Turning Back the Reproductive Clock with Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Guest Blogger Dr. Lorne Brown

How does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) regard aging and fertility?

While fertility declines with age in all women (and men), the rate at which it declines depends upon our genetic inheritance and lifestyle factors as well as our chronological age. According to Chinese medicine a woman, optimally, should be able to conceive until she reaches menopause at approximately age 49.

What Factors Affecting Aging?

Our current lifestyle in the West, characterized by chronic stress, lack of sleep, a fast- food diet and overconsumption of stimulants, accelerates the aging process, and hastens the ticking of the reproductive clock.

According to Chinese Medicine factors that determine your reproductive potential include

  • Essential Jing: This is the vital essence that, according to Chinese Medicine,  you are born with
  • Diet/nutrition
  • Stress/cortisol levels
  • Inflammation levels
  • Lifestyle factors including exercise and quality of sleep
  • Relationship and support network
  • Environmental factors

As we age the reproductive hormonal system, governed by the hypothalamic – pituitary – ovarian axis (HPOA becomes more unbalanced and less able to return to homeostasis. Hormonal fluctuations increase and the eggs are less sensitive to hormonal messages.  Once eggs become less responsive to the FSH, more of them fail to develop and return to sleep.

In addition any environmental insults like excessive insulin levels or high stress levels are harder for the body to recover from in an older woman and further destabilize the hormonal system.

Can Chinese medicine reverse the aging process?

There is a strong correlation between age and reproductive health. However, medical science has identified two types of aging: chronological and biological. While everyone ages at the same speed chronologically, the biological aging process differs greatly among each individual. Identical twins many differ in the age they go into menopause by as much as five years, depending on lifestyle factors like smoking, weight etc. So while it is true that the quality of a woman’s eggs declines as she ages, the eggs of some women in their forties can be excellent quality due to slow biological aging.

It is not possible to stop chronological aging; however, we can definitely influence the progress of biological aging. Abusive lifestyle factors such as poor diet, smoking, stress, and insufficient sleep all accelerate the cell oxidation and the biological aging process. Practicing a healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact in slowing down the aging process.
How Does Chinese Medicine treat infertility

Chinese Medicine uses treatments that help to restore a more youthful endocrine system and create an environment that enhances egg quality and the uterine environment. It typically involves diet, mind-body techniques, herbal formulas and acupuncture designed to balance hormones, regulate the menstrual cycle, improve blood flow to the reproductive organs, calm anxiety, and boost overall health.

What is Fertility Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a Chinese medical treatment that involves inserting hair thin needles at different point in the body to stimulate the flow of energy or “qi”.  Fertility Acupuncture uses evidence based protocols to balance hormones and improve blood flow to the reproductive organs.  Acupuncture treatment may be beneficial in promoting follicle production, enhancing uterine blood flow and improving uterine lining thickness. Recent clinical studies suggest that acupuncture treatments can lead to increased implantation and live birth rates with IVF.

What is Chinese Herbal Therapy?

Custom Chinese herbal formulas are another treatment modality used to treat infertility. Chinese herbal therapy is used to correct underlying deficiencies, balance hormones and regulate the menstrual cycle. Herbal therapy can improve the quality of blood nourishing the ovaries and supporting follicular development and enhance egg quality and embryo health.  Herbal formulas can also help normalize the function of the hypothalamic – pituitary – ovarian axis (HPOA) to regulate and improve the body’s natural hormone production.

Can Chinese Medicine treat recurrent pregnancy loss?

The rate of miscarriage increases dramatically in older women who conceive. Chinese medicine offers effective solutions for recurrent pregnancy loss that may be the result of immune factors, hormonal imbalances, and stress

Acupuncture helps improve blood flow to the placenta, supports the developing fetus, and prevents uterine contractions. It normalizes the function of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian axis (HPOA) to regulate and improve the body’s natural hormonal production, which in turn improves ovarian function, egg quality, and optimum progesterone levels. In addition acupuncture reduces stress levels helping to prevent early uterine contractions.

Can Chinese Medicine improve FSH?

An increasing number of women are visiting acupuncture clinics seeking help in correcting the hormone imbalances (FSH, LH, E2, progesterone, prolactin etc.) they are suffering from.

Regular acupuncture treatments can be very helpful in regulating hormonal imbalances, although it should be noted that acupuncture does not directly alter the female hormones. Rather, acupuncture is considered to influence the hormonal regulation centers in the brain and autonomic nervous system (i.e., the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis) and as a result, improvement in hormonal status can occur over time.

What are other aspects of age and fertility does Chinese Medicine address?

Diet and Weight loss: Ovulatory imbalances, PCOS, insulin insensitivity and weight gain are common issues with women over 40.  Chinese medicine has a long history of treating hormonal disorders and regulating the menstrual cycle with diet therapy. Recent studies have shown that weight and diet play a significant role in ovulatory causes of infertility. A landmark study published in 2008, based on the Harvard Nurses Study, and associates a slow carb, whole food, mostly plant-based diet with a six-fold increase in fertility.

Stress Reduction: techniques including hypnosis, acupuncture, breathing and mindfulness based stress reduction can reduce chronic stress. Studies have shown that stress can accelerate aging, create chronic inflammation and interfere with the functioning of the HPO axis.

Lifestyle: Chinese Medicine encourages women to develop habits that increase wellness, contentment and alignment with the way (Tao) of nature.

Can acupuncture help Male Factor?

Clinical studies indicate acupuncture may help sperm motility and decrease abnormal forms (morphology). As well, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been shown to improve erectile function, libido, and prostate-related issues such as pain or urinary problems.

Dr. Lorne Brown

B.Sc, CA, Dr. TCM, FABORM, CHt

Dr. Lorne Brown is the founder and clinical director of Acubalance Wellness Centre, the first  Traditional Chinese medicine clinic in British Columbia, Canada dedicated to reproductive health and fertility.

Lorne has been at the forefront of an integrative approach to fertility treatment using Traditional Chinese Medicine to help women optimize their fertility naturally and to support assisted fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). He is passionate about educating and empowering women to take control of their fertility journey, and regain confidence in their own fertility potential.

A popular speaker, Lorne has recently been a presenter, as part of a panel of medical fertility experts, at the 2011 annual meeting of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOCG) and on the Science Advisory Panel of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada (AHRC).

Lorne is a Fellow of the American Board of Reproductive Medicine (ABORM) and participates on numerous other boards and advisory panels, including the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada, the Quality Assurance Board of the British Columbia College of Traditional Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture (CTCMA), and the PDA Advisory Panel for the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). He is also a member of the Fertile Souls Clinical Excellence in Fertility Professionals (CEFP) and was the first appointed “Natural Products Expert” to the Clinical Research Ethics Board (CREB) for the University of British Columbia.

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