Updated: May 8, 2020
Working with families is the at the heart of our practice at Red Bridge Family Acupuncture. This means that we enjoy providing health support to everyone at every stage of life. One of the most significant times that we are honored to be a part of is the creation of family. Offering health support, guidance and advice as our patients navigate their way through the fertility journey.
Prior to moving up to Healesville and opening Red Bridge Family Acupuncture both Alyssa and I worked for many years at Mornington Chinese Medicine. MCM has a strong and well-earned reputation for its work with Women’s Health and Fertility. Working alongside the team of practitioners there who have a momentous amount of knowledge about not only Traditional Chinese Medicine Fertility support but also latest trends in Western medicine was a wonderful asset. Along with supporting all aspects of women’s health in practice my focus in more recent years has been on Male Fertility support, an area that until recently has been largely overlooked when couples are seeking answers to obstacles with conception. You can read more about Men's health and fertility in my two blogs 'Pre-conception Health and the Yuan Qi' and 'Men's Oxidative Stress'
Falling pregnant sadly is no longer as straight forward as it once was with 1 in 6 Australian couples experiencing infertility. Of these couples up to 45% of them has male infertility as a contributing factor. The most frustrating part of these statistics is the lack of focus given to men’s health and the role it plays in a couple’s chances of conception. Often the point at which I meet couples who are seeking alternative fertility support is after many years, much expense, great emotional strain and countless invasive procedures and a focus solely placed on the female partner.
If you are reading this blog post, it may be because yourself or someone you love is currently traveling the path to parenthood.
If you are considering a pregnancy in the future, then all the information I am providing will be of great benefit to maximizing your overall health as a couple. It will raise your awareness to lifestyle and dietary factors that need to be considered for optimal outcomes and to influencing health factors to consider.
For those who have been trying to conceive and have encountered some challenges and obstacles I hope that for you I can provide some insight into areas that are yet to be explored and alternative care options for you moving forward.
For ease of reference I will break this information down into Women’s Health, Men’s Health and my treatment plan.
Women’s Health and Fertility
How well do you know your cycle? What is your normal?
Traditional Chinese Medicine believe when a woman’s health is in balance no pain or discomfort is experienced with the menstrual cycle. This is a rare occurrence for woman and in most instances, it is overlooked because there is an expectation or belief that it is normal to experience some level of pain with a period.
Common causes for cyclic problems that we encounter when supporting women’s health and fertility in clinic include:
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) –
PCOS is hormonal disorder that causes all sorts of havoc to the endocrine system, the hormones, the ovaries and the eggs. Common symptoms that women with PCOS experience include irregularity with their period and ovulation, excessive facial hair, obesity, loss of head hair and acne.
How does this affect fertility?
The irregularity of menstrual cycle and delayed or absent ovulation makes conception quite difficult for PCOS suffers. From a Traditional Chinese Medicine approach by improving flow of Qi and blood to the ovaries with Acupuncture, using herbs and making changes to diet to support hormonal and endocrine health and addressing lifestyle and incorporating activities to alleviate stress we can reinstate balance in order to assist with achieving a healthy menstrual cycle.
Endometriosis is the abnormal growth of endometrial tissue outside the lining of the uterus. In some cases when endometriosis is experienced a woman’s immune system reacts to this endometrial tissue causing inflammation which in turn can lead to pain and scarring. Common symptoms of endometriosis are painful periods, painful intercourse, back pain and mood changes.
How does this affect fertility?
Sometimes where inflammation has taken place adhesion can occur. This can directly impact fertility by damaging the tubes and ovaries or by preventing an egg from being released and passing down the tubes. You can read a detailed blog on Endometriosis here.
Luteal Phase Defect –
In the second half of the cycle after ovulation the uterine lining should thicken and become ready to nourish a fertilized embryo. A Luteal Phase Defect occurs when a lack of progesterone has been produced, the follicle hasn’t developed properly, or the tissue is unresponsive. A Luteal Phase Defect is seen as a symptom of underlying imbalances and from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective we would be seeking to restore balance so that the body is able to produce adequate progesterone.
High Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) –
FSH is the hormone responsible for stimulating the growth of follicles and the maturation of eggs. Typically, a woman with high FSH may experience hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. A permanent high FSH recording has been linked with menopause however prior to menopause these levels can fluctuate and are indicative of imbalances within the system that require correction.
Autoimmune Issues –
Our immune system is meant to be a protector against viruses and infections. Sometimes things go awry though, and our immune system turns against itself. This presents in all aspects of our health as a variety of autoimmune issues.
How does this affect fertility?
When related to fertility it’s the occurrence of our immune system preventing key proteins and glands in the uterus undertaking their role in successful implantation. On top of this the immune system can also produce antibodies that attack embryo’s preventing implantation. In western testing this may be diagnosed as antinuclear antibodies, antiendometrial antibodies, anticardiolipin antibodies, antiphospolipid antibodies, anti-lupus anticoagulant, natural killer cells, increased clotting factors or MTFR gene. Regardless of the diagnosis the aim is to restore balance to the immune system and calm the reactive process.
Mechanical Barriers –
Sometimes infertility is the result of a barrier to conception. The path from the ovary to the uterus can become obstructed when infection or scarring or adhesions have occurred. Often a Fallopian tube obstruction can have no associated symptoms. In cases of adhesions and scar tissue this results in pain. Blockages will require surgical intervention. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can be utilized alongside surgical intervention to address the bodies inflammatory response and assist with pain management and recovery.
Men’s Health and Fertility –
As I wrote earlier Men make up the largely overlooked 50% of the fertility equation. Woman are exposed to a lot of information, pressure and scheduling when it comes to their health for fertility. While this is not without reason, we seem to place a spotlight on in-depth investigation of the female reproductive system, some of which is quite invasive without making some standard early investigation of the male partners health history.
Did you know the production of a single sperm takes between 80 and 116 days?
Once investigation of the root causes of male infertility have been identified and appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes enacted a significant amount of impact on the sperm health of a man can be achieved during the 3-4-month period of sperm creation.
First and foremost, it’s important to discuss semen analysis results and the varying ways they can be interpreted. To keep things streamlined ill refer to World Health Organisation reference ranges (WHO) and Optimal Reference Range (ORR).
Let’s start with Morphology. Morphology is the indicator of the shape of the sperm head and is a good indicator of overall sperm health. WHO parameters suggest that acceptable morphology is 4% normal forms. This means that if 4 of every 100 sperm are ok then you fall into the acceptable reference range. As far as I am concerned in my practice, I want to see test results of 15% - 50% morphology (ORR). It’s simple math really, the higher the percentage the better chances you have.
The total Volume of the sample shows the total volume of the ejaculate. WHO reference range is looking for a figure over 1.5ml. I would be aiming for 2-6 ml volume per ejaculate ORR. The bigger the swimming pool the more room to swim.
The Concentration indicates the density of the sperm cells per ml. WHO are looking for at least 15million / mL and ORR levels are 50-120 million / ml.
Motility tells us how the sperm are moving and is indicative of the health of the tail. No good having heaps of sperm who are not swimming the right way! WHO are looking for results of 32% sperm with forward movement. The break down for ORR is: Total Motility of 50%-70%, Progressive Motility of 45%-65%, Rapid Progressive of 25% and a Motility score of 150+ out of 300.
This is only a snapshot of some ranges to be aware of. What I hope to encourage with this is for you to present and testing that you have had done to your Chinese Medicine Practitioner to also review. One of the most common phrases uttered in consult is “oh no we have been told the sperm is fine” Whilst I am sure this is true as far as WHO reference ranges are concerned you can see there is certainly some wriggle room for movement into a more optimal range.
Let’s discuss some of the more common causes of Male Infertility.
Production is the big one. This affects 66% of all cases. Issues with production can be influenced by a broad range of factors. The common ones are heat, pressure, infection, genetics, exposure to drugs / chemicals and radiation, age, testicular torsion, undescended testes and vasectomy.
Other causes include blockages of the tubes, anti-sperm antibodies attacking sperm in the uterus and sexual problems. Sexual issues are usually secondary to another illness, injury or medication.
Lifestyle and dietary factors are a big influence in what is happening for male reproductive health. I have written previously of ‘toxic stress’ and the impact of the fast-paced modern world on men’s overall health. Toxic stress often impacts the quality of our sleep. Sleep is an important restorative time and essential for hormonal regulation by the brain. Generalized stress and lack of rest affects hormone levels which includes the hormones related in sperm production and testosterone. This can result in lowered production and lacking or loss of libido.
Diet impacts our overall health in a myriad of ways. Excess weight or obesity can cause heat in the groin area which lowers sperm production. This excess fat also carries oestrogen therefore causing an imbalance to hormone levels. The types of food we consume will either set you up with the correct nutrients for optimal sperm production or leave you deficient. B vitamins, omega 3 essential fatty acids, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Selenium, Zinc, Magnesium and COQ10 are all big players in the fertility game. Are you getting enough of them?
I really cannot stress enough that here there is no structural issues gut health, diet and lifestyle are key to your overall reproductive health. If you are not getting the fuel for your body right this will result in imbalances. Other considerations include intake of caffeinated drinks which are packed with substances that disrupt normal function not to mention sugar. Excessive intake of alcohol impacts on a variety of hormones that influence sperm production. Smoking tobacco depletes oxygen to the cells and reduces blood flow and Illicit drug use decreases production and affects motility.
Fertility support at Red Bridge Family Acupuncture
Whether it be male, female or couple’s fertility support the most important thing for me to do upon initial intake is to establish a thorough understanding of your health history. During this first appointment, or even prior we gather as much information as possible. This happens via the completion of a detailed intake form, submission and review of all your relevant recent test results and feedback or handover from other treating specialists. In conjunction with all this information on paper I want to hear from you in person and learn about what your experience of your health is. I will also use other hands on Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnostic tools in clinic of tongue and pulse diagnosis and the Japanese technique of Hara diagnosis. This exploration allows us to draw a clear picture of all the influencing factors. We do this to be sure we are working on resolving the root cause of any imbalances that are presenting.
For women’s health I like to see patients on a weekly basis until 12 weeks of pregnancy. Pregnancy care is then recommended monthly from 12 weeks until 34 weeks with additional appointments only required should you find yourself experiencing any uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, pain, insomnia, breach pregnancy or stress. At 34 weeks I would typically resume weekly treatment in order to begin birth preparation. In the case that birth is delayed Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can also be utilized for birth induction support.
For men’s reproductive health the timeline of treatment will depend largely on the root cause of imbalance. As mentioned within the men’s health section the production of semen takes 3-4 months so to make optimal impact of sperm prior to conception weekly appointments for 12-16 weeks would be suggested. This would of course go hand in hand with the appropriate supplementation, dietary and lifestyle recommendations. Once pregnancy is achieved it is really up to you if you continue, I must say that it’s not uncommon for my male fertility patients to quiet enjoy this new found health and the perks of resolving some other unwanted imbalances along the way so 6 weekly ‘maintenance’ appointments are a fairly regular occurrence.
Every couple enters the clinic at their own individual stage of the fertility journey and with unique experiences and health factors. If you are at the early stage of considering pregnancy in the future, I would urge you to consider other areas of your health that may be in imbalance and making some initial changes to place yourself in the best place of health. You may even consider reaching out for some treatment or guidance now so that you can avoid any delays when the time comes. If you are well on your way and are feeling despondent or discouraged, please get in touch. At Red Bridge Family Acupuncture, we work with couples who are trying to conceive both naturally and alongside western medicine for those undergoing IVF assisted fertility treatments.
For more information please contact us via the main page of our website or call (03)59061494