Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have been dealing with the problem of infertility for two thousand years. Like Western medicine, TCM practices are constantly evolving in efforts to improve. Although the basis of infertility treatment in TCM has remained unchanged over the centuries, TCM practitioner Jane Lyttleton explains that the latest research in Western reproductive medicine also influences and advances the practice of TCM.
Infertility: The Typical TCM Patient
Infertility affects about 15% of couples. Most Western clients turn to TCM only after conventional Western medical techniques have failed them; the estimated failure rate is 70%. Dr. Raymond Chang, the medical director of Meridian Medical Group (a TCM clinic), has both an MD and classical training in acupuncture. He says that the majority of patients who come to Meridian Medical Group for infertility treatment have referrals from Western reproductive medicine specialists. According to Dr. Chang, his patients are most often women who failed to conceive after multiple attempts with in vitro fertilization (IVF).
TTC (Trying to Conceive): Stress and Emotional Pain
Most Western patients seeking TCM treatment are either approaching their forties or already over forty. (Chinese patients, in contrast, generally come to infertility clinics at a much earlier age.) Painfully aware that the window of opportunity for childbearing is rapidly closing, the typical Western infertility patient feels stressed. Similarly, Australian researchers Ann Alfred and Karin Reid reported that all of the subjects in their study expressed emotional pain. Lyttleton writes, “To procreate is our deepest and most primal instinct…. If this profound drive is thwarted, then the distress engendered is not just emotional, it is cellular. Infertility can be a brutal disease not just for the distress it causes but also for the lack of understanding by the patient’s family and community.”
TCM’s Approach to Infertility
As with all illnesses, TCM treats infertility patients based on “pattern recognition”; i.e. measuring the body signs that are distinctive for an individual. Four different kinds of observations include asking questions/listening, looking, feeling (taking the pulses) and smelling.