When I say this, I am not being overtly dramatic, I mean it when I say Acupuncture has completely revolutionized my life. After our first intrauterine insemination did not work out, I started pursing additional resources to maximize my fertility. I was impressed by the statistics of the correlation between fertility treatments (especially in vitro fertilization) and acupuncture, I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I found a local acupuncturist who studied in Traditional Chinese Medicine (also when going to see an acupuncturist, its best advised to see a TCM over a traditional MD, as they are much more experienced in the whole realm of acupuncture and the body). My first appointment with Lesley was absolutely fascinating. It started with an overall assessment, asking so many questions and narrowing down the questions based on my responses. The questions varied from menstrual questions, sleep problems, asking if I had blood work done lately, diet, how my circulation was, if I felt tired after an 8 hour sleep, and ended it off with an examination of my tongue. I was so intrigued. What possibly could my tongue tell anyone about my health?
Our tongue is the natural MRI of the body. Although our body isn’t able to communicate verbally what is wrong or out of balance with our body, there are hundreds of ways our body tries to tell us that something is not quite right. Each area on the tongue is divided into different sections that reflects the Chinese medicine organ system. The “off balances” of your body will show through your tongue based on its shape, the coating or lack of, that is left on the tongue and the area on the tongue its located.
I had read so many articles and scientific studies about how acupuncture improves egg quality and improves rates of conception, especially when paired with fertility treatments. The results vary in term of statistic percentage so I didn’t include any numbers but do your own research to get a better idea of how positively the two reflect each other. I came to my appointment wanting to do everything I can to improve my body and my overall wellness. But I also came in slightly skeptical (actually almost more curious to see if I would eventually notice a difference) if this would work but also so hopeful for another option to improve our odds.
For the last couple years (at least the last three to four years) every menstrual I had left me with agonizing cramps and a short period span of about 3 days, with very minor bleeding. My cramps were so bad, I would break down in sweat, become more pale than usual, and be in so much pain I often would just cry and curl up in a ball hoping to alleviate any of it. Too much information, I know, I know. But its a natural part of female anatomy and important for this blog to make any sense whatsoever. But for years I suffered, with no understanding of why this was happening or that is was not normal. HUGE disclaimer to all the women out there, cramps are not a normal part of your menstrual cycle. If you have cramps, go to your doctor. Go to a naturopath, go to a Chinese Medicine Specialist. Whatever route you take, just advocate for it because it is NOT a normal part of your period.
I explained that I had blood work recently (she asked specifically about Iron levels) and that my iron came back on the low end of normal, I explained my menstrual situation, that no matter how much or little I slept I was always tired and groggy, and that without a doubt, day 1 of my menstrual cycle brought horrid cramps, that were completely gone by day 2.
After my initial assessment and tongue examination, Lesley told me that basically I have a liver and spleen qi stagnation (qi is pronounced as “che” and means energy). Ideally, your body is created so that every organ and feature your body has, is fully operating at 100%. However, reality is that every one has problems with their body and even the healthiest of people, have off balances where basically certain organs/ systems in their body are “exhausted” and don’t quite function as ideally as they should. This doesn’t mean I have liver failure or need my spleen removed. It just means they are a bit out of whack and need to be “reset” to get them functioning how they should.
With my liver and spleen qi stagnation, my liver is working in overdrive to filter blood throughout my body. By the time my menstrual cycle comes around, my liver qi is tired and doesn’t move the blood around as it should, becoming slugglish. Stagnant qi presents itself as pain, and is what corresponds to being so crampy during menstruation. This stagnation can also be a cause of women’s infertility. So in a short condensed summary, my spleen is too weak, liver is tired, the body can’t thrive so it can’t filter blood as it should, it isn’t able to release the blood through a period (hence the light periods) and the lack of movement, is what causes my period cramps.
Lesley also said that I have a lot of dampness in my body due to weak spleen function (qi stagnation) which is why I always feel so sluggish, low energy, groggy and cold. I am perpetually cold. It’s quite common for me to lose circulation in my toes and my hands are usually always freezing to the touch. The main reason people experience “dampness” is from diet, although other factors contribute to it: genetics, limited physical activity, and the climate. I mention diet, but it doesn’t mean that my diet (or anyone else that may have this problem) doesn’t eat healthy, it simply means I am not eating the best foods for my body. I’ll explain them a bit later on in the DO and AVOID section below.
