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Traditional Chinese Medicine and Infertility - Part II
by: Dr. Mike Berkley


INFERTILITY AND TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE PART II

In Part I, we considered the proper treatment methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine and The Four Examinations,which date back over three thousand years.

In this section, we will look at the mechanisms of action of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

It was shown in a study done at Harvard that stress reduces the hypothalamic-anterior pituitary-ovarian axis function, thus being a factor to be considered in the infertility work-up. Acupuncture releases endorphins which mitigate ones response to stressful stimuli thus enhancing the possibility for conception.

"Historically, infertility, particularly "functional" infertility, was attributed to abnormal psychological functioning on the part of one or both members of the couple. Preliminary works in the 1940s and 1950s considered "psychogenic infertility" as the major cause of failure to conceive in as many as 50% of cases. As recently as the late 1960s, it was commonly believed that reproductive failure was the result of psychological and emotional factors. Psychogenic infertility was supposed to occur because of unconscious anxiety about sexual feelings, ambivalence toward motherhood, unresolved oedipal conflict, or conflicts of gender identity. Fortunately, advances in reproductive endocrinology and medical technology as well as in psychological research have de-emphasized the significance of psychopathology as the basis of infertility, and modern research shows that there is little evidence to support a role for personality factors or conflicts as a cause of infertility. This perspective unburdens the couple by relieving them of the additional guilt of thinking that it is their mental stress that may be responsible for their infertility.

Biologically, since the hypothalamus regulates both stress responses as well as the sex hormones, it's easy to see how stress could cause infertility in some women. Excessive stress may even lead to complete suppression of the menstrual cycle, and this is often seen in female marathon runners, who develop "runner's amenorrhea". In less severe cases, it could cause anovulation or irregular menstrual cycles. When activated by stress, the pituitary gland also produces increased amounts of prolactin, and elevated levels of prolactin could cause irregular ovulation. Since the female reproductive tract contains catecholamine receptors catecholamines produced in response to stress may potentially affect fertility, for example, by interfering with the transport of gametes through the Fallopian tube or by altering uterine blood flow. However, more complex mechanisms may be at play, and researchers still don't completely understand how stress interacts with the reproductive system. This is a story, which is still unfolding, and during the last 20 years, the new field of psychoneuroimmunology has emerged, which focuses on how your mind can affect your body.

Research has shown that the brain produces special molecules called neuropeptides, in response to emotions, and these peptides can interact with every cell of the body, including those of the immune system. In this view, the mind and the body are not only connected, but also inseparable, so that it is hardly surprising that stress can have a negative influence on fertility.

Stress can reduce sperm counts as well. Thus, testicular biopsies obtained from prisoners awaiting execution, who were obviously under extreme stress, revealed complete spermatogenetic arrest in all cases. Researchers have also showed significantly lower semen volume and sperm concentration in a group of chronically stressed marmoset monkey, and these changes were attributed to lower concentrations of LH and testosterone (which were reduced in the stressed group). However, how relevant these research findings are in clinical practice is still to be determined."

The stress factors that acupuncture addresses stems from both psycho-emotional factors as well as physical etiologies. For example, extremely painful pre-menstruum or mid cycle pain can be debilitating. This type of physical stress, no doubt produces emotional stress as a result of missed work, manifest pain and other life-style factors resulting from such extreme pain; all can mitigate the function of the reproductive system.

Aceto corticotropic hormone is released as a response to acupuncture needle stimuli. ACTH has an antiinflammatory mechanism which may for example, help with tubal factor based infertility as a response to pelvic inflammatory disease.

The insertion of acupuncture needles has been shown to effectively increase blood circulation. Acupuncture is very effective in treating, for example, Reynaud's Syndrome. Enhanced microcirculatory patency to the uterine lining does, undoubtedly contribute to a healthier and more growth oriented endometrium, especially when utilizing electrical stimulation on inserted acupuncture needles on points known as zigongxue which reside superior to the ovaries. The points zigongxue are located 3 inches inferior to the umbilicus and three inches bilateral to the anterior midline.

"They reviewed existing evidence regarding the role of acupuncture in the treatment of infertility, and identified a number of studies indicating that acupuncture can be beneficial as an adjunct to other infertility treatments, including IVF. Only one randomized controlled study examined the independent effect of acupuncture on IVF outcomes, but this indicated a positive effect.

The reviewed authors also highlight evidence that shows the effects of acupuncture may be mediated through neuropeptides that influence gonadotropin secretion, which could in turn affect the menstrual cycle. The technique can also reduce stress, which is known to adversely affect fertility, and has been implicated in the regulation of uterine blood flow."

"Using acupuncture during assisted reproduction may improve pregnancy rates, say researchers. However, they acknowledge that the mechanism behind this effect is unclear, and the team plans to carry out further studies to confirm, and further investigate, their findings.

Noting that acupuncture has been shown to affect the autonomic nervous system, Dr. Wolfgang Paulus (Christian-Lauritzen-Institut, Ulm, Germany) and colleagues postulated that the therapy could increase endometrial receptivity via control of related muscles and glands.

The researchers randomly assigned 160 women receiving assisted reproductive therapy to undergo IVF with or without acupuncture, before and after embryo transfer. In acupuncture subjects, the needles were placed at points believed to influence reproductive factors, for example by improving blood flow to the uterus.

Paulus et al report that the acupuncture group had a higher rate of pregnancy compared with those not given acupuncture (43 percent versus 26 percent). They conclude, therefore, that acupuncture could be "a useful tool" for improving pregnancy rates during certain infertility treatments."

In Part III we will look at the combined elements of Eastern and Western medicine along with herbal medication in the treatment of infertility.


About the Author

Dr. Mike Berkley has been treating fertility disorders since 1996 with amazing results. He works exclusively in the area of reproductive medicine and enjoys working in conjunction with some of New York’s most prestigious reproductive endocrinologists. Sign up for his free newsletter at www.BerkleyCenter.com