Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Better Reproductive Health
You’ve heard of acupuncture for your migraines, massages for your backaches, and herbal teas for your cold symptoms. But what about using any of these things—or all of them—for your fertility?
Commonly known under the umbrella-term of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM), therapies like acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal medicine, chiropractic care, mind-body medicine, and homeopathy (among others) are defined by the Mayo Clinic as “health and wellness therapies that have typically not been part of conventional Western medicine… CAM focuses on the whole person and includes physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. ” When evidence-based CAM therapies are used in conjunction with conventional medical care, it is often referred to as integrative medicine.
In an effort to treat infertility without invasive and costly artificial reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF), more women are turning to CAM therapies like acupuncture, massage therapy, and herbal medicine, and sometimes in conjunction with Natural Procreative Technology, which is itself often practiced as an integrative and holistic form of care. Today we’ll break down the benefits of some of these therapies for women looking to improve their reproductive health.
A recent Marie Claire article asked “Can Acupuncture Get You Pregnant?” The article, which detailed the experience of women who have successfully conceived after receiving treatment through acupuncture, painted acupuncture in a positive light, and included some scientific evidence that may back up the anecdotal claims of treatment success. When I was struggling on my own infertility journey, acupuncture therapy was suggested to me, too. And while I was not able to find an available acupuncturist that I trusted at the time (I was living on Guam!), I absolutely would have loved to try this route, having successfully been treated for migraines by acupuncture therapy as a teenager.
What is it about acupuncture that might help treat infertility or just improve your reproductive health? It is believed (and also possibly backed by science) that acupuncture (which is the placing of needles in specific points in the body) affects blood flow. It is believed that acupuncture treatments for infertility may therefore help improve blood flow to the reproductive organs—specifically the uterus and ovaries—improving ovarian function through greater hormonal stimulation the ovaries, and improving the thickness of the uterine lining in order to increase chances of conception. Again, these are theories behind why acupuncture may help improve fertility, but they are backed up by some scientific evidence. You should consult your doctor before beginning an acupuncture regimen, and make sure to seek out a therapist who is trained in improving fertility.
Manual therapies like massage, chiropractic care, and osteopathic manipulation (among others) could help improve fertility. In particular, massage therapy for infertility has become popular in recent years, with opportunities for learning self-massage, Mercier Therapy, and Mayan massage; physical therapy clinics and fertility clinics now offering fertility massage, too. It is believed that fertility massage may be able to help “soften and massage away” the adhesions that occur in the reproductive organs of some women who experience infertility.
Fertility massage may also help increase blood flow to the reproductive organs, which may also help with improving fertility. While scientific evidence is mixed on massage therapy’s direct effect on infertility, massage has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which may help when a woman is trying to achieve pregnancy. The Institute for Integrative Healthcare warns, however, that massage therapists “must note that massage techniques intended to increase circulation should be avoided if there is a chance of pregnancy. Vigorous circulation approaches that would benefit PCOS, fallopian tube obstruction, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids might prevent an embryo from full implantation. Thus, gentle and relaxation-based treatments should be given during the time frame where conception is possible.”
Consult your doctor if you are considering fertility massage, so that he or she may help you find a specialist in such treatment.
Along with acupuncture, herbal medicine is an alternative therapy with roots in Chinese medicine that may help improve fertility. Herbs with a particular reputation for improving fertility are red raspberry leaf, vitex/chaste tree berry, evening primrose oil, and maca (among others).
Scientific evidence to support the efficacy of various herbs on fertility are mixed, and it is also important to remember, that some herbs can be dangerous to not only your fertility but also your health—so be sure to consult your doctor and/or a certified herbalist before beginning an herbal regimen. Certain herbs should also be taken only during certain parts of a woman’s cycle, and some should be discontinued once you become pregnant—so again, make sure you consult your doctor, and find a knowledgeable resource before diving right into herbal medicine in an effort to improve your fertility.
Whether you are fighting infertility, or just trying to improve your reproductive health, you might want to consider integrating some of these CAM therapies into your life. Even where scientific evidence for efficacy is mixed, many of these therapies have the added benefit of reducing stress. And, as any woman who has fought infertility can tell you, it is an incredibly stressful experience. So, if you are using any of these CAM therapies safely with or without other conventional medicine therapies (and always under the direction of your doctor), the stress relief alone may be enough to make them worth your time as you work to improve your fertility.
On a final note, using these therapies safely depends on a woman knowing where she is in her cycle, so you should definitely consider taking up fertility charting right away if you are interested in pursuing these (or any other CAM) therapies on your fertility journey.