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Traditional Chinese Medicine Improves Fertility Treatment Success

Chinese medicine seeks balance

Women who are having a difficult time conceiving may want to include traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as part of their efforts. A new study found that combining herbal remedies and acupuncture along with the fertility treatment called intrauterine insemination (IUI) yielded a significant increase in successful conceptions and births than did IUI alone.

Combining new technology with traditional Chinese medicine

Infertility affects approximately one of every six couples, and the cause is typically related to problems contributed by the woman, the man, or both about equally. Among men, the most common cause is deficient sperm production, accounting for 90% of male infertility.

Among women, the most common cause of infertility is a failure to ovulate. Polycystic ovary syndrome is the main culprit when it comes to ovulation disorders. Other possible causes of female infertility include endometriosis, age more than 30, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, and ovulatory dysfunction.

Intrauterine insemination is a common technique used by women who are experiencing infertility. The procedure can be done in about 15 minutes in a doctor’s office and involves placing “washed,” concentrated sperm directly in the uterus on the day after the woman’s ovary has released one or more eggs. The goal is for the sperm to swim into the fallopian tubes and fertilize the egg.

A team of health professionals at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Tel Aviv Medical Center’s Fertility Research Institute explored the success of two approaches to female infertility: use of IUI alone or combined with traditional Chinese medicine. The TCM involved the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

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The retrospective study included two groups: 29 women ages 30 to 45 who were receiving IUI treatment plus TCM therapy, and 94 women ages 28 to 46 who were undergoing IUI treatment only. In the TCM group, the women received weekly acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbal remedies (e.g., peonia albae, chuanxiong) specifically chosen to meet their individual needs.

Among the 29 women in the IUI plus TMC group, 65.5% conceived and 41.4% delivered healthy infants. In the control group, 39.4% conceived and 26.9% delivered healthy babies.

According to two of the authors, Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari and Keren Sela of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, the significant difference in the success rates between the two groups was a surprise given the ages of the women. “The average age of the women in the study group was 39.4, while that of the control group was 37.1. Normally, the older the mother, the lower the pregnancy and delivery rates.”

As for why women who received TCM fared much better than the controls, the authors noted that traditional Chinese medicine focuses on achieving balance in the body (yin/yang) and promoting natural energy flow. Acupuncture and herbal remedies may have a positive impact on ovulation and the menstrual cycle, enhance blood flow to the uterus, and promote calm, thus improving the chance of successful conception.

The results of this study indicate that traditional Chinese medicine can have a significant positive effect on intrauterine insemination and can offer hope to the many women who are having a difficult time conceiving. Clinical trials are being planned to validate these findings.

Tel Aviv University
Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons