Enhancing Fertility with Natural Medicines
Infertility is defined by the medical establishment as the inability to conceive after trying for at least one year. Infertility is becoming more common as couples choose to wait until later in life to start a family and as the world we live in becomes filled with more toxicity and stress. There are various reasons for infertility and various approaches which can be taken. At Natural Healthcare Northwest, I prefer to do some investigative work to see if we can uncover a cause of the infertility that can be addressed. In addition, we like to work to educate patients on how to enhance and recognize signs of their own fertility.
We practice various approaches to infertility, which may differ a bit from the conventional medicine approach.
Nutrition and Fertility
I feel that a good basic work-up should include investigation for nutrient deficiencies, especially in the woman, because of scientific research indicating that correction of certain nutrient deficiencies leads to pregnancy in many female infertility patients. If a nutrient deficiency is found, as a Naturopathic Physician, I can help my patients obtain the appropriate dosage of high quality, well absorbed forms of the deficient nutrient(s). I can discuss means of obtaining this nutrient in the diet, and can monitor nutrient levels with lab testing to assure that the deficiency is corrected. In addition, in the case of multiple nutrient deficiencies, I can help patients to discover and treat underlying causes of nutrient deficiency such as nutrient-depletion by drugs, malabsorption problems or food allergies. I also feel that checking for nutrient deficiencies in the male might be helpful, especially if there are any abnormalities found on semen analysis. There are several nutrients that have been shown to improve the motility, morphology and count of sperm.
Endocrine Function and Fertility
The endocrine system is the system of organs which function by releasing hormones involved in keeping your body properly functioning. Examples endocrine organs include the thyroid, the adrenals and the gonads (ovaries in women, testes in men). The master glands of the hormones are the hypothalamus and pituitary in the brain. These glands are responsible for producing regulating hormones that are reach the endocrine hormones of the body and direct them on how fast or slow they should work. It can be useful to have the hormone levels of the endocrine organs tested.
TSH, FSH, LH and prolactin are some of the important hormones that the pituitary releases that may be related to infertility issues. If an abnormality is found, then appropriate Naturopathic or Allopathic medical care can be implemented to help correct the problem.
Thyroid: Serum (blood) levels of TSH, Free T3 and Free T4 are my particular favorites for checking on thyroid function. I feel that this trio offers a more complete assessment of thyroid function compared to TSH alone. In addition, it may be helpful to also test for antibody levels against the thyroid. Studies have shown that infertility in women can be due to insufficient functioning of the thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), and that correcting the hypothyroidism can often help the woman to achieve pregnancy. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism might include (but are not limited to) fatigue, poor memory and concentration, depression or lack of motivation, cold intolerance, easy weight gain or difficulty loosing weight, dry skin and hair, hair loss, thinning of eyebrows, allergies, frequently getting sick (poor immune system), constipation or other digestive upsets, sleep problems (needing too much or not sleeping well). If your doctor has already told you that your thyroid tests were normal, but you still feel that you may be hypothyroid then you might consider being tested for autoimmune thyroid problems. In this condition, the thyroid may produce normal amounts of thyroid hormone as measured in the blood, but be stressed by an attack mounted against it by the immune system. Other people test in the normal range for all thyroid hormones but respond positively to a trial of thyroid medication. Of note, the normal range for the most popular thyroid test, TSH, is disputed by many thyroid experts who feel that many hypothyroid patients are being told that they are healthy because of misunderstanding of the true normal healthy values. Your doctor may or may not be aware of the condition sometimes called “subclinical hypothyroidism.” Naturopathic doctors and many holistic Medical doctors are trained to treat subclinical hypothyroidism. Some medical doctors feel more comfortable if you have subclinical hypothyroidism treated by a Naturopathic doctor, because there are strong pressures on medical doctors to conform to a standard of care that does not include treating a patient based on symptoms when the lab work does not confirm the diagnosis.
This endocrine gland is susceptible to being adversely affected by short-term and long-term stress and may produce inappropriate amounts of hormones, possibly leading to symptoms such as anxiety, inability to handle stress, fatigue, poor sleep, reactive hypoglycemia, infertility, frequent urination, easy dehydration, inappropriate weight gain or loss, intolerance to hot and cold weather, intolerance of exercise, poor mental function and concentration. I prefer to test the adrenals with a salivary test that measures several parameters of adrenal function and keeps track of the daily rhythm important in adrenal function. See my article, Adrenal Gland Testing for more information on this.
