Whenever a patient tells me that she’s been given the above label, diagnosis, I simply want to scream. In most cases, this is a lazy dismissal. In rare cases, it is possibly true. There is always a reason for everything, and doctors need to be more responsible in instances where they decide to use this label.
In Chinese medicine, as well as Functional Medicine, everything has a “root cause”. Including infertility, cancer, and other modern diseases. The purpose of medicine is to determine “why”, not just “what”. In the case of infertility, where patients spend thousands of dollars to try to conceive, they deserve to know the truth if ART (IVF/IUI) is not successful. Most IUI cases I see are not successful. I wonder why… And often the first round of IVF does not take. This is curious. While I completely understand the desire to conceive at all costs, IVF should not be the first choice. It is highly possible for couples to conceive naturally, with the help of acupuncture, nutrition, lifestyle changes, and Chinese medicine. IVF should be your last resort. IUI is only effective in 10-20% of cases, and the peak IUI effect is 3-4 cycles max. I see patients who have undergone 7-8 cycles of IUI with no success. Typically this is with same sex couples. And some patients in their 40s who have also done 7 cycles of IVF with no success.
The issue in many cases is male factor infertility. Yet often the male partners are told that their sperm is “okay”. When I review a semen analysis, most are not “okay”, in fact, barely passable these days. While 50% motility, morphology was standard 10 years ago, today I typically see 5% or even lower. The chances here are slim to none. However, male factor can easily be treated with acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and the right nutrition and supplement regimen. In fact, when I treat both partners, the success rate both naturally and with IVF is exponentially higher! Many times the couples do not have to consider IVF. They get pregnant naturally, and within a matter of 3-6 months. It typically takes 90 days to improve both egg and sperm quality so I always ask that you make at least a 90-day commitment. Generally giving it 6 months is ideal.
Some of the causes of “unexplained infertility” might be due to:
- Male factor
- An undiagnosed autoimmune condition like autoimmune thyroid or Hashimoto’s
A genetic mutation called MTHFR, which can cause both implantation failure and early miscarriage
- Low Vitamin D
- Excessive weight in both partners or just the woman
- Excessive stress, “Type A” personality
- Fatigue and living an on-the-go/never stopping lifestyle
- Chronic inflammatory conditions including PCOS, endometriosis, gut issues
- Poor nutrition and environmental toxicity
- Hormone imbalance, a short luteal phase or other menstrual abnormality
- Lack of sleep, exhaustion, adrenal burnout
- A history of birth control pills
- Depression, anxiety
- Excessive alcohol or marijuana use
- Obsessing over conception
- Some medications
Doctors might easily give you one of the reasons but frequently they say they do not know! So what can you do about this? You can ask to have some important blood work done to rule out MTHFR, have a complete thyroid panel done, including thyroid antibodies (do not accept just TSH—it’s useless!). Have your Vitamin D level checked. Consult with an Acupuncturist trained in Functional Medicine (like me!) who can order some of this testing if your MD refuses. In CA, Acupuncturists are considered primary care and we can order blood chemistry and imaging. Your partner’s blood chemistry is also important–I typically now only treat both partners.
Do not despair! I have treated so many couples over the years with great success.
Sharon Pruss, L.Ac.