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Infertility is a big concern nowadays. This is partly because more people have delayed marriage and childbearing until certain educational or career goals are reached. Generally, infertility is defined as an inability to conceive after a year or more of regular sexual activity without using birth control.
TCM Understanding of Female Infertility
In females, primary infertility is when a woman has never been able to conceive and become pregnant; while secondary infertility is when there has been a previous pregnancy and a couple is unable to conceive after a year of unprotected and appropriately timed intercourse.
The Yizong Jinjian (Golden Mirror of Medicine), a classic TCM text completed 1742AD, documented regular menstruation based on three preconditions which are: a woman reaches puberty, she produces tian-gui for promotion of the Conception Vessel, and Thoroughfare Vessel to be exuberant and flushed with qi (vital energy) and blood. Therefore, she has the ability to become pregnant and give birth. In cases of infertility it goes on to say, "If the three kinds of pathogenic factors damage her extra meridians, she will suffer from complaints like menstrual problems or vaginal discharge.
Based on the classic texts understanding of infertility, modern TCM believes conception needs three criteria:
Non-obstructed meridians around the uterus
A favorable environment inside the uterus.
There are various causes of infertility in women. TCM identifies the cause of infertility in terms of energy imbalances in the body. The imbalances may be due to a wide variety of factors, such as an unhealthy lifestyle, poor diet or improper eating habits, lack of exercise, stress, environmental factors, emotional or psychological issues, toxins or hereditary influences.
Basically, TCM understands that the location of infertility begins in the uterus, and its development is related to the liver, spleen and especially kidney function.
The final pathological development is summarized as follows:
Exhaustion of kidney-qi
Insufficiency in blood
Stagnation of liver-qi
Obstruction by phlegm and dampness
Retention of stagnated blood in the interior
Accumulation of damp-heat
It should be emphasized that infertility usually results from multiple factors; thus, individuals may present a complex syndrome in reality. An experienced physician is necessary for an accurate diagnosis. The table below provides a general reference about the Western classifications of infertility and the possible dominant TCM syndrome patterns.
Modern day research statistics suggest that 30 to 40 percent of infertility problems are caused by male conditions, another 30 to 40 percent by female conditions, and the last 20 to 30 percent a combination of the two, plus a small percentage of unknown causes.
Many approaches to treating infertility focus solely on the woman, wrongly assuming that female conditions are always the cause.
TCM has formulated a wide variety of therapeutic treatments for these causes, and many of these remedies are still widely accepted in both Western and TCM medicinal traditions. Common treatments revolve around:
In a woman:
Regulating the menstrual cycle.
Relieving hormonal disturbances.
Enhancing immune compatibilities between sexual partners.
Amending tubal obstructions.
Releasing stress-related dysfunction.
In the man:
Increasing sperm count and motility.
Improving ejaculatory and erectile conditions.