Female Health & Fertility
The primary aim of pre-conceptive care is to promote the best environment in your womb to prepare for pregnancy. Just like a farmer prepares his soil for seedlings, the more rich, chemical free and alive the soil is the better the plants will grow and the healthier the harvest.
In Chinese medicine, pre-conception care looks at you as a whole. As a human in your environment and how you interact in that environment. It is worthwhile to begin 6-12 months before conceiving as effective nourishment and balancing health takes time.
What is a healthy baby ready body?
The best approach is to become a healthy human first. If you have lots of late nights, don’t eat well, are over/under weight, can’t sleep properly, excessively hot/cold, poor circulation, chronic pain, chronic stress- all these things affect every part of your body. Sperm and eggs are the most sensitive cells in your body. When you have some form of chronic inflammation going on somewhere in your body, you can be sure your fertility is affected.
There are 4 pillars that we should follow
- Eat the right food
- Detoxify your body before, during and after pregnancy
- Minimize stress
- Take the right supplements and treatments
Conception starts on day one of fertilization- When the egg meets sperm, a zygote is formed. After 7 days and cell division (mitosis) a collection of cells called a blastocyst is formed. After this the cell travels down the fallopian tube to implant in the uterus and undergo specialization where the baby begins to develop under the influence (and this is the important part) of the DNA and the environment.
It is interesting when we look at all of the genes (a gene is a part of a chromosome- it carries hereditary information like green eyes and brown hair etc) in the human genome, only about 5% actually give instructions, telling the cell what shape, height, skin colour etc. to make the baby, the other 95% are noncoding genes. Robert Sapolsky, professor of biological sciences and urology at Stanford university says , the human genome is like a hundred-page book, where the first 95 pages are instructions for the last 5 pages. These first 95 pages are made up of genes that are switched on and off depending on their environment and have influence over the other 5. That basically means that 95% of the genes in a developing foetus are influenced by our food, thoughts, experiences and environment.
These genes that predict characters of the baby can be switched on and off, every time a switch is flipped, your DNA is translated a bit differently. Sometimes these switches are changed by messenger molecules like hormones, which are effected by your thoughts and emotions, sometimes by toxins and carcinogens.
The science of how genes are switched on/off is called epigenetics. An interesting story related to this comes from Peter Nathanielsz, a Cambridge University doctor and expert in embryology. He tells a story of two brothers. The first one born in Southern California born in a time when the parents were not stressed and the second brother born later when the father became disabled and they moved to Pittsburgh when the mother had to start working to make up for the husbands disability and the diet became high in starch, sugar, carbohydrates and unhealthy fats and low in vegetables and protein. Both boys grew up with the same poor diet, just born in different circumstances. The second boy that was born during the stressful period developed high blood pressure at 40, diabetes at 50 and died of a stroke in his 60’s. The first boy born in Southern California when the parents were relaxed enjoyed good health. According to Dr Nathanielsz, how we leave the world is majorly influenced how we enter the world. This means what happens in the womb environment can largely effect your babies cardiovascular health, weight gain, emotional resistance, intelligence and resistance to infection.
Chinese medicine is old, in fact records of herbal formulas and acupuncture date well over 3,000 years ago. Chinese medicine uses very different diagnostic methods than western medicine. Firstly, the idea is to look for the imbalance in your body and what is upsetting the whole system to affect certain parts. Then we apply acupuncture, herbs and advice to get things back to normal.
We use our own diagnostic methods to find out where and what the issue is. The terminology we use is a little different. In most cases of infertility, I find 3 divisions:
- Blockage: This can be phlegm (sticky, stuck and swollen areas), Blood (blood flow gets blocked causing de-oxygenation, lack of nutrition and stagnation)
- Deficient Nutrition: Tiredness, late nights, poor digestion can all attribute to this condition. This type of constitution is often too hot or too cold. Cold causes blood to stagnate and block. Women’s fertility relies on smooth blood flow.
- Toxic Build-up: Usually comes with some type of blockage. Exposure to heavy metals etc. can accumulate and disrupt egg implantation. Infection can cause too much heat in the body. Toxic emotions like stress and worry impact follicle health and lead to systemic inflammation in the body.
