As an acupuncturist, I often suggest that my patients use Chinese medicine alongside assisted reproductive technologies (ARTS). Several studies have demonstrated that just a few acupuncture treatments dramatically improve success rates of standard IVF. Chinese herbs are often prescribed to prepare your body for IVF. However, in most cases we instruct our patients to stop taking the herbs when they start to take fertility drugs. The exception to this is patients who have been poor responders to fertility drugs in the past. For these patients, with their doctors’ permission, we prescribe an herbal formula to be taken alongside follicle stimulating drugs to give extra support.
But what else can you do to support your body during an IVF cycle? Here’s some of the advice that I give to my patients:
Although I usually recommend stopping all herbal supplements before your IVF cycle, the same does not apply to nutritional supplements. These are the supplements I recommend to my patients:
- Probiotic – once a day first thing in the morning
- Pre-Natal Multi-Vitamin – as directed each day
- Vitamin C – 500mg once a day
- Vitamin E – 200iu once a day
- Vitamin D – 1,000 – 2,000mg once a day, depending on your level of deficiency
- DHA (Omega 3 Fatty Acids) – 1,000mg once a day
- Co-enzyme Q10 Ubiquinol – 400mg twice a day
If you have endometriosis
- Pycnogenol – 100mg once a day.
If you have PCOS
- Myo Inositol – 2 grams OR (3) 750mg tablets AM, and (2) 750mg tablets PM.
Find a Way to De-Stress
IVF is a stressful process. From morning monitoring to preparing and injecting drugs, there’s a lot to do. On top of that, it’s natural to be anxious about the outcome of the procedure. We don’t think it’s possible to protect yourself from stress completely, but it’s important to remember that stressed people do get pregnant.
However, I like to encourage my patients to find a way to relieve tension. Regular acupuncture can help enormously as can meditation. This Taoist Meditation, known as The Inner Smile, is a great way to melt away anxiety. Restorative yoga can also help but avoid inversions and poses that involve twisting the torso.
And don’t forget to breathe! When we get stressed our breath becomes rapid and shallow thanks to the “fight or flight” response initiated by the sympathetic nervous system. When we consciously take slow, deep breaths, we’re stimulating the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which is the one that calms us down. Other ways to relax? Go for a walk, watch a funny TV show, journal, create art or listen to music.
We don’t think it’s possible to protect yourself from stress completely, but it’s important to remember that stressed people do get pregnant.
Eat to Conceive
Eating well to maximize fertility is not much different from eating well to maximize good health in general.
- Eat a broad range of organic fruits and vegetables
Eating good-quality food is one of the most important things you can do. Avoid processed foods as much as you can and choose organic fruits and vegetables where possible. Eating organic allows you to avoid the pesticides, chemicals, synthetic additives, and other agents contaminating so much of our food supply and wreaking havoc on our health. These pose a long list of health risks. In terms of fertility, many agricultural chemicals, as well as the hormones given to animals raised for their meat, milk, or eggs, affect hormonal balance.
Furthermore, organically farmed crops are more nutritious, providing more of what a healthy body needs to thrive and be fertile. The soil they are grown in is nutrient-rich, and the crops are raised in such a way as to absorb those nutrients as nature intended. Research shows that the overall nutrition level of all our common foods has decreased over recent decades due to industrialized farming methods, which deplete the soil. Organic foods are actually able to nourish you better, and so you will be able to nourish new life.
2. Eat Wholegrains
Most of the grains Americans eat have been refined. They cook faster and spoil more slowly that way. They are also digested faster, much faster, so they bombard the body with simple carbohydrates—the same way sugar does, metabolically speaking—making us feel lousy. We constantly cycle from brief “sugar highs” to long, low “sugar crashes”—the sharp peaks and valleys of energy with which most of us are all too familiar. The fluctuations in blood sugar also affects your hormones so we encourage our patients to explore a wide range of whole grains; there’s a universe of them out there; discover high-protein quinoa; enjoy magnesium-rich millet; try spelt; switch to brown rice; experiment with bulgur. Just remember that all grains should be cooked thoroughly to ensure easy digestion.
3. Eat some healthy fats
First of all, you need to eat some fat. If you’ve been strict about keeping fat from crossing your lips, adding healthy fats back into your diet will be important for your fertility as well as your overall health. Your body needs dietary fat to make hormones, fight inflammation, and facilitate ovulation, among other things. You do need to make smart choices about which fats you eat. And, of course, you need to eat them in sensible quantities.
For more detailed advice tailored to your specific fertility type check out my book Making Babies: A Proven 3 Month Program for Maximum Fertility, which I wrote alongside a reproductive endocrinologist. By identifying your “fertility type,” inspired by the classical patterns of Chinese medicine, you can focus in on the strategies most helpful in your particular situation, and avoid the things that may be causing you problems.