There is a saying that says “cold feet means cold uterus” and you want to have a nice and warm uterus to make implantation prime. Who would want to make a home in a cold, damp place? No one, not even little embryos. When your feet and hands are cold, it takes the heat from your core to distribute to your outer extremities which naturally lowers your uterus warmth, making it less favourable for its future inhabitants.
Remember all of those yin/ yang peace signs that we used to draw in elementary school? Apparently it is really a visualization symbol used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to represent the balance of the body and life. The yin (the dark swirl) is associated to shadows, femininity and the yang (light swirl) represents brightness, passion, and growth. To thrive, we need a perfect balance of all of those but it also goes further, to mean the connection between heat and cold in the body amoung many other balances required for life. Yin corresponds to heat symptoms and Yang to cold, dampness. As we know, we need the Yin and Yang to be perfectly balanced. I have a Yang off balance which causes many problems in the child bearing years and as mentioned above with the dampness, I display many of the symptoms.
We started the actual acupuncture part of the appointment. I laid on a bed, while Lesley precisely put acupuncture needles (honestly the needles are so small, not comparable at all to the needle you would see when getting a vaccination) that would corresponding to improving liver and spleen stagnation. Right now, our attempts were to balance the body and get it to function properly, while inadvertently working on improving my infertility problems. A Chinese Proverb says “you don’t plant a seed in poor soil.” In that same manner, I was the poor soil. My mission was to make my body a luscious, nutrient rich soil so that I could be so dang healthy that I could grow the Garden of Eden itself.
Some needles I actually couldn’t feel go in, other needles (that corresponded to parts of my body that were not in optimal function), felt like a little “zing” that quickly left within a few seconds. I laid there on my stomach for 30 minutes on a heated bed, covered in a warm fleece blanket, and meditation/ spa like music playing softly in the background. With in minutes, I feel asleep. After 30 minutes or so, Lesley came, took out those needles and applied some to my front as I laid on my back this time. Honestly, it was so relaxing. Some appointments I sleep the whole time until Lesley wakes me up and other times I wake up with a jolt with so much energy to tackle whatever life throws out at me. But most the time I wake up in this blissful, calm state. You know that sensation when you wake from a nap so well rested and have this beautiful stretch that leaves you feeling so harmonious and feeling just oh so good? That’s how I feel leaving acupuncture every dang time.
At the end of my appointment, Lesley handed me a note of things to eat and avoid for my liver/ spleen qi stagnation. It is so important to not only eat warming foods but also to stay warm. This means staying covered up but also warm baths, hot water bottles, whatever it takes. Just remember all these suggestions are based on my body, my off balances, and that implementing these changes won’t improve anything unless you have the same off balances. The only way to know this is by seeing a Traditional Chinese Medicine specialist yourself.
- Steam all veggies (most vegetables have a natural “cold state” so steaming them changes their natural cold state)
- Eat warm vegetables like radishes that have heat to them
- Include small amounts of ginger to my diet (for the warmth to eradicate the coldness)
- Eat sweet potato and other root vegetables like beets
- Add dandelion leaves in salads
- If eating a salad, sprinkle a bit of lemon on it (to detoxify the liver and help with the coldness of lettuce)
- Drink more tea (dandelion, stinging nettle, rosehip) for liver function/ detox
- Start an iron supplement (Floradix)
- No ice in drinks or cold beverages (if your body is cold, its just going to make you colder)
- Sugars/ processed sugars as they make the spleen sluggish
- Avoid processed foods as they make inflammation worse
- Avoid greasy/ oily/ fried foods
- Dairy products
- Lettuce (iceberg and romaine) as they have a cooler state
- Raw vegetables
- Limiting carbohydrates as they cause the spleen to be sluggish
I immediately went home feeling like I had so much more energy than I have had in a long time. I stopped off at the grocery store and picked up all of the essentials Lesley said I needed and I went home to look for creative ways to incorporate these ingredients into my new dietary lifestyle revolution (not a diet because this is for the most optimal season of my health).
I went back the next week and I felt already a huge difference. I felt like I had more energy, I was sleeping less but felt more well rested, and I felt like my brain fog state was lifted a bit. Lesley even said the whites of my eyes looked whiter. And to much surprise, they actually did. With every appointments this sensation increased more and I felt much more alive. Simple as that.
My next period came and to my surprise my cramps were still very prominent but they felt a little more subsided. Each month, my cramps went from unbearably painful to sore and uncomfortable to feeling them only briefly, and this past month at the beginning of May (I started acupuncture in September – just putting that out for a time reference), I had no cramps whatsoever. Absolutely nothing. I can’t even tell you the last time that happened.
