Health

Traditional Chinese medicine tips to improve fertility

Whether you are having difficulty conceiving or are planning to get pregnant, the holistic approach that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) takes may help to improve your fertility.

Unlike other approaches that typically focus on just one aspect of your health, TCM takes into consideration the patient's physical and emotional state, seeking to improve her overall body and mind to optimise fertility.

Think of it as "cultivating the soil before planting the seed", said senior physician Zhong Xi Ming of Eu Yan Sang Premier TCM Centre at Paragon.

Once you're sleeping well and vitalised, and have good digestion and a healthy sense of self, your body systems, including the reproductive system, can work more efficiently, she added.

WHAT CAUSES INFERTILITY?

Irregular or absent menstrual periods, age, endometriosis, abnormal cervical mucus, uterine abnormalities and an unhealthy body weight all contribute to fertility problems, said Ms Zhong.

To counter these conditions, patients are advised to go for weekly follow-up TCM treatments for at least three months to regulate ovulation and balance their hormonal activity. Four to six months after their initial treatment, patients can expect an improvement in their egg quality.

TREATMENTS

On the two most common TCM methods, Ms Zhong said: "If you want to avoid taking fertility drugs, are not eligible for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), or want to improve the success rate of IVF, consider acupuncture and herbal medicine."

According to Ms Zhong, herbal prescriptions treat infertility due to Qi and Yin and Yang problems affecting blood, liver, kidney, spleen and water circulation, while acupuncture uses hair-thin disposable and sterilised needles inserted into acupoints on the body to get Qi flowing into affected areas, thus triggering a healing response.

In some cases, electric currents may be used and you may feel a tingling sensation, aches or soreness.

There's also science backing up the benefits of acupuncture. Research from Weill Cornell Medical Center in the US has found that it helps balance hormones to regulate ovulation, aids blood circulation to increase the changes of a fertilised egg implanting in the womb, and also boosts rates of success for women undergoing IVF.

TIPS

There are many things women can do on their own to improve their chances of conceiving, like eating well and exercising regularly in moderation.

Both lack of exercise and extreme exercises can cause infertility, according to Ms Zhong.

Stress can also cause Qi and blood stagnation, disrupting ovulation, embryo implantation and increasing risk of miscarriage.

She said: "Try acupuncture, yoga, meditation, breathing and other mind-body therapies to relax. Massages can help too."

One big no-no is alcohol, as it can impact fertility in both sexes, affecting conception and implantation. She said: "There is no safe dose of alcohol."

Ms Zhong also recommends a fertility meal plan consisting of lean meat, eggs, seafood, liver, beans, fresh vegetables and fruits.

According to her, dark leafy greens help improve ovulation and your partner's sperm. However, be cautious with soya beans as they may improve female fertility but lower sperm count.

It is also advisable to reduce intake of processed foods, and cut down on carbs and sugar, as high blood sugar levels supposedly reduce chances of conception. Don't rely on health supplements and nourishment products either.

When you are ready to conceive, you should regulate your body fat by consuming healthy fats like olive oil or supplementing with DHA, as these are beneficial to the development and nervous system of the foetus.

And if you're having dairy, go for full-fat versions to lower your risk of ovarian dysfunction and improve ovulation. Avoid low-fat dairy products as they have been linked to ovulatory dysfunction.

This article first appeared in Shape (www.shape.com.sg)

MEDICAL & HEALTH