Chinese medicine boosts fertility in several important ways. Most of us don’t think about our fertility until it’s time to get pregnant. We dutifully start prenatal vitamins, establish a relationship with an OB-GYN and work to come off birth control. For most women today, this thought process begins once both career and committed relationships become more established. If we spoke to a Chinese medicine practitioner, they would tell us that we are entering this fertility conversation a bit late.
In Chinese medicine, the entire balance of women’s hormones and fertility were seen as a fundamental piece of women’s health; not a specialty or a once yearly visit. Instead, the ups and downs of our hormonal rhythms were influenced by our food, the health of our digestive systems, our nutritional needs, stress, and emotions. A Chinese medicine practitioner would take the time to do an extensive history to understand these “fertility influencers”, all while studying your face, tongue, and pulse to get physical clues about your overall health. Fertility was seen as a sign of health and vitality for a woman — and the loss of it, a sign that something may be wrong.
Fortunately, if we apply the principles of Chinese medicine to our health, we can continue to optimize fertility, sometimes more effectively than if we apply the technology that modern medicine affords us. Here are the key fertility principles in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Food as Medicine
Food is an essential component of Chinese medicine, and a fertility or hormone optimizing diet in TCM included foods that were thought to “build” blood and energy and supply key nutrients for hormone balance and productions. These foods were also considered warming foods to nourish the hormones. Including at least 2-3 servings of the following foods can optimize your fertility.
• Chicken, Salmon — High Protein Source, B vitamins
• Leafy Greens — including Kale, collard green, mustard greens, broccoli
• Spices — Clove, ginger, cinnamon, fenugreek
• Black Sesame seeds
• Burdock root
Your digestive health impacts fertility and Chinese medicine reminds us of this repeatedly. In TCM, the digestive system impacts how hormones are broken down, metabolized and used by the body. A sluggish digestive system or gut symptoms like constipation, reflux or bloating were also signs that the hormone system would not be operating at its best. Add probiotics and digestive enzymes to keep your digestive system humming and your hormones balanced. A number of studies are showing that supplementation with probiotics improves fertility hormones.
The role of “miracle” micronutrients in our hormones is another concept inherited from Chinese medicine. Low iron, B vitamins, and missing fats prevent hormones from functioning optimally. For these reasons, Chinese medicine practitioners would often recommend drinking a few cups of broth daily for fertility. The broth was thought to contain iron, B vitamins, fat and the amino acids needed for fertility.
The Stress Factor — Manage Your Qi
Stress and emotional distress were major blocks to fertility in the Chinese medicine model. Chinese medical practitioners would look for signs of stress by examining the face, tongue, and pulse. Acupuncture is used to “unblock” areas of stuck energy or qi in the body that in turn affects hormone balance. Looking at research today, we know that acupuncture essentially lowers our cortisol response, calming down the nervous system and facilitating healing.
The importance of sleep is stressed in Chinese medicine as well. Sleeping consistently was critical to female hormonal health, and one of the many reasons fertility can be hampered. While eight hours of sleep is important, sleeping from midnight until 5 am was seen as critical for hormone health.
Dong Quai: Uterine Tonic and Fertility Herb
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) is one of the most powerful female fertility tonic herbs. Used since at least the first century, Dong Quai tonifies and strengthens the uterus by regulating hormonal control, improving uterine tone, and improving the timing of the menstrual cycle. In Asia, Dong Quai is to women’s health as ginseng is to men’s health.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Dong Quai is referred to as a blood tonic as it has a general effect on circulation. This could be helpful for women experiencing pale menstrual flow, absent periods, and weakness after periods (in TCM this is called blood deficient). It has also been shown to improve red blood cell counts. Dong Quai is traditionally used for situations of stagnation (PCOS, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and uterine fibroids) as it increases the blood flow to the reproductive system, reducing congestion and pain.
Dong Quai may be helpful for:
- Menstrual irregularities
- Delayed or absent menstruation
- Short periods with cramping
- Strengthening a “weakened uterus”
- Cramping and PMS during your period.
- Women who have stopped taking birth control pills and need to encourage a regular cycle
- Light or slow starting menstruation
- Stagnant conditions
How Dong Quai Works
Dong Quai works by promoting blood flow to the pelvis where it will stimulate an absent or scanty period. It also nourishes the blood (it is in nearly all Chinese herbal blood-building formulas) and helps iron deficiency and anemia. Dong Quai is really effective in helping women who are not menstruating to invite their menstruation back. The increased circulation also helps to strengthen and balance the uterus. In rat studies, it has been shown to help build the uterus lining.
Dong Quai also has a relaxing effect on both the uterus and the nervous system. This can be helpful in situations such as PMS and cramping during your period. Its relaxing effects are just as powerful as other well-known herbs used for relaxation such as – lavender, chamomile, or valerian root.
How to Use Dong Quai
We find that Dong Quai is best taken as a liquid extract (tincture). The daily suggested use of Dong Quai is 30 drops, 2 times a day in a little water.
Safety & Side Effects
While Dong Quai is considered safe for most people, there are some instances this herb should not be used.
- Not to be used during pregnancy due to its stimulating effect on the uterus.
- Do not use during menstruation as it may increase the menstrual flow. Those with a scanty flow may find it beneficial all month long.
- Dong Quai should not be used by those with diarrhea, hemorrhagic diseases, or excessive menstrual flow.
- If you are using any anti-coagulant or blood thinning medication such as warfarin or aspirin, consult your health care professional prior to using this product.
- Discontinue use 2 weeks prior to undergoing surgical procedures.
Adapting Chinese medicine principles to modern fertility planning has helped so many of my patients realize their dreams of having a family over the years. Fertility is one of the benchmarks of our overall health as women and often a wake-up call to put all the pieces of our health together. Chinese medicine is one system of medicine that gives us the tools to do this effectively.