How Acupuncture Improves Women's Health and Helps Fertility

traditional-techniquesHolism in TCM refers to the understanding that the human body does not exist in isolation, but in relationship to nature. Within the body there is a system of channels, which connects the upper and lower, external and internal regions of the body. The internal organs respond to external changes, which can be seen in the form of symptoms of imbalance and changes in the pulses. Through the channel system, TCM uses external stimulation to repair or rebalance internal problems.

Yin_YangThis is based on the ancient understanding that there are two complementary forces operating in nature, Yin and Yang, which balance each other. This is expressed for example in sky and earth, day and night, summer and winter, hot and cold, inside and outside, man and woman, energy and blood. TCM also utilises the Chinese five element theory. Each element, wood, fire, earth, metal and water, promotes the others and also restricts the others to maintain balance within the body.

Individualisation is the other core philosophy in TCM that recognises each person as unique, and each condition, as experienced at a particular time by the person, as unique. As a result, treatment is designed for each individual only. That treatment is also specific to a particular set of circumstances.

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Gynaecology in Traditional Chinese Medicine

3 womenTCM in Gynaecology is based on the recognition that a woman’s reproductive system is controlled by the Kidney, nourished and promoted by the Blood, supported and governed by Qi(energy), processed by the Uterus, supported by the Spleen/Stomach system, regulated by the Heart and maintained by the Liver. The Kidney in TCM is the ‘root of life’, and Kidney essence is the basis of Kidney Qi, also the material substance for reproduction and determines the life processes of birth, growth, maturity and aging.

In TCM, gynaecological disease is seen as arising from blood problems (deficiency or stasis), Kidney essence problems (deficiency), Qi or energy problems (deficiency or stagnation), cold retention, and dampness or food retention.

Gynaecological problems in Aotearoa New Zealand

NZ women We can identify a number of causes for gynaecological problems we observe in New Zealand. The tendency for New Zealanders to go barefooted is one of these, in that the Kidney channel which is the pathway for energy and blood flow as well as information transportation, starts from the bottoms of the feet, goes up along the medial side of the legs, and enters the genitals. If a woman’s feet are not kept warm, then the coldness of the environment will invade the body through the Kidney channel and chill the blood inside the uterus. When the blood flow is blocked or constricted, period pain, scanty periods and amenorrhea may occur and infertility may become a concern.

Young beautiful woman with pills.Another issue for New Zealand women is the improper use of the contraceptive pill. These pills increase the Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG), a protein that binds to and soaks up testosterone. Lower testosterone may improve acne, and as a result the pills may be prescribed for this condition. Based on the Yin-Yang theory and the Yin-Yang properties of men and women, contraceptive pills which supress male hormones and functions, are, by their very nature, extremely ‘cold’. This primarily affects the Kidney, inhibiting the promotion of reproductive essence and may result in a number of conditions including period problems, fibroids, Polycystic Ovaries (PCOS), infertility and miscarriage.

A further concern is the rate of obesity in New Zealand, which is now the third highest in the world. The presence of fatty tissue disturbs the female hormonal system, which may also affect fertility.


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Therapies

herbal teaTCM offers several forms of treatment for gynaecological problems, including acupuncture and moxibustion, herbal medicine, and personal health maintenance and lifestyle recommendations. Acupuncture and moxa are utilized at each stage of a woman’s reproductive cycle: pre-ovulation, for tonifying the Qi, and the blood which is lost during the period; during ovulation, for promoting the growth and maturity of follicles; post-ovulation, for clearing the channel system and uterus to create the best environment for pregnancy; and during menstruation to relieve symptoms of period pain and heavy or inadequate flow.

Generally speaking, herbal medicine supports the body by supplying the physical material for energy, blood and body essence. It also promotes energy and blood flow, and detoxifies the system.

Benefits

healthy girls In circumstances of obesity, acupuncture can assist with weight loss by spiking the body’s metabolism and stimulating the nervous system to increase the metabolic rate. Herbal medicine can assist by clearing the fat from the body.

Gynaecological problems may also be exacerbated by mental issues. Acupuncture harmonizes the body energy thus can have positive effects on depression and anxiety, by increasing a number of central nervous system hormones (ACTH, beta-endorphins, serotonin, and noradrenaline) and urinary levels of MHPG-sulfate. 1

Infertility smoking womenSmoking significantly harms both male and female fertility, acupuncture can also assist with smoking cessation by reducing the craving for nicotine and alleviates withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety and difficulty concentrating. 2

Scientific studies by independent researchers have shown that acupuncture is an effective modality for treating women undergoing IVF. Acupuncture provided physical and mental support at each step in the process of IVF 3,4. Acupuncture significantly increases uterine mobility and blood flow to the uterus 5, relaxes the muscle tissue and thus gives the embryos a better chance of implantation. Other research 6, suggested that acupuncture is effective in reducing stress. It was not only the fertility and validity that was improved by acupuncture, but also the sense of calm, ability to cope with stress and stabilisation of mood. There were positive effects in terms of the mental and general sense of well-being, which made the women more optimistic and positive, thus helping them to cope with negative aspects of fertility treatment.

Reference:
1. Samuels, N., Gropp, C., Singer, S. R., & Oberbaum, M. (2008). Acupuncture for psychiatric illness: a literature review. Behavioral Medicine, 34(2), 55-64.
2. He, D., Medbo, J. I., & Hostmark, A. T. (2001). Effect of acupuncture on smoking cessation or reduction: an 8-month and 5-year follow-up study. Prev Med, 33(5), 364-372. doi: 10.1006/pmed.2001.0901
3. Moy, I., Milad, M. P., Barnes, R., Confino, E., Kazer, R. R., & Zhang, X. (2011). Randomized controlled trial: effects of acupuncture on pregnancy rates in women undergoing in vitro fertilization. Fertility and Sterility, 95(2), 583-587. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2010.05.024
4. Balk, J. (2010). The relationship between perceived stress, acupuncture, and pregnancy rates among IVF patients: a pilot study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 16(3), 154-157. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2009.11.004
5. Ng, E. H. Y. (2008). The role of acupuncture in the management of subfertility. Fertility and Sterility, 90(1), 1-13. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.02.094
6. de Lacey, S. (2009). Building resilience: a preliminary exploration of women’s perceptions of the use of acupuncture as an adjunct to In Vitro Fertilisation. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 9, 11p. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-9-50

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