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.
The Five Element tea blends were created to accompany you on the question of who you are right now. The five elements, like yin and yang, are always in flux, one changing into the other, and giving rise to a third. For instance, if you’re just out of a demanding school program and raring to go make a mark on the world, you might be in a wood phase. Just had a baby? Maybe you feel very earthy, mothering and nurturing? As your life changes, you’ll have different core motivations and different needs, but some core challenges will remain the same.
The Five Element tea blends are just a fun reminder, a way of grounding you into a particular experience. Do you want some help on deciding which element is strongest, or are you curious about a friend or colleague? Just click on the quiz I designed. The answers appear at the end.
My TCM training program in the United States was five-year full-time attendance, and included over a thousand supervised treatments, as well as over 400 actual hours devoted to herbal studies alone. A medical doctor (http://www.sacam.ch/aerztebereich/ausbildung.html) can be certified with as little as 360 combined hours, which will almost certainly not include herbal studies.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Damp and Phlegm are on a continuum Think of Damp as a mild spring day with an overcast sky. Think of Phlegm as thick fog.
Damp and Phlegm are excesses that have root causes. Either the cause is a weakness of the digestive system (Spleen Qi deficiency) or the condition is caused by too much of the wrong type of food.
When Damp assumes substance it becomes Phlegm. Usually that means something like extra pounds, thick drainage, or even soft nodules. In rare cases, the Phlegm can be invisible. Those people will have problems apprehending the world clearly. They can have difficulty concentrating, or in extreme cases, psychiatric problems.
Overweight people often skip breakfast, because they aren’t hungry. They may even feel slightly nauseated. The phlegm obstructs the natural hunger response.
Begin by reading the dietary recommendations listed for Spleen Qi deficiency, including breakfast suggestions. Please do not eat yogurt or cheese for breakfast.
Green tea can help with the muzzy-headed feeling.
Foods to be Avoided:
Avoid dairy, including milk. If you must have some cheese, then have a bit of goats-milk cheese or feta. Unfortunately, soy products and soy milk, as well as peanuts, also make Damp worse. Use grain such amaranth, or cooked lentils, to meet your protein requirements. Seeds can also be combined with vegetables to add protein. For instance, add sunflower seeds to salads and Muesli. If you eat meat or chicken, avoid fatty cuts and remove the skin. Butter and most oils should also be eliminated.
Refined sugar destabilizes the blood-sugar levels, making us hungry, which makes us eat again. Try to save refined sugar for an occasional treat.
Foods with Diuretic Properties
Alfalfa, parsley, radishes, celery, carrots, cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, and kelp all drain damp, through their diuretic properties.
If the damp has already progressed to phlegm, don’t expect instantaneous results. TCM herbal therapy can be helpful, when used over a period of time, in conjunction with life style changes. Phlegm will make you feel lethargic, and your limbs might feel heavy, but exercise is a must.
Full-Heat Syndromes aren’t often seen in the West in the TCM Clinic. Originally, the Syndrome described what we would now call an infectious disease.
A person with a strong constitution, that is, someone robust, with lots of energy, will manifest full heat when they get sick. The body’s response to disease means that the course of the disease is usually short. In the past, the person would get better quickly, or die. Now, of course, they’ll be given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, which are stronger than TCM treatments.
Some older men manifest Full-Heat as well. Their high level of energy and strong appetites mean that they build up more and more heat. As they work harder, they eat and drink more to keep going. The classic hypertensive, with a red face, a pounding pulse, and an impatient nature, manifests Full-Heat.
If the Full-Heat is the result of long-term inflammation or alcohol and caffeine abuse, anti-inflammatories and steroids are not a long-term solution.
In addition to lifestyle changes, acupuncture, herbal therapy, and in some cases, psychotherapy, bitter greens and other foods can be helpful. Red meat and caffeine drinks should be eliminated. People with excessive heat can fast with juices or eat raw foods for a short period of time to detoxify.
Foods to clear heat:
Arugula, mung bean sprouts, cucumber, pomegranate juice, daikon, sorrel, dock, rye-bread, apple cider vinegar, berries.
Gabrielle’s anti-inflammatory cocktail
One cup organic tomato juice
1 gram organic curcuma * (espresso spoon full)
A few shakes freshly milled black pepper
A few drops olive oil
1 tbsp. umeboshi seasoning**
If desired, add Brewers Yeast for B Vitamins. Mix together and enjoy.
*Curcuma, known as Jiang Huang in TCM herbal therapy, is a strong anti-inflammatory which also has anti-cancer properties. As David Servan-Schreiber Md, explains in his book, “Das Antikrebs-Buch”, curcuma can’t be absorbed well unless it’s consumed with pepper and a little oil (as in a traditional Indian curry.)
