|Posted by Tanya on March 7, 2013 at 10:50 AM|
"I remember sitting in the clinic waiting room.. and a woman - she was in her mid-forties and had tried everything to get pregnant - told me that one of the doctors had glanced at her chart and said, "What are you doing here? you are wasting your time." It was so cruel. She was holding out for that one last glimpse of hope. How horrible was it to shoot that hope down?" ~ Nancy Gibbs, "Making time for a Baby," Time, April 15, 2002
The Chinese believe longevity is deeply connected with one's inner harmony, allowing us to live full, healthy lives. When harmony is disturbed in any way, the result is imbalance, disease and quite possibly a shorter life span.
The same would pertain to our fertility and reproductive life span, which is of course shorter than our chronological one. Our reproductive system as women, is marked by two significant passages: our first and last menstrual period. The years in between mark many changes, the cycle waxes and wanes - in constant change. Like the ocean, in which each wave is different, its shape determine by many factors. A women's cycle is influenced by many physiological, emotional, mental, and spiritual factors. Conventional Western medicine treats the body, but doesn't address much to do with overall balance. This is where Chinese medicine provides far more well-being, especially as a woman moves closer to menopause.
In Western medicine the reproductive community will tell you that the only factor determining ovarian health is age. Medical studies conclude that our ovaries start to produce fewer and fewer healthy eggs when we reach our thirties. By age forty, we have a scant chance of producing undamaged, healthy eggs that can be fertilized. But believing these assertations about age-related fertility decline is like believing the only thing influencing the creation of a wave is the amount of water it contains. Of course the natural process of aging in every human brings with it a decrease in fertility. But there are many factors that can help us maintain our fertility regardless of our age. The ocean of our fertility doesn't dry up; it just becomes still. And with help, it can flow once more.
Women's eggs do not have an expiration date! Contrary to what Western medicine would have us believe, they respond to our surroundings just as the rest of our body systems do - our ovaries and eggs respond negatively to poor diet, drugs, toxins, and stress, but they also respond positively to a healthy diet and pure lifestyle. Ultimately, what makes our eggs less responsive is not age but hormonal fluctuations.
A woman in her forties will often be turned away from any chance at Western medicine's ART because of her age and "poor" state of her ovaries. She may indeed fail to respond favorably as her younger counterpart to the hormones ARTs provide because her eggs are less receptive to hormonal stimulation. Women over forty are generally encouraged to seek alternate ways of becoming a mother - donor eggs, from a younger woman. But even with donor eggs, older women are less likely to conceive. The problem with ART isn't just the quality of eggs an older woman produces: the real problem is that the only portion of the hormonal process ART addresses is the last few weeks of an egg's journey from follicle to released egg.
- As a woman ages, the many-month process of follicular development becomes susceptible to breakdown. However this has three specific causes. First, if we don't take care of bodies in general, no reproductive therapy will make up for our lack of health. If women wish to become pregnant, they had better be eating well, exercising, and reducing the stress levels in their life.
- Second, as our bodies age, the blood flow to the ovaries declines. Around menopause, the ovarian blood flow is five times less than when we were in our prime. The follicular fluid contains endothelial growth factor, the same chemical found in a damaged heart. It signals the body that the follicular tissue is being starved of blood flow. Better circulation to any organ improves its function and blood flow - acupuncture is the only known method to improve this flow.
- Third, hormane levels fluctuate as a woman ages. The lack of communication between the brain, pituitary gland, and the ovaries makes her follicles resistant, and they quit paying attention to FSH - not surprising since the ovaries are undernourished by lack of blood flow. Fortunately, the steps involved in turning back the clock are all natural. Unfortunately, rejuvenating the reproductive system takes time.
Through TCM, we can help direct the body's attention to the midbrain, pituitary, ovaries, and uterus, as well as create the spiritual, mental, and emotional health required to produce healthy eggs, provide appropriate conditions for fertilization, and foster a welcoming environment in the uterus so the egg may be implanted, grow into a fetus, and be carried to term.
To improve your chances of getting pregnant after age forty, we first need to make sure our bodies are maintained at peak efficiency and overall supported health. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. Maintain a positive attitude. Connect with your inner source. Feel yourself in tune with a beneficent nature. Your are doing everything you can to allow conception to happen naturally. Let nature take its course while you restore your body's natural state of health and fertility.
- Avoid junk food, caffeine, tobacco, pop, sweetners, and refined carbohydrates.
- Whenever possible, avoid dairy products, raw vegetables, and cold foods.
- Do not eat any meat or animal products treated with growth hormones. This includes most of the meat, eggs, milk products, any cheese found at the supermarket. You can find hormone-free dairy and meat products at many health-food stores, local farms, or farmer's markets.
- Supplement your diet with royal jelly, blue-green algae (Spirulina), wheatgrass, and chlorella.
- Coenzyme Q-10 (co Q-10) - this is a supplement commonly used for cardiovascular disorders. Co Q-10 helps support and improve mitochondrial function, which is the powerhouse of the cell. One of the hallmarks of aging is damage to mitochondrial DNA caused by oxygen metabolism and the presence of free radicals in the system. This has been shown to contribute to age-related decline in egg quality.
- DHEA - some studies have shown DHEA can be used as a hormone building block. A study published in 2000 on Human Reproduction reported that taking 80 mg per day of DHEA for two months improved response to ovarian stimulation. ** Please note: women who have elevated levels of male hormones should not supplement with DHEA.
- L-arginine - a study published in Human Reproduction in 1999 found increased ovarian response, endometrial receptivity, and pregnancy rates in IVF patients who supplemented daily with large doses (4 grams) of oral L-arginine, an amino acid. Overall L-arginine increases blood flow to the ovaries.
A conundrum for women with age-related infertility: it takes a minimum of three months to maximize the health of the developing follicle and its egg. Yet with each month of natural treatment, we feel we are losing precious time. This process requires an extraordinary level of patience. The good news is that with acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy, diet and exercise, we can extend our fertility past the age when many Western medical doctors tell us it is impossible for us to get pregnant.
It is so important to understand that life's other stages are just as important - and rewarding as our childbearing years. The time of childhood before sexual maturity is one of incredible physical, mental, and emotional growth. The time of wisdom, when our fertile years are over, can be equally fulfilling. Our energies move from our reproductive center to the heart. We become nurturers in a different sense. There is much we can do to extend our childbearing years if needed, but we also must learn to celebrate the stages of our lives as they occur and to maintain our health at its highest level no matter what our age!
Please join me next week as we discuss part 3 of this series:
"Unexplained Infertility": Overcoming the most frustrating diagnosis