Some couples can take just months before conceiving naturally, while others require additional time and assistance. For those undergoing assisted fertility and IVF, natural medicines are highly beneficial and completely safe. In fact, integrative support during the process of assisted fertility is important. Ideally, this begins months before the cycle of fertility treatment starts, preparing the body for the prospect of pregnancy. In a number of cases, where patients do not have an identifiable cause for their infertility and are committed to making significant changes, a natural conception may even be achieved.
To begin with, it is important to address overall health, in conjunction with specific factors that may affect fertility. There are a number of health and lifestyle factors that will impact upon fertility, including levels of stress, quality of diet, regularity of exercise, alcohol consumption, known hormone imbalances, and other diagnosed conditions, such as diabetes. More information on general principles for preconception care can be found on our website: www.healthwiseclinic.com.au/ page/conditions.
Some treatment recommendations may not be appropriate during certain points of a fertility treatment cycle. So, it is vitally important that you keep your practitioner informed as to what you’re taking and at what stage of a cycle you’re in, so that any treatment can be tailored appropriately – giving you the best possible support on your path to conception. Likewise, keeping your medical specialist informed of your natural medicine treatment is also important.
Herbal medicine is wonderfully effective in fertility support, influencing the reproductive cycle itself, as well as enhancing overall health. Herbs can affect fertility by balancing the menstrual cycle, regulating hormone production and function, reducing stagnation, improving sleep, and reducing inflammation, pain and discomfort.
For those undergoing assisted fertility and IVF, we may suggest different herbs for different parts of a cycle. For example, leading up to an embryo transfer, we will prescribe herbs promoting fertility, optimal hormone function and nervous system support; whereas following transfer, we will prescribe herbs supporting immune function and those that provide a tonifying, or supportive, action on the body.
SUPPORTING HORMONAL BALANCE
An excess, or deficiency, of hormones can wreak havoc on a menstrual cycle and interfere with fertility. Excessive oestrogen, for example, may diminish chances of successful pregnancy. Certain herbs can help to balance sex hormones and improve the likelihood of conception. These can be used as a starting point for preconception care, or in conjunction with assisted fertility treatment.
Tribulus is a herb often used for the treatment of infertility, impotence and menopause. It has properties that mimic the actions of sex hormones in the body, both in men and women. The herb can also boost sex drive - an important component of fertility!
Black cohosh is a herb that has modulating effect on oestrogen in the body, particularly useful in cases of hormone imbalance and oestrogen insufficiency. This can be useful for stabilising menstrual disorders such as PCOS.
Chaste tree is another hormone modulating herb, commonly used to correct irregular menstrual cycles and erratic ovulation. It is sometimes used to support early pregnancy in women prone to miscarriage.
Uterine tonics have a balancing effect on the uterus, assisting in normal function. Dong Quai is one such important herb, which increases tone and activity of the uterus itself. It has a normalising effect on the reproductive system, can help to reduce inflammation and improve the overall circulation of blood. For this reason, it can also be referred to as a blood tonic, being used in cases of fatigue, pallor and delayed periods. Although not recommended for use in pregnancy, it is often prescribed during the follicular phase (first half) of a cycle, when preparing to conceive.
In cases of threatened miscarriage (where there is a history or if spotting occurs) herbs such as Chaste Tree, Black Haw, Wild Yam and False Unicorn Root have a history of use and may be appropriate.
NERVOUS SYSTEM SUPPORT
Stress plays a major role in all disease and health processes, including fertility. Stress is the most common side effect of infertility, and it can have very real physiological ramifications. Nervous support is therefore essential for preconception and during the IVF process.
In order to improve the overall adaptation response, tonic herbs such as Siberian Ginseng and Withania may be recommended. Siberian Ginseng is a well known energy and immune tonic, often used for stress-related symptoms and during periods of convalescence. Withania is another wonderful stress reliever and energy tonic; it promotes optimal blood flow and is used traditionally to maintain health in pregnant women.
Adrenal tonics such as Rehmannia and Licorice are also useful for individuals who have been under chronic stress or find themselves suffering from anxiety. These help the body to better use the stress hormone cortisol, which impacts upon sex hormone function, when out of balance.
IMMUNE SYSTEM SUPPORT
Supporting immunity is an important aspect of fertility, as consistently good health in a prospective mother will have positive effects upon her child. Immune dysfunction and certain auto-immune conditions can also impair fertility, increasing the challenge to conceive. Reducing inflammation is another important consideration, particularly of the uterine tissue. Inflammatory mediators such as cytokines and prostaglandins may reduce the receptivity of the uterus to the fertilised embryo. By reducing these inflammatory mediators we can increase uterine receptivity.
Echinacea is an excellent herb for modulating and improving function of the immune system. It has a long history of use in conditions of repeated infection, illness and inflammation and can be taken regularly to improve overall health.
The liver plays an important role in clearing waste products from the body, as well as regulating the activity of circulating hormones. Herbs that enhance the liver’s function can aid the correct clearance of hormones and improve general detoxification - particularly for people with a history of excess, or with signs of poor elimination.
Bupleurum is used for supporting liver function and reducing inflammation; it does not have the strong ‘detoxifying’ effects that some other liver herbs do, but a more gentle regulating effect. It is often used for menstrual disorders associated with stress and worry.
Phyto-oestrogens are compounds found in some plants and foods - they are not actual hormones, but mimic the activity of oestrogen within the body. They can modulate (or balance) the activity of sex hormones such as oestrogen, and hormones with which it interacts. This is useful in conditions that are influenced by an excessive production of oestrogen in the body, such as endometriosis, fibroids, period pain, PMS, infertility and some cancers. Phyto- oestrogenic herbs include Paeonia and Red Clover.
To discern what is most appropriate, it is important to discuss your situation with a qualified practitioner before going ahead with any herbal therapy. It is also important to avoid self-prescribing, as the quality and selection of non-practitioner products is not recommended. Over time, and as your circumstances change, treatments will often be adjusted.
Preparing the body for conception is just the first step, however, as ongoing support throughout pregnancy and following birth allows for the healthiest – and easiest – experience overall.
Lastly, while there is often a strong focus on optimising female fertility, preconception care for both partners is ideal - enhancing the health of parents and baby. Involving both partners in the preparation for pregnancy and birth also creates a wonderful pattern for equal involvement in the new life being created.
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