IVF and Alternative Medicine: Friends, Not Foes

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Have you heard of acupuncture, yoga, herbs or any other alternative medicines to treat reproductive issues? Did this sound too easy, too good to be true, or too far out there for you?

For couples using IVF or other Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) to conceive, alternative medicine can enhance success rates and in this article I will explain how. 

Often times in the medical field two camps are seen as separate and unequal: the traditional (in this case, hormone replacement, ovulation enhancers, IUIs, IVF, etc.) and the alternative (in this case, acupuncture, chiropractics, yoga, herbs, nutrition, reiki, etc.) to treat medical issues. While you can draw a line between the two if you wish and even categorize one as superior to the other, I choose to see them as complementary to one another. This is because by default, each form of medicine has its' strengths and weaknesses. Evidence shows that by utilizing resources from both sides, you can get the best of both worlds. Allow me to explain.

 

Who says traditional and alternative medicine can't be combined for optimal results?

Who says traditional and alternative medicine can't be combined for optimal results?

When couples use ART to conceive, there is a sense of control and comfort knowing that you are under the care of well-trained physicians who are experienced in their fields and the ability to regulate your body to compensate for whichever reproductive struggles you may be facing. To receive a diagnosis, however debilitating, is somewhat relieving because you have an answer to a burning question. Well established and common treatments, however challenging, are seen as safe and reassure you that you are doing the best you can for your reproductive health. 

Thus, it is understandable that when faced with information that falls outside of these doctors' expertise, be it the use of herbal medicines to regulate menstruation or yoga practices that enhance blood flow, it may feel uncomfortable, less controllable, and ultimately, less of a sure deal. Why? Because these forms of medicine are not widely used in Western science you may have less exposure to them, less experience with them, and therefore less trust in them. Concepts such as stagnant energy, depleted nutritional stores, and misaligned skeletal system may seem outlandish when you hear about them for the first time. 

If you're skeptical about using alternative medicine, you're not alone. 

If you're skeptical about using alternative medicine, you're not alone. 

Furthermore, as I discussed earlier, the two camps are considered to be antagonists. Traditional medicine, which is more popular and common among Western families, largely depicts alternative medicine as quackery or pseudoscience (notice the words themselves, "traditional" verses "alternative"- which sounds safer to you?). Alternative, or complementary medicine, often seeks the same results as traditional medicine with different methods and therefore does not advocate for the other side either. There is a gap between them that neither side is particularly trying to bridge. Again, I think there is a bigger picture in which families can benefit from using all of the resources around them to enhance their fertility, regardless of popularity or familiarity.

In my research I have found that traditional ART has its' successes, there is no doubt. The past 40 years (and especially the last 20) have brought us forward in leaps and bounds in terms of what we are able to accomplish with ART, from the use of frozen sperm and eggs, to the increased genetic testing of embryos, to the evolution of the drugs themselves.

At the same time, average success rates for IVF hover around 40% for women under 35 with good health, and that decreases with age. With all the time, energy, resources, emotion, and money families put into IVF, I believe 40% just isn't high enough. And this is where alternative medicine comes in. 

Technology has brought us many new techniques for conceiving but the odds still hover around 40% for IVF

Technology has brought us many new techniques for conceiving but the odds still hover around 40% for IVF

Let's use a common scenario that many couples face: a woman over 35, with poor quality eggs, supposedly due to age.

We do know that on average, women's egg quality tends to decrease with time, and we know this hinders eggs' ability to to successfully develop, divide, implant and thrive. Let's examine the different ways our two styles of medicine focus on treatment.

Traditional medicine acknowledges this and so encourages women to produce more eggs during ovulation via drugs (the idea being more eggs=more chances of a higher quality egg) or to utilize donor eggs from a younger woman to ensure the egg's viability.

Alternative medicine also acknowledges this. However, instead of focusing on either replacing the egg or increasing the pool of eggs available, alternative medicine points out that you can enhance your egg health, and that is the focus of treatment. The idea here is that egg health can improve with lifestyle factors, therefore increasing your opportunities to conceive, with just one of your own high-quality eggs.

Egg health is not fixed, it can be enhanced or diminished with lifestyle choices.

Egg health is not fixed, it can be enhanced or diminished with lifestyle choices.

Most people know that women are born with all our eggs, and because quality generally decreases with time, conclude that there is nothing you can do but start young, hope for the best or use a younger woman's eggs. That can be a depressing conclusion for women trying to conceive in their late 30's or 40's. Again, what alternative medicine brings to the table is another perspective and type of treatment that sees you as an active agent in your health.  

Did you know that there is a 3-month time frame leading up to ovulation during which our egg quality is highly sensitive to the environment? During these three months, our egg quality can be enhanced or diminished by our lifestyle factors. Eating egg enhancing foods, taking high-quality supplements and vitamins, reducing our exposure to environmental toxins, and releasing stress and worry enhances egg health. Conversely, a poor diet, high stress, excessive worry and environmental toxins reduce egg quality.  

Now, taking our hypothetical situation, a woman who is set for an IVF treatment (traditional medicine) who is said to have poor quality eggs can only benefit from adjusting her lifestyle (alternative medicine) to enhance the quality of her eggs.

You can improve your egg health during a 3-month window before ovulation. You have options. 

You can improve your egg health during a 3-month window before ovulation. You have options. 

That is just one small example of how alternative medicine can be beneficial for those using ART. In the following series I will give you a list of the best ways to improve egg health, from which supplements to take to which household items to avoid. 

In the meantime, I encourage you to explore your options on the alternative side as well as the traditional side if you are struggling to conceive. Families who are utilizing IVF can especially benefit from improving egg health, sperm health, and overall reproductive balance to increase chances for success at this sensitive time. Stay tuned!