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine: there have been several studies on use of acupuncture and oriental medicine in fertility, with positive outcomes. I tend to use acupuncture as part of an overall approach to fertility enhancement. I prefer that some diagnostic tests be run to make sure that if there is an identifiable cause of infertility such as a nutrient deficiency or hypothyroidism, that the cause be addressed. Acupuncture and oriental medicine often is a helpful part of addressing those causes once they are found. For example, in low thyroid patient, the treatments might help boost the patient’s energy level and libido, lower stress, improved sleep, and promote a better sense of wellbeing and health. In addition, I have seen benefits of using herbal medicine and acupuncture on a woman’s ovulation and menstrual cycle. One concrete example is the improved size and number of follicle (eggs) produced in the ovary that have been documented in several of my patients by ultrasound. Also many patients experience improvement in their PMS symptoms, menstrual flow and regularity and reduction in menstrual cramps. All of this points to optimizing the woman’s menstrual cycle which is beneficial for fertility enhancement.Sometimes, all the Western allopathic testing has been done and no specific cause can be found to explain why you have not gotten pregnant. In this case, consider acupuncture because the limitations of Western medicine to find your “diagnosis” my not apply in Oriental Medicine, where diagnosis is based on assessment of your qi and yin and yang balance.
One study on use of acupuncture in conjunction with IVF and IUI showed up to 65% improved outcomes in the patients who used acupuncture in conjunction with these western medical procedures. I have treated many patients with acupuncture, both in conjunction with Western medicine and on my own and every year I am so pleased to receive the photos of proud parents and adorable babies that my patients send at holidays and birthdays. This is what makes it all worthwhile!
Fertility Awareness Method
This method is explained very clearly and in detail in Toni Weschler’s book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It documents how you can use Basal Body Temperature charting and charting of your cervical fluid and cervical position to optimize your chances of getting pregnant. The method can also be used to prevent pregnancy. I recommend this book to all of my female patients interested in their fertility.
There is growing concern that the toxicity that we are exposed to in our environment may affect our health in various arenas. Fertility is one arena that has been studied and a correlation between toxic levels of pesticides and metals has been found to be associated with infertility as well as other endocrine problems such as cancer. You might consider having levels of toxic heavy metals tested with a simple urine test. I run these regularly at Natural Healthcare Northwest. It involves you collecting 6 hours of urine after taking a chelating agent that helps to mobilize toxins out through the urine. You then receive a report on 12 heavy metal levels and if these are elevated you can undergo a detox designed to get the heavy metals out of your system and improve your body’s ability to deal with heavy metals in the future. I do not recommend that patients attempt to achieve pregnancy while either the male or female are detoxing in this manner. Most detox programs last a few weeks to a few months. Retesting afterwards is advised to assure that the detoxification of elevated heavy metals has been acheived. Another method of gently cleansing the body is use of homeopathic UNDA drainage, outlined in more detail in another article on my website. UNDA Drainage can be used safely in many cases while attempting pregnancy. The advantage of this form of cleansing is that it is gentle and it can be used to optimize function of all of the body’s organs. I have found great benefit in use of the liver and endocrine balancing UNDA drainage remedies with fertility patients.
Western Allopathic Medicine
Naturopathic medicine, Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine are not the only forms of medicine that can help you to enhance your fertility. If my patient strongly prefers to utilize only alternative medicines, then I support her in that. But I’m happy to work in conjunction with a Reproductive Endocrinologist or other Medical Doctor and I am not put off by patients who like to combine allopathic and naturopathic medicine. I often utilize Western tests such as the blood tests mentioned above, semen analysis, and ultrasounds (to determine if the uterus and ovaries appear healthy). If it seems appropriate, I can refer patients to an MD to have other medical testing such as a Hysterosalpingogram (to determine if the fallopian tubes can allow passage of the egg to the uterus). Allopathic medical treatments such as Clomid, IVF, and IUD can also be combined with natural alternative medicine treatments successfully. I feel that it is up to the couple or individual seeking fertility treatments to decide what and when specific treatment approaches feel right.