Chinese medicine research is important for practitioners and public alike. We have research information on anovulation, IVF success, period pain and endometriosis
(1) Chinese herbal medicine and anovulation
Ovulation is absolutely essential for natural fertility. A meta-analysis published in 2012 (a study of previously published studies) showed Chinese herbal medicine is highly effective at increasing ovulation frequency. It also revealed no significant side-effects from Chinese herbs used for infertility and specifically for anovulation (this ia a major problem with Clomiphene citrate “clomid”).[i]
The study (involving 1659 participants) found the Chinese herbal medicine resulted in:
- Ovulation rates 1½ times more likely to be increased than with Clomid
- Pregnancy was over 3 times more likely to happen compared to Clomid
- Miscarriage was only 20% as likely in comparison to Clomid
- Improvements to the quality and quantity of cervical mucus (essential for natural pregnancy) was over 3 times more likely to happen with Chinese herbs compared to Clomid
In Chinese medicine there are many possible explanations for anovulation, but the main ones are:
- Cold types who need Kidney energy warming and
- Heavy types who need greater movement of body fluids
- Stuck types who need a better flow of blood and hormones
- Pale types that need blood reserves strengthened
We all have relative strengths and weaknesses that affect the likelihood of us getting tired, having a headache, catching a cold or getting pregnant. Many studies[ii] indicate Chinese medicine works very well at improving fertility by internal health.
(2) Chinese herbal medicine increases pregnancy rates in IVF[iii]
Adding a Chinese herbal formula (Er Zhi Tian Gui San) to the IVF treatment of ‘Hot type’ women undergoing IVF resulted in significant differences in treatment outcomes:
- The women taking herbs had significantly less ‘hot type’ symptoms
- Ovarian stimulation lengths and doses were significantly lower in the herbal + IVF group
- High-quality egg numbers were higher in the IVF + herbal group
- Numbers of high quality embryos were higher in the IVF + herbal group
- Levels of a protein found in the uterus lining important for implantation (DNA methylating enzyme DNMT1) were much higher in the treatment group
- The pregnancy rates were higher in the treatment group than in the control group
The authors suggest that changes to the nature of the womb lining at the time of implantation may help explain the higher pregnancy rates.
(3) Chinese herbal medicine doubles the chance of pregnancy with IVF
A meta-analysis published in 2013 (involving 1721 women) indicates using Chinese herbal medicine alongside in-vitro fertilization (IVF) significantly increases the chances of a pregnancy (twice the chance) compared to the use of IVF on its own, as well as significantly increasing the chance of a successful outcome for the parents.[iv]
(4) Chinese herbs with western drugs for immune based infertility[v]
A study involving 3,496 women diagnosed with infertility found that 2,062 (59%) tested positive for abnormal levels of antibodies known to affect fertility (ASAb, EMAb, AOAb, ACAb). The women were then treated with a combination of a Western drug (dexamethasone; a steroid) and a Chinese herbal formula (Xiaokangwan), plus vitamin E and vitamin C.
At the end of two courses of treatment their antibody levels were re-tested:
- Over 85% of the abnormal antibody levels had returned to normal
- 66% of the women were pregnant
(5) Acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment greatly improves intrauterine insemination (IUI) success
In a retrospective study[vi] by Tel Aviv Medical Center’s Fertility Research Institute, comparing conception and delivery rates of intrauterine insemination (IUI) on its own, to IUI alongside acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine found that:
|IUI alone||IUI + Chinese medicine|
|Average age (years)||37.1||39.4|
The average age of the women who had Chinese medicine with IUI was over two years higher than the women in the IUI alone group.
(6) Chinese herbal medicine works for period pain
This is a Cochrane Database Systematic Review (2007)[vii], where thirty-nine randomly controlled trials involving 3475 women were included (The Cochrane Database is considered the ‘Gold standard’ in research evidence).
Chinese herbal medicine led to significant improvements in:
- Relieving period pain: