Finding Your Qi

By Susan Fox

Paige was 37 and had been trying to conceive for over 6 months. She had tried timed intercourse, ovulation predictor kits, and basal body temperature. She had been to see a fertility specialist, but was leery of jumping into treatment.  Her lab tests were all normal and her uterine lining looked ready for implantation. Unsure of what to do next, Paige decided to try a friend’s recommendation and meet with an acupuncturist. But what are the benefits of acupuncture she wondered?

Here is what fertility acupuncture specialist Susan Fox, ABORM has to say about this ancient component of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Over 3,000 years old, acupuncture views a woman’s menstrual cycle as following natural rhythms of Yin, Yang and Qi.  Yin represent the more cooling, fluid aspects of our being; Yang are the more warming, drying aspects of our being; and Qi are the aspects that address movement.

In recent years, acupuncture has re-surfaced as a beneficial treatment to improve fertility.  Western medical journals such as Fertility & Sterility have published multiple studies describing the method by which acupuncture improves fertility outcomes.  First, acupuncture is thought to stimulate the release of hormones that influence menstrual cycles, ovulation and fertility. Acupuncture also stimulates blood flow to the uterus. Certain acupuncture techniques are thought to inhibit the stress response. Finally, acupuncture can augment in vitro fertilization by making the treatment cycle dynamics more fertile.

In the first part of a woman’s natural menstrual cycle (the follicular phase), Yin is involved with the ovaries’ response to the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).  Acupuncture treatments are directed toward increasing blood flow to the uterine and ovarian arteries to nourish the growing follicles and support growth of the uterine lining.  This often includes stimulating points on the sacrum. There are also foods that complement this phase of the menstrual cycle because of their tonic quality. An example is royal jelly, the part of a honeycomb that is sequestered for the Queen bee.  Rich in essential amino acids, vitamins and antioxidants, royal jelly is produced by nursing bees in the hive to enable the Queen bee to lay more eggs and keep the population increasing. Fatty fish is also thought to be beneficial but because of concerns about methyl-mercury contamination, patients may  elect to take triple-washed fish oil.

According to Chinese Medicine, successful ovulation (release of the mature egg) requires heat and movement to encourage the egg to “burst” from its follicle. At this point the warming properties of Yang and the moving properties of Qi are necessary to support circulation to the region of the ovaries and uterus. Acupuncture treatments may incorporate moxibustion. Moxibustion is a heating therapy using the herb artemesia (commonly known as mugwort) that warms the deeper tissues of the body before the skin becomes too warm.  This is the time to add foods that are more warming in quality such as meats (preferably organic and pasture-fed), walnuts, and warm-sweet spices including cinnamon, fennel and curry.

The luteal phase refers to the part of the menstrual cycle after ovulation.  During this time, the ovary provides the hormone progesterone which is critical support for the implanting embryo.  From five days after ovulation through the first day of a new menstrual cycle, the focus of acupuncture is to “Raise Qi”.  This is done to encourage the upward movement of energies and support an implanting embryo with gentle microcirculation to the uterus.  Herbs used during this phase are intended to strengthen the immune and vascular systems. In Chinese Medicine this is known as the spleen system. Foods recommended during this phase include fibrous root vegetables, meats, nuts and seeds. 

The days leading up to a new menstrual cycle (days 21-28), are termed the premenstrual phase.  During this time, a woman’s body is filled with hormones that must be broken down. Supporting a healthy premenstrual phase is achieved by encouraging the movement of Qi throughout the entire body. This improves symptoms such as breast tenderness, abdominal bloating, and mood swings.  However, since this is potentially a time of early pregnancy, acupuncture points must be considered carefully. 

In addition to the menstrual cycle specific benefits, women often report that acupuncture allows them to relax during an otherwise stressful time in their lives. Symptoms associated with stress, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive complaints and immune deficiencies may be ameliorated with acupuncture.  Many women and couples have found acupuncture and Chinese Medicine to be very beneficial to their quality of life during their fertile years.