In the arena of reproductive medicine, a typical step-up approach to care might look something like this:
- Timed intercourse using an ovulation predictor kit.
- Clomid or Letrazole with intra-uterine-insemination.
- Injectable medications with intra-uterine-insemination.
- Donor egg and/or donor sperm with in-vitro-fertilization.
These steps, progressively, are more medically involved, more expensive, and each next step confers (or may confer) an increased path to success after a failed previous attempt.
In the context of traditional Chinese medicine there is also progression from effective to ‘more’ effective. It looks like this:
- Herbal medicine
Acupuncture works from the ‘outside-in’ and herbal medicine works from the ‘inside out.’
Allow me to present an illustrative example: If one has a bad headache, and one asks his/her partner to massage their head and neck, and shoulders, the headache will, over time, (in most cases), get better. But, if the person with the headache got a wonderful neck, shoulder, and head massage, after taking three Advil, the headache would diminish at a far more rapid rate. Both interventions will yield a positive outcome, but the latter is more effective than the former.
This is the case with acupuncture and herbal medicine. Acupuncture can often be very effective, but when combined with herbal medicine, outcomes are often better, and present sooner.
Acupuncture increases blood flow to the ovaries and/or testes, increasing the delivery of hormones, electrolytes, nutrients, and oxygen to these reproductive organs and helps to disperse dead cells from the follicles or testes. This can and frequently does improve egg and sperm (and lining) quality.
Essentially, acupuncture improves hemodynamics (blood flow to the target organ(s). Herbs on the other hand, are much more ‘regulatory.’
If there is too much follicular testosterone, herbs frequently regulate and re-balance the relationship between estrogen and testosterone; think PCOS.
If a patient has been diagnosed with endometriosis and has had a laparoscopy, there is usually remaining endometriosis as the surgery frequently can’t eradicate all lesions. Endometriosis has many mechanisms besides tubal damage which contribute to infertility; a major one being inflammation in the uterus. Acupuncture can’t eliminate this; herbs can. You can’t conceive with inappropriate inflammation in the uterus.
If the male partner has a moderate varicocele, inflammation occurs in the scrotum causing sperm death as well as a decreased capability to produce new sperm. Sometimes a varicocelectomy can solve this. This is a testicular surgery. Sometimes herbs are very effective in treating this issue. Which would you rather try first?
Finally, my patients get treated with acupuncture twice weekly, but when my patient takes herbs they take them twice a day, every day. Therefore, the patient is getting treated 7 days per week. This will certainly present a better prognosis.
It is my experience, after treating pathologies that contribute to or cause infertility, the recommended protocol is to combine acupuncture and herbal medicine. This is a ‘complete’ and proper protocol which will, in most cases, yield expected outcomes.
Herbal Medicine – Safety Profile
The pharmacy we use, Kamwo Herbal Pharmacy, has been serving the Traditional Chinese Medicine community since 1973.
All the herbs that they import are carefully screened by Kamwo’s staff and meet all governmental regulations of both the People’s Republic of China, and the United States Food and Drug Administration.
An overwhelming majority of Kamwo’s herbs are grown in the wild and are sulfur-free. Those that are not wild, are grown following the strict guidelines of the PRC;.
Pesticides such as DDT and hexachlorophene are not permitted. Sulfite content is within the acceptable level required by the USDA, and these herbs possess the same low level of sulfites as dried fruit and wine. Herbs are tested to ensure that they meet heavy metal standards in both China and the U.S.
At Kamwo, providing high quality herbs is a priority. That is why, as an added safety measure, Kamwo employs CMA Testing, an independent, internationally accredited (HOKLAS certified) laboratory to test their herbs for heavy metals such as Arsenic, Lead, Mercury, and Cadmium, as well as pesticide residues such as DDT, and hexachlorobenzene (HCB) related compounds.
In addition to meeting international standards, HOKLAS certification is recognized by 34 international accrediting bodies, including the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA). Through voluntary testing, they are helping to raise the industry standard, and ensuring that patients receive only the finest quality herbs.
Mike Berkley, L.Ac., FABORM
Founder and Director, The Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness