Category Archives: infertility

A Visit to the Fertility Clinic


I join Dr. Murtinger at the Swiss office for the IVF Centers Professor Zech. The Center bears the name of the founder, Dr. Zech, and his family is intimately involved in most aspects of the business. Dr. Murtinger, Dr. Zech’s son-in-law, chats with me in his spacious office suite in Niederuzwil, at the end of the day—or at least the end of the patient appointments. He’s planning to give an informational presentation that evening, but shows no signs of fatigue.

I’m visiting him today to find out more about his views and philosophy. The questions I’ve prepared fall by the wayside as he examines my brochure about Traditional Chinese Medicine and infertility. It’s addressed to women.

Dr. Murtinger launches into a passionate plea on the behalf of his male patients. Failure to conceive is often attributable to problems with male fertility (Male factor infertility is the sole cause of infertility in approximately 20% of infertile couples, with an additional 30% to 40% secondary to both male and female factors.) So why, he asks, does everything focus just on women? When I explain that women tend to be the ones to make appointments, he points out that the men feel excluded. He urges therapists and medical professionals to talk to them.

From there, it’s short hop and a skip to the subject of sperm versus ova. Eggs, he says, have the cellular matter, including enzymes which help repair DNA damage. Sperm are naked DNA, except for a thin cover. This makes sperm more vulnerable to damage. He’d like to see more research on the effects of free radicals on sperm numbers and motility, as well as more choices than vitamin therapy for low sperm counts. (TCM does offer herbal therapy, but it doesn’t help in every case.)

Speaking of sperm, and sperm counts, how much weight should a couple place on laboratory values anyway?

Murtinger points out that laboratory values never exist in isolation. It’s plain from listening to him, that he’s involved in the minute details of each case. (He also invites me to inform him of all pertinent details, should we happen to treat the same patient.).  Murtinger stresses all factors have to be looked at and weighed against each other. He likes to be realistic, but positive.

If he could say one thing to his patients?

This turns out to be not one thing, but several thematically related statements. It’s plain Murtinger has a knack for the emotionally complex work of helping a patient with infertility. First, all available options are explored. Nothing is off the table. If one thing doesn’t work, there are always other options. (This is especially true of IVF Centers Professor Zech, as they maintain offices in India and Czechoslovakia, enabling them to offer a broader palette of services.) He wants the patient to not be stuck on a particular way, or particular idea, because there are always innovative things on the horizon. He also stresses that the entire process consists of a series of unfolding developments, which always lead to some kind of growth. This is especially important when the patient decides against taking additional steps to become pregnant. He would like for the patients he’s worked with to feel that life goes on, that it still has meaning, though of course he’s sympathetic to the grieving process.

I ask Murtinger why Niederuzwil, a pleasant but unremarkable small town, was chosen as the location for the Swiss office. He explains that Dr. Zech emphasizes running the centers as a family owned business. In keeping with that philosophy, the medical staff also wants to have a personal connection with Swiss patients, and meet them closer to home. Neideruzwil’s central location makes it a convenient drive from various Swiss towns: Zurich, Winterthur and St. Gallen. Dr. Murtinger points out that the Voralberg region of Austria, where the main office is located, has more in common with Eastern Switzerland than, for example, the West of Vienna, where Murtinger grew up.

And when did Dr. Murtinger decide to study medicine?

There was never any question of doing anything else, he says.

And that fits.


Reproductive Medicine Specialization in TCM

Reproductive Medicine


Photo: Esther Denz M. Sc. TCM, and Celine Leonard Phd

Experience shows that using the Chinese herbs, either as an adjunct to IVF treatments, or as a stand-alone treatment with acupuncture, can be very helpful. When getting help for infertility, you should be looking for an acupuncturist that practices TCM herbal medicine in addition to acupuncture (not Western herbalism.)
Infertility and women’s medicine, such as menstrual problems and hormonal imbalances, present challenges that typically aren’t covered in the school programs. Switzerland now has a series of post-graduate courses, which I’ve participated in, that lead to certification as a TCM specialist in Reproductive Medicine.
On the weekend of November 14th, I attended one such course, to reinforce the knowledge I’ve gained these past years. The workshops are led by acupuncturist and herbalists Celine Leonard, from Ireland, and Esther Denz, from Zurich. Between them they have nearly half a century experience, but their classes also draw heavily on the work of their mentor, Dr. Wu. Dr. Wu is the head of the gynecology department at the Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as a professor of the Capital University of Integrative Science.
The course is highly technical in the acupuncture and herbal preparations it covers, but the goal of our treatments are simple to understand. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to regulate the menses.
What does that mean, exactly?
We want the timing of the cycle, the number of days it lasts, and the amount of bleeding to be regulated. Your Western doctor will not be very interested in the minutae of your menses. That’s understandable, as he or she has powerful medications that will tightly control the workings of your body, so that the IVF or IUI can be regulated. But even if you’re committed to trying Assisted Reproductive Technology (ATR), three months of Traditional Chinese Medicine as a preliminary can be a wonderful support.
By regulating the length of the menses, we ensure that the egg will be properly ripe If ovulation occurs too soon, as might happen in a short cycle, the egg will not be ready; too late, and it will not be the best quality. Regulating the amount of blood means that you will have enough resources to meet the demands of a growing baby. The uterine lining demonstrates a specific aspect of this theory. It needs to be plush and inviting for implantation to take place. If you’re bleeding too heavily, you will be depleted, and the uterine lining may not be as hospitable.
Sometimes women get pregnant with Traditional Chinese Medicine in the waiting period before their Western medical treatment. But if that doesn’t happen, you can go into the next phase of infertility treatments knowing that your body and psyche are in good shape for the demands of an IUI or IVF.