Chinese Herbs For Fertility (And Your Mental Health): Fertility For People With Uteruses
Holistic Fertility practitioners know that the mind and body are not separate. And that in order to regulate your cycle, build your lining, improve your egg quality, and ultimately increase your chances of carrying a healthy baby to term, ALL of you is important. Meaning, you're not a walking incubator. The organs to carry a baby are important, but they're only part of the picture. You're a whole person with a complex body/mind system that deserves care and attention.
Unfortunately, the term "holistic fertility" gets mis-used and tokenized, many times at fertility clinics. Yes, fertility clinics are most people's main provider while undergoing fertility treatments like IUI, IVF, and Reciprocal IVF -- and -- most clinics simply lack the time (hello insurance billing!), the expertise, or the interest to take a truly holistic approach to your fertility journey. This can leave you feeling like a walking incubator, taking super high doses of hormones that leave you feeling spun-out, exhausted, and irritable without much in the way of support or relief.
Chinese Medicine and Fertility: The Original Holistic Fertility System
Chinese (or East Asian) Medicine understands the interconnection between body and mind so deeply, that the emotional health of the gestational-parent-to-be is part and parcel of both diagnosis and treatment. That means that to us, the original holistic fertility practitioners (alongside Ayurveda and Indigenous Medicine systems the world over), mental-emotional wellbeing is just as important as your physical health, when preparing to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term. Repeat: your mental health is just as important as the state of your cervical mucus, lining thickness, and egg quality. Why is that? That's not just to be "nice" or something, it's because your mind and your body are one system and they impact one another. For example, unprocessed trauma can show up in the body as painful periods that can be irregular and accompanied by difficult mood swings. And that's just one example of how holistic fertility practitioners, like acupuncturists and herbalists, might diagnose fertility issues!
How effective are Chinese Herbs for Fertility?
A 2015 meta-analysis of 40 randomized control trials, "involving more than 4200 [people with uteruses] suggests Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) taken over 3–6 months is more effective in the treatment of infertility than Western medical (WM) drug treatment, achieving on average a 60% pregnancy rate with CHM compared to 33% with WM."
Some of you may be wondering, why doesn't everyone with fertility issues, or even people simply trying to maximize their chances of getting pregnant, try Chinese herbal medicine? Especially given the fact that the 40 randomized control trials from the above study included people, "with PCOS, endometriosis, anovulation, fallopian tube blockage, or unexplained infertility." The truth is, many people simply aren't aware of how effective Chinese herbs are for fertility. Also, many fertility clinics that claim to be open to integrative or holistic approaches will discourage patients from using Chinese herbs citing "not enough research" or not having sufficient information regarding pharmaceutical interactions. However, Chinese fertility herbalists are trained in contraindications and there is no compelling evidence of contraindications happening in the hundreds of thousands of people using Chinese fertility herbs annually.
Fertility Herbs And Your Mental Health
So here is a round-up of the most commonly discussed fertility herbs, from the perspective of a fertility herbalist trained to see you as a whole person. This list will give you a much deeper and more nuanced way of looking at these herbs, so that you can decide which ones might benefit you the most. It looks at how these herbs will impact your cycle, lining, cervical fluid, and your mental health. And, I'm sprinkling in a bonus herb that you may have not heard about as a "fertility herb", but have been very helpful for fertility clients over time. Let's get started.
Vitex or Chaste Berry (Man Jing Zi) For Fertility
This commonly prescribed berry is helpful for people who are always hot, irritable, and tend toward anger. This is because Vitex clears heat according to East Asian Medicine, and calms the body and mind as a result. Vitex may also be for you if you tend toward overheating and have achy, painful muscles that get aggravated in damp weather. Vitex lowers prolactin levels which, in turn, increase Follicle Stimulating Hormone and Estrogen in people with uteruses.
If you're an irritable type who love air conditioning, Vitex may be for you.
Keep in mind that Vitex is most effective in combination with other herbs in a customized herbal formula for fertility.
Dioscorea or Shan Yao For Fertility
If you're already in the throes of Basal Body Temperature charting and know that your luteal phase (the # of days after ovulation) is less than 12 days, than Dioscorea may be for you. In order to hold a pregnancy, the gestational parent needs to have sufficient levels of progesterone, which can be supported by the use of Dioscorea. Having a short luteal phase can indicate you have lower-than-optimal progesterone levels. It can help with cervical fluid as well as the endometrium thickness (lining).
From a mental health perspective, Dioscorea might be for you if you tend to feel depressed and experience persistent fatigue. You may also have a sensitive digestive system.
Keep in mind that Dioscorea is most effective in combination with other herbs in a customized herbal formula for fertility.
Cinnamon For Fertility
Cinnamon in therapeutic doses (not just a cup or tea here or a sprinkle there) is for those of you looking to deepen your sleep (it increases delta wave sleep and reduces night wakings), lower elevated blood sugar, and warm you up if you're cold all the time. Cinammon is particularly useful for people who experience anxiety and depression coupled with heart palpitations and muscular pain that is relieved with heat (not cold).
In Chinese Medicine, cinnamon is used to warm the uterus and create better circulation in the pelvis. You might need the support of cinnamon if you experience menstrual cramping that is relieved by heat or menstrual flow that has a purple tinge and/or clotty.
Keep in mind that there are lots of types of cinnamon and that it is most effective in combination with other herbs in a customized Chinese herbal formula for fertility.
Angelica Sinensis or Dang gui (dong quai) For Fertility
Dang gui is an excellent fertility herb for people who experience fatigue, dizziness, difficulty staying asleep, anxiety/depression, and/or light or light-colored menstrual blood. If you've been told that you're anemic or have low hematocrit when searching for answers to your fatigue, Angelica can be a key support.
Angelica sinensis has been shown to regulate irregular periods as well as aid in the treatment of anemia. It is also a strong anti-inflammatory.
If you experience anxiety with heart palpitations and wake frequently at night, Dang gui may be for you.
Keep in mind that Angelica it is most effective in combination with other herbs in a customized Chinese herbal formula for fertility.
How To Use Chinese Herbs For Fertility
For folks looking for some low-key support on their fertility journey, you can add small amounts of herbs to your food or tea. For those looking for more impactful, customized support, working with a fertility herbalist is the way to go. In the meta-analysis referenced earlier, the impressive efficacy of Chinese Herbs for fertility were taken in customized formulas, made specific for each person's specific health concerns, constitution, and stage in their fertility journey. Reach out for a free, 20 minute Holistic Fertility consult today.
Ried K. Chinese herbal medicine for female infertility: an updated meta-analysis. Complement Ther Med. 2015 Feb;23(1):116-28. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2014.12.004. Epub 2015 Jan 3. PMID: 25637159.
Rafieian-Kopaei M, Movahedi M. Systematic Review of Premenstrual, Postmenstrual and Infertility Disorders of Vitex Agnus Castus. Electron Physician. 2017 Jan 25;9(1):3685-3689. doi: 10.19082/3685. PMID: 28243425; PMCID: PMC5308513.