January 19, 2017
7 Ways Traditional Chinese Medicine Differs from Western Medicine in Treating Infertility
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a history of over 2,000 years. It stems from Taoist philosophy, which emphasizes living in harmony with nature and being in the present. It’s a holistic practice incorporating acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, lifestyle, exercise, and dietary therapies. Check out some of the ways in which TCM differs from Western medicine in how we view and treat infertility and pregnancy:
1. ART OF THE SENSES
In TCM, practitioners spend years perfecting the art of asking questions, feeling the pulse, looking at the tongue and face, listening to the voice, and smelling the patient’s natural odor to formulate a diagnosis–a much necessary practice before the advent of modern science and technology.
Today, both systems of medicine can coexist. TCM adds a qualitative check to things Western medicine looks at quantitatively. This involves:
- Asking questions about a patient’s health complaints and symptoms. For example, if you come in with a diagnosis of infertility and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), as was the case for Samantha, TCM not only inquires about your menstrual cycles, but also looks into your mental-emotional state, the health of your other organs and consider complaints such as lethargy, low back pain, headaches, weight gain, frequent colds, and difficulty concentrating to assess your overall health picture.
- Feeling the radial artery pulse under the fingertips which provides information about the overall and reproductive health and vitality of a person. While a Western doctor looks at the rate and rhythm of your pulse, your TCM practitioner also pays attention to strength and how your blood flows within the blood vessels. (By the way, pulse taking originates from China.)
- Looking at the tongue, (the only visible muscle) for its color, shape, and coating; and at the face which reflects the state of the inner body.
- Listening to the strength, tone, and sound of the voice and breath astutely.
- Smelling the general odor of a patient.
- Together, these signs provide the TCM practitioner clues or degrees of imbalance in either body, mind, and spirit.
According to TCM, healthy conception requires balance in body, mind, emotion, and spirit. TCM recognizes that your internal and external environment affects this balance. The idea is to work towards balance (rather than having to be perfect) in order to conceive a healthy baby to term.
With Samantha, her menstrual cycle was non-existent but she was able to restore it naturally not only through acupuncture, but also by changing her lifestyle and dietary habits. Rather than being sedentary, she began walking during her lunch hour. Instead of a coffee and muffin or donut for breakfast, she replaced it with green tea and oatmeal decreasing her sugar and wheat intake by 75 percent. This made for a more balanced approach to life.
Qi is what TCM refers to as your ‘life force’ energy. Chinese medicine frames vitality in terms of energy and teaches that an imbalance of energy could contribute to overall health issues and fertility challenges.
When Samantha first came to see me, her stress was through the roof. She felt lethargic and depressed, like her life force was literally sucked out of her. Samantha was anxious and fearful about her inability to conceive. She worried about her job security and her late arrival at work when she went to the fertility clinic almost every morning for testing (with blood work and ultrasounds) to track her ovulation.
Her energy was tied up in stress, leaving little energy left for growth and reproduction. TCM focuses on conserving Qi, managing stress and other wasteful expenditures of Qi in order to re-direct Qi to optimize reproductive function.
4. FOCUS ON PREVENTION, NOT PATHOLOGY
In Western medicine, you aren’t taught to prevent illnesses growing up. The Western model focuses on treatment, instead of the cure. If you have pain, you are given anti-inflammatories and painkillers. If you have PCOS and no menstruation like Samantha, you are given hormones to force menstruation.
Unfortunately, most of us wait until something goes wrong before we treat it. TCM’s wisdom comes with a focus on the prevention of illness; in the days of the Emperor, his physician was paid for when the Emperor was well and not when he was ill.
Instead of hormonal drugs to help restore Samantha’s non-existent period, acupuncture and her lifestyle and dietary changes allowed her to lose weight and be happier. Her blood and energy flow redirected itself back to her reproductive organs and her hormones were normalized resulting in ovulation and regular menstrual cycles.
Only recently has Western medicine begun researching how stress can impede your ability to conceive. TCM, on the other hand has understood that stress disturbs our balance and creates disharmony between nature and us.
TCM categorizes stress as either external or internal. External stress can come from your work and/or home life, the food you eat, and exposure to chemicals and contaminants. Internal stress also relates to prolonged suppressed emotions and the state of your mind and soul.
The importance is not only about getting rid of unnecessary stressors in your life but also finding ways to manage your stress and stress response to optimize fertility and pregnancy to term. Once Samantha took time off from her toxic work environment, it also allowed her to breathe again. Thus, she could do what she needed to thrive.
6. THE SEVEN AFFECTS OF EMOTION
As mentioned before, emotions play a large role in your well-being. It is healthy and human to express joy, sorrow, worry, grief, fear, fright, and anger. Neglecting or internalizing these feelings may give rise to disharmony affecting your Qi and physical well-being, including your fertility.
Being a private person, Samantha harbored her emotions of fear, worry, anxiety, sadness, and grief. But through my encouragement, she went to a local fertility support group. Letting go of pent up emotions allowed her to feel physically lighter and more energetic while emotionally happier.
7. QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
In general, Western medicine focuses on improving quantity, while TCM focuses on quality.
Western medicine aims to increase the quantity of eggs released at ovulation artificially induced by hormonal drugs to increase your odds of pregnancy. TCM, on the other hand, aims to create healthier eggs. The belief is that eggs can grow to their full potential given the right environment. The idea of having an ovary full of ‘bad eggs’ is inaccurate.
Samantha took hormone drugs multiple times which never resulted in a pregnancy. It was only after she worked on balancing herself physically, emotionally and spiritually did she end up conceiving the child of her dreams naturally. You can read more about her story in Pathways To Pregnancy – Personal Stories and Practical Advice for your Fertility Journey.
About the Author
Mary Wong, B.Sc., R.TCMP, R.Ac, is the founder of ALIVE Holistic Health Clinic based in downtown Toronto, Canada. A TCM practitioner in practice for over 20 years, Mary has treated thousands of people. Many are patients struggling with gynecological disorders, fertility challenges, and pregnancy-related symptoms or issues. She treats each patient as an individual – not just their diagnosis. She has made it her life’s mission to bring about change and improve people’s health by bridging the gap between Eastern and Western medicine. http://marywong.life/