Healing the Conception Vessel - Immunologic Reaction and Recurrent Miscarriage: blog series part 4 of 8
|Posted by Tanya on March 21, 2013 at 11:20 AM|
"The wrong done oneself is born of oneself, is produced in oneself."
~ The Dhammapada
The immune system functions to define or recognize "self" and to destroy "nonself." If this complex system loses its ability to recognize and regulate which is which, it will begin to destroy certain "self" components. Autoimmune disorders are abnormal reactions to part of our own bodies. In such disorders, the immune system loses its ability to discriminate between what is "safe" and what is "harmful."
For some women pregnancy creates conditions in which immunologic reactions can be triggered, by definition when a woman becomes pregnant her body is being invaded by something foreign. In some cases women will actually produce antisperm cells, which attack the sperm as it enters the vagina in the same way T cells attack germs in the bloodstream. All too often overriding this suppression of T-helper immune response can cause the embryo to abort.
In other cases, when a woman's egg becomes fertilized, certain immune components cause clotting at the placental attachment site, starving the embryo and causing it to abort. Markers of potential immunological fertility factors include anti-nuclear antibodies, premature elevation of FSH, natural killer (NK) cells, lupus anticoagulant, and other clotting factors. Some represent a reaction to the man's "nonself" tissue interacting with the woman's "self" tissue, thereby causing an overly sensitive immune response. A woman may even have antibodies to her own hormones and neurotransmitters. In other cases, a woman's cells produce a kind of cytokine protein that literally will kill the developing embryo.
Other hormonal distrubances can create immune reactions leading to conditions like premature ovarian failure (POF). According to RESOLVE, approximately 23 to 35 percent of woman with recurrent miscarriage have antithyroid antibodies, compared with 10 to 17 percent of women who carry children to term. Antithyroid antibodies can be indicative of hypothyroidism, which may contribute to a woman's tendency to miscarry.
The usual treatment for autoimmune fertility disorders is to suppress or override the immune system so implantation may occur. A woman who is suspected of having a blood-clotting component to her infertility or habitual miscarriage is given daily doses of aspirin to "thin the blood" and inhibit the clotting pathway. If this is not effective, heparin (a stronger blood thinner) is given. Blood products that bind immune cells through intravenous infusions to prepare a patient for transplants are used by some physicians to address severe autoimmune conditions, and steroids like prednisone are also used to supress overactive immune systems.
These procedures are not only severe, but can also be unpleasant, with long-term side effects. Perhaps there is a better way - one that doesn't involve suppressing the immune system but retraining it?
The Eastern View
While Western reproductive endocrinology has recognized the impact of immunologic factors for only a decade or so, TCM has been treating autoimmune infertility for thousands of years. According to the Eastern medical paradigm, it is not so important what the autoantibody is, be it ANA, ACA, APA, or lupus anticoagulant. It doesn't matter if T cells are low or if NK cells are high. What matters is the process initially causing the immune system to go awry. When we treat the root problem, the immunologic markers correct themselves. Many women with previously diagnosed "unexplained infertility" or autoimmune fertility factors have been effectively treated with TCM's prescriptions of diet, herbal therapy, and acupuncture.
An under-addressed factor and negative consequence of overuse of antibiotics, glucocorticoids, and birth control pills brings us to the topic of yeast. Candida albicans is a yeast that occupies the large intestine; its function is to clean up cellular debris. When the yeast proliferates beyond its role of cleaning up dead cells, it can wreak internal havoc. And if, because of the yeast's unchecked multiplication, the intestinal wall becomes permeable to its infiltration, then yeast can enter the blood-stream and cause all kinds of endocrine and immunologic problems.
Traditional Chinese medicine states that whenever there is excess yeast in the system, the Spleen (pancreas) is always involved. Luckily, and anticandidal diet can help individuals whith yeast overgrowth return to a normal state of health:
- Consume plenty of organic vegetables.
- Eat brown rice as your staple grain.
- Tofu and tempeh are good sources of protein.
- Consume only organic, hormone-free meats.
- Do not eat dairy products.
- Avoid yeast breads and all forms of alcohol, vinegar, and fermented beverages.
- Yeast thrives on sugar, so avoid sweets. Also avoid refined carbohydrates, which almost immediately turn into glucose within the body.
- Do not consume sugary fruits that mold easily, like grapes, oranges, and strawberries. Don't eat bananas. Apples and pears are permissible. Do not drink fruit juices.
- Acidophilus supplementation helps to repopulate the bacterial flora and control the yeast. Active-culture yogurt contains acidophilus as well, but the dairy in yogurt usually promotes a condition of dampness, which can damage the Spleen.
There are few more devastating events than the loss of a pregnancy at any stage, especially after a woman has suffered from fertility impairment. Women who experience this loss go through the stages of grief just as if they have lost a loved one - and they have. It is a continuum: the most overwhelming loss a woman can experience is the loss of a child she has given birth to, but next is the loss of a child she has carried within her womb.
Numerous pregnancy losses are the result of the same immunologic factors and hormonal imbalances preventing pregnancy from occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, women with these problems all too often receive dismal results from their Western medical caregivers.
One of the most common reasons for early pregnancy loss is inadequate progesterone production. Chinese herbs to improve progesterone production and prevent miscarriage vary according to the pattern underlying the deficiency. Some TCM fomulas for miscarriage prevention can be obtained from an acupuncture/herbal clinic. These prescriptions have helped many maintain their pregnancy.
The key to treating recurrent miscarriage is twofold: first, prepare the body before conception; second, provide whatever assistance is neccessary to encourage the body to retain the child until it is ready to be born.
With autoimmune disorders and recurrent miscarriage, our bodies are fighting against our intense desire for motherhood. But if we wish our wombs to nuture the children we want so much, we need to provide the same kind of gentle care to every aspect of our bodies. Once we have restored balance and health, our immune systems can do only what they are meant to do - keep us healthy - even as they welcome the new energy of a child to take up residence within us.
Please join me next week as we discuss part 5 of this series:
Endometriosis and Fibroids: Cleansing your Uterus so a Child can Grow