaecological infections.
Trying to Conceive with Western Medicine
According to National Health Service (NHS), in general, there are three types of fertility treatment:
Mostly prescribed to women to stimulate ovulation.
In women, surgery might repair blocked fallopian tubes, remove abnormalities in the womb and treat a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Infertile men may need surgery to correct the blocked epididymal (a tube that stores and transport sperm) and retrieve sperm.
3. Assisted reproduction technology (ART)
There are two kinds of ART:
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI), where the sperm is inserted into the womb. However, it has a lower rate of success.
- In vitro fertilisation (IVF), an egg is fertilised by sperm outside the body. While this might be considered the best treatment, it is largely unavailable, inaccessible and expensive.
IVF and TCM: A Perfect Marriage
As mentioned by WHO, IVF is still largely unavailable, inaccessible and unaffordable in low- and middle-income countries. Furthermore, IVF may involve several cycles that can be so costly and long. Because of this, new complementary drugs and technologies have been developed to increase the chance of success. Therefore, it can cut the expenses spent on IVF.
In 2007, a group of researchers found that acupuncture improved pregnancy rates and live birth among women who underwent IVF. Moreover, a 2015 study found that the effect of acupuncture was more effective if used as part of whole-systems TCM. With “whole-systems,” the study referred to acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
Today, a combination of IVF and TCM is increasingly becoming a preferred treatment for infertility in men and women. Physician Zhong Xi Ming from Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic, Singapore, explains how TCM supports IVF. She says that herbs and acupuncture can enhance follicles and improve the womb lining to be stable when a doctor transfers the embryo to it. She adds that increasing the yang energy may also create a good uterine lining environment. This increases the likelihood of successful embryo implantation. She also suggests patients have a calm mind and harmonious flow of qi and blood, as they can influence the blood circulation in the ovary and uterus.
A 2018 study focused on acupuncture alone managed to end in a successful pregnancy. In the study, both male and female subjects did the treatment at the same time. It concluded that acupuncture could restore fertility by improving sperm quality and ovary function and balancing the endocrine system and hormones.
When it comes to herbs, TCM usually recommends Cordyceps to treat infertility. In multiple studies on animals, its component, cordycepin, helps to enhance semen production, sperm quality and testosterone levels. This finding meant Cordyceps has the potential to promote testosterone levels in human males.
In addition, a 2020 study tested the effectiveness of 10 TCM formulas commonly used to treat infertility. The study found that the strongest one is Si Wu Tang, usually prescribed for blood deficiency. One of its ingredients, Radix Rehmanniae, has an anti-inflammation and antioxidation effect.
While numerous couples have resorted IVF to treat infertility, it has proven to be an expensive and time-consuming process. To increase its effectiveness, perhaps combining IVF with alternative treatments, such as TCM could aid in one’s journey to conception. If you’re having trouble conceiving and looking to try IVF and TCM, remember to consult and maintain smooth communication with your doctor and physician.
This is an adaptation of an article, “It Takes Two”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.
- World Health Organization. 2012. Infertility [Accessed 19 January 2022]
- National Health Service. 2017. Treatment [Accessed 19 January 2022]
- British Medical Journal. 2008. Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis [Accessed 19 January 2022]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2015. Impact of Whole Systems Traditional Chinese Medicine on In Vitro Fertilization Outcomes [Accessed 19 January 2022]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2018. Acupuncture Treatment for Fertility [Accessed 19 January 2022]
- Hindawi. 2020. Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment Associated with Female Infertility in Taiwan: A Population-Based Case-Control Study [Accessed 19 January 2022]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2020. Cordycepin for Health and Wellbeing: A Potent Bioactive Metabolite of an Entomopathogenic Medicinal Fungus Cordyceps with Its Nutraceutical and Therapeutic Potential [Accessed 19 January 2022]
- National Library of Medicine. 2018. Substitution of cordyceps cephalosporium mycelia for cordyceps sinensis in the prescription of Shengjing Capsules: Enhanced effect on spermatogenesis impairment [Accessed 3 February 2022]