Chinese medicine has a long successful history of promoting fertility, with records of herbal therapy dating as far back as 200 AD. One of the major reasons for this is the emphasis on preserving Jing or Kidney Essence. So what is Jing, and how is it connected to your fertility?
According to traditional Chinese medicine, Jing is stored in the Kidneys (the Organ system in Chinese medicine most intimately connected to the endocrine or hormonal system) and is the most dense physical matter within the body. It is said to be the material basis for the physical body and is yin in nature, which means it nourishes, fuels, and cools the body.
The ancient Chinese believed that we are born with a fixed amount of Jing which is consumed naturally through activities of daily living. The energy for all our physiological functions is derived in part from this prenatal Jing. Similar to DNA, Jing is passed down from one generation to the next so it is vital to protect what we have to ensure the success of future generations. The state of health of a person’s stored eggs as well as the quality and quantity of sperm is a direct relation to the condition of their Jing.
When it comes to fertility and Chinese medicine, we’re concerned with much more than the egg meeting the sperm, forming an embryo and implanting in the uterus. We look at the bigger picture to ensure both parents are in the best possible health prior to conception. Think of our bodies as beautiful gardens for growing a healthy baby. The fertile soil in your garden does not need to be perfect but rather be as balanced and nutrient rich as possible so that you may not only conceive a happy and healthy baby, but also have the energy and resilience needed for the child rearing years and beyond.
In other words, your Kidney Essence, or Jing, needs to be strong. Toward this end, the Chinese came up with specific herbal formulas that enrich the Jing, and therefore the egg and sperm quality. Foods that are said to support the Jing include eggs, fish eggs or roe, nuts and seeds (properly soaked before being consumed), algaes and seaweeds, royal jelly, organ meats, and bone marrow (think bone broths). Foods used for centuries around the world to support young men and women in child-bearing years as well as their babies most prominently included all types of eggs and raw liver.
Another major reason for the success of Chinese medicine in promoting fertility, is an emphasis on supporting healthy Liver function. To better understand Liver function from a Chinese medical perspective, and why it’s so important to keep Liver Qi moving smoothly for reproductive health, read our article on "American Culture and Your Liver: Do You Have Liver Qi Stagnation" here. The biggest contributor to our modern epidemic of Liver Qi Stagnation can be summarized in one word: stress. When it comes to fertility, the Liver is commonly out of balance because a stressful lifestyle pulls the body’s blood flow and attention away from reproductive, baby-making organs and funnels it instead to the arms and legs as part of the body’s “fight or flight” response. In fact, current clinical studies point to the major role stress plays in preventing the implantation of a new embryo.
We are designed to make babies (and digest our meals for that matter) in a parasympathetic or relaxed nervous system state, with the blood easily flowing to our inner organs. By increasing our resilience to stress with regular doses of activities such as acupuncture, moderate exercise, massage, and mindfulness meditation, we can naturally improve our circulation, metabolism, hormone balance, and even our DNA!
The other critical role the Liver plays in fertility health has to do with clearing toxins from the body, and normalizing hormone synthesis. In traditional Chinese medicine, this was simply referred to as clearing Heat Toxins from the Liver, and regulating the Liver Qi.
Clearing toxins is even more important in modern times, with the addition of a flood of xenoestrogens into our environment. Xenoestrogens are a class of environmental chemicals found in plastics, industrial products, skincare products, insecticides, and BHA (a common food preservative). Xenoestrogens will bind with estrogen receptors in the body, blocking natural estrogen pathways.
Many clinical studies point to problems with xenoestrogens and fertility, for both males and females, as shown here. The good news is: they CAN be cleansed from our body through Chinese herbs and targeted liver detox supplements. We have seen cases of women effortlessly conceiving following a cleanse, after years of trying.
Finally, a traditional Chinese perspective looks to the state of a woman’s digestion as an important factor in fertility. Most treatments will include support of digestion--as the consistency, quality, and thickness of the endometrial lining and its rich blood supply is seen to be intimately connected to the ability of the digestive system to metabolize nutrients. Your Chinese medical practitioner will typically ask you questions about your digestion, and seek to correct any problems, as part of your fertility treatment.
In summary, there are many ways that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine boost fertility and increase the likelihood of a viable pregnancy and successful birth. These include:
Regulating hormones - PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids
Encouraging a healthy menstrual cycle
Reducing the effects of chronically high stress or lack of sleep
Improving digestion and absorption of nutrients
Supporting the elimination of toxins (endocrine disruptors/xenoestrogens) and improving the response to endogenous hormones
Improving ovarian function for more viable eggs
Increasing sperm count and motility and quality
Encouraging blood flow to the uterus - healthy endometrial lining is crucial for embryo implantation and to support a full-term pregnancy
Countering the side effects of Western medical drugs used in IVF and IUI
Supporting pregnancy and preparing the body for labor In later stages of pregnancy
While these methods may take some time and commitment, the benefits of a healthy baby conceived naturally to a vibrant mother are well worth the effort.