With both my IUI #2 and #3, the week before I got my period to start that IUI I actually bruised on my skin above the corresponding ovary, on the side that actually produced the largest follicle the following month. Although there is no reason as to why it bruised (for those that may not know, you hardly ever bruise and when it does, it always corresponds to whatever that area reflects). It was such a weird coincidence, possibly a sign that my body knew that was the side that needed the most energy poured into it. Similar occurrences have happened with other things. For example, the first few months of acupuncture, the acupuncture points that corresponded to liver and spleen often bleed, but other areas didn’t. Also another indication that my body knows that those organs need a tonificiation and where my off balances were.
So how does acupuncture actually work to improve your fertility? Many studies that have been conducted states that acupuncture improves fertility by:
- Increasing the blood flow to the uterus, and improves implantation rates
- Reduces anxiety and stress in the body
- Normalize and regulate hormones and endocrine systems that regulate ovulation
- Assists in regulating the menstrual cycle
- Increases blood flow to the ovaries and can improve egg quality
- Eliminates/ minimizes inflammation from the body (especially important for women with endometriosis)
- Regulates thyroid hormones (if your thyroid levels are within “normal” range but higher than 2.5 your chances of infertility increase drastically)
- Above all, it is so restorative and rejuvenating
Acupuncture promotes good blood flow, and good blood flow is vital for providing every cell, tissue, and organ in your body with proper nourishment. An adequate blood supply is needed, especially for the women’s body (since we menstruate) in order to maintain a regular menstrual cycle. So often we wish we didn’t have a menstrual cycle every month because it is inconvenient, but a normal, monthly period is critical in fertility and in regular ovulation. Without the balance of the yin/ yang and adequate energy and blood flow, the human body can have imbalances that lead to depression, anxiety, poor stress management and increase the risk of infertility.
Acupuncture is completely safe (there is no risk of infection as they use single use, sterile needles), effective, and is an all natural approach to treat infertility or at least improve your infertility.
A Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncturist can also help with problems and their scope is not limited to just infertility. TCM can also be used to treat PMS symptoms, pregnancy (back pain/ sciatica, morning sickness, breech babies), childbirth, menopause, heart disease, hormone imbalances, migraines (it’s helped relieve so many hormone induced headaches for me), sinus building up, muscle aches/ arthritis, depression/ anxiety, common colds/ sinus congestion (I’ve gone while having a sinus infection and it alleviated so much pressure and congestion), facial rejuvenation, allergies etc. The list goes on and on.
TCM acupuncture is similar to many other natural approaches to treating health problems. Instead of supplying medication to mask your problems, they get to the route of the problem. Acupuncture doesn’t just treat the signs, but instead it activates the body’s natural healing potential by treating the root causes that have led to the problem.
Am I pregnant right now? No. But has my egg count improved since? Yes. Both my second and third IUI’s and an additional IVF baseline follicle count (AFC – antral follicle count) ultrasound has showed a good increase in my egg count. I many not be pregnant but my body is flowing properly as it should, so when the time comes, my body will be better prepared for developing and growing a healthy fetus. In addition, my menstrual cramps have stopped but over the span of the last few months they have eased greatly with each passing month. I have had less side effects while on my hormonal medications, my circulation has improved greatly in my hands and feet (I warm up much quicker), my energy level has increased drastically, I sleep less but feel more rejuvenated. Even my skin is much more balanced and I experience less acne break outs.
If you are looking to start acupuncture for fertility purposes or have upcoming fertility treatments on the agenda, I would recommend to start sooner than later. Or at least give yourself about three months prior to start as this will give it some time to start working as your body (both men and female) need at least three months to improve sperm and egg quality. Acupuncture can have drastic impacts on male infertility too, not just female!
Instead of focusing on finding an immediate fix to whatever health problems you might be facing and using medicine to mask the symptoms, I encourage you to find the root of the problem so that you can begin to treat that, in hopes of regaining your health back. There is absolutely nothing wrong with medication, but don’t settle for a Doctor that is just going to prescribe you pills on day one without doing any thorough testing or a follow up. You don’t see results right away with acupuncture but you do see positive results over time. Your body is a complex system, with so many external forces that are creating stresses and off balances on your body. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you and do everything in your power to fix it.
There is a saying “judge a doctor by how hard they work to get you off your meds.” Focus on the natural, it’s a slow process but its outcomes are quite beneficial and so often worth it.