** Umeboshi is a type of pickled plum from Japan. Vital Punkt on St. Leonhardstrasse sells Lima Ume Su seasoning.
Liver Qi Stagnation
According to the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Liver is responsible for the free and harmonious flow of Qi. What impedes that?
Although we might think that life is easier than it once was, the hectic pace of the modern world does cause stress. There’s stress in the thought that we’re not doing enough, or that we might miss something. Almost everyone experiences some stress, but certain people seem more susceptible to it.
- Don’t eat in a hurry, standing up. Also don’t gulp your food while reading the newspaper or your e-mails. Watch the frustration eating. It might make you feel better, but only temporarily.
- Frustration and anger lead to Liver-Qi stagnation. Vent your negative feelings. That doesn’t mean that you should get into a screaming match with the next person who annoys you. But don’t swallow your anger. Keep a journal, take a vigorous walk, even beat on your pillow when you’re especially frustrated.
- The cruciferous vegetables are especially helpful. Vegetables like broccoli, kohlrabi, and kale contain di-indoylmethane, which helps your body process excess estrogen.
- Exercise is important, and should be integrated into your daily routine.
Empty Heat (Yin deficiency)
To understand the concept of Empty Heat, you first have to understand the concept of Yin. Yin is deep, earthy, and moist. In Chinese medicine, Yin describes the fluid, and substantial aspects of our bodies. As we age, our Yin decreases. When our Yin is insufficient to balance our Yang, the Yang heat-generating aspects of our body predominate. This can account for symptoms such as night-sweats or restlessness.
The recommended diet consists of 5% white meat such as poultry or fish, 30% cooked vegetables, 40% grains, 20% fruit and salad, and 5% milk products. If you tolerate dairy well, you can try a bit more,
- Food preparation is important. Steaming foods, or making stews, is the best method. Steamed vegetables can also be mixed into raw salads, and Muesli can be made with raw, grated fruit.
- Some Yin-nourishing foods are honey (a small amount), walnuts, black sesame, tofu, seafood, and berries.
- Black tea, and especially coffee, should be avoided. Don’t drink more than a cup or two of green tea. If you feel dry, pear juice is moistening. Grape juice, fruit tea, or yoghurt drinks like Lassi are good.
- For night sweats and sleeping problems, you can prepare wheat water. Use two tablespoons wheat berries and cook them in ½ a Liter of water for 20 minutes. Sieve and drink cool.
- Exercising excessively to stay very thin contributes to Yin deficiency, as does sleeping too little. Contemplative exercises such as yoga or tai-chi are suggested instead.
Qi and/or Blood deficiency
Without a list of symptoms, it’s sometimes hard for the practitioner to distinguish between Qi and Blood deficiency. Women tend towards Blood-Deficiency. In Western Medicine, an actual blood deficiency is known as anemia. Though the TCM term Blood Deficiency includes this, it expands on the concept, to include other maladies.
The suggested diet consists of 5% meat, 30% cooked vegetables, 40% grains, 10% milk products, and 15% fruit and salads.
- An exclusively vegetarian die is not recommended for Blood deficiency. If you would like to avoid meat and fish because of moral reasons, eggs, seitan, and tofu are important elements of the diet. If you don’t wish to get a TCM herbal formula, preparations such as Floradex can be helpful.
- Eat lots of dark green vegetables such as chard and spinach. Eat red and purple fruits and vegetables such as red cabbage, beets, blackberries, and red grapes.
- Meat should be prepared in such a way as to be easily digestible. More than 50 to 70 grams at one time can be too much for your digestion. Marinades such as apple cider vinegar (diluted 1:2 with water), tomato juice, wine, or lemon juice help break down the protein chains for better assimilation.
- Heavy menses are often the cause of Blood deficiency. If you want to avoid the Pill and other pharmaceuticals, acupuncture and herbs can be helpful.
Spleen Qi Deficiency
Spleen Qi deficiency? Sounds pretty strange. The spleen is one the left side of the body, and sequesters red blood cells.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the term “Spleen Qi deficiency” is synonymous with digestive difficulties. In addition to our ancestral energy, which can be understood as “DNA”, we have only two sources available for energy—air and food.
If our digestive capacity is impaired, chances are good we’ll feel foggy-headed and tired.
With this diagnosis, it’s important to watch one’s eating habits.
- Warm Breakfast: Warm breakfasts are recommended. That does not mean a cinnamon sticky bun right from the microwave! Rice or millet cooked with a stewed apple, some raisins, nuts and cinnamon can be warmed and eaten. Warm, slightly sweetened polenta with stewed fruits is another alternative.
- Drink warm or room-temperature drinks. Ginger tea is very good for this condition, especially when prepared with fresh ginger.
- Especially avoid ice-cream or cold beer. Be careful with excessive sweets.