In your first consultation we will do a thorough diagnosis and assess what might be going on in your body. Following this I may want to see some test results depending on your physical presentation and what your doctor says.
These tests may include: a full blood count including inflammatory markers, vitamin D levels, ultrasound etc.
We may ask you many questions in consultations that may seem unrelated to your fertility health but we believe that as you are a whole human, you are more than the sum of many parts. For example, if you have poor digestion, we must fix this first. Your digestive system is what nourishes the rest of your body. If you have chronic constipation, you will be full of toxic waste. If you have chronic diarrhoea or loose stools, you will be chronically under nourished. If you have chronic back pain, that tells us you have a stagnation issue in the lower part of your body. All these things need to be corrected to apply appropriate treatment and get the best outcomes.
Fertility and Charting the Menstrual Cycle
There are two key elements to observe in regards to female infertility, ovulation and menstruation.
In Chinese medicine, we observe very closely any change from what we consider ‘the norm’ or a deviation from ‘health’. This can become very intricate and delicate, where some of the factors we may observe are body temperature changes, skin colour, tongue, pulse, tender areas and of course, the regularity and observations of the period.
The basal body temperature (BBT) chart is a fairly recent addition to Chinese medicine diagnostics, and has only been used the last 20-30 years in a scale of 3,000 – 5,000 years history.
What we will be looking at today is the BBT chart and how to read it in regards to Chinese medicine. But first we will look at a snapshot of a standard 28 day cycle and how hormones naturally peak.
As we can see in the chart, during bleeding in the first 4-5 days, the uterine endometrial lining sheds and there is a low activity of female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Around day 7-12 one follicle is excreted, estrogen is produced which stimulates the uterine lining to proliferate. The glands in the cervix will also start to produce fertile mucous.
Day 12-13 The highest level of estrogen acts on the pituitary gland making it produce Leutinizing Hormone (LH).
Day 14 The egg is released when the enzymes create a break in the follicle wall.
Day 15-25 Progesterone is produced, stimulated by the empty follicle and stimulates the endometrium to secrete nutrients. The pituitary is then inhibited o produce FSH and LH.
Day 25-28 The corpus luteum (latin for yellow body is a temporary structure in the uterus made primarily from lutein, which is synthesised from egg yolks, green leafy vegetables and yellow carrots in the diet) dies and progesterone and estrogen levels drop, causing the endometrium to disintegrate and the period to flow.
The BBT chart is a way of measuring the ovulation time and peaks and troughs of hormones. The temperature is measured upon waking every morning (preferably with a mercury thermometer as the others are innacurate) and we can see if there is a peak rise in temperature midcycle (this should indicate ovulation).
Above is a typical 28-30 day cycle BBT chart. We can see around day 14 there is a drop and then a peak which starts around day 15-17, this is progesterone kicking in just after ovulation which has a direct effect on the temperature regulating part of the body.
To start charting all you need are three things, a BBT chart or iPhone ap, a thermometer, and a good night’s sleep. Charting starts on day 1 of your period, which is the first day of bleeding. If you have a very irregular cycle then just keep going until we notice a pattern.
Upon waking in the morning, put the thermometer in your mouth for 3-5 minutes, and note the temperature on your chart. Note, it is best to take the temperature at the same time every morning as later in the day will give you an erratic reading. It is also a good idea to check other signs and symptoms and record them such as breast tenderness, spotting, bloating, abdominal pain, and cervical mucous. Cervical mucous differences can be seen in the picture below. A mucous that is too thick and not ‘stringy’ around ovulation is counterproductive to fertility as sperm have a hard time swimming through it.
In the next post we will look at different types of BBT charts and how to read them and how Chinese medicine approaches abnormal charts.
Chinese medicine, massage and acupuncture combined with lifestyle and diet changes can offer treatment for various conditions including asthma, IBS, weight loss, pelvic pain, rectal pain, infertility, morning sickness, period pain, general pain and many more.
Chris Eddy is a registered doctor of Chinese medicine and university lecturer. He has been treating infertility for the last 12 years in his city practice in Melbourne Australia.
Melbourne Acupuncture Clinic- Chris Eddy- Dr Chinese Medicine Melbourne CBD- 712/365 Little Collins St Melbourne 3000 ph 03 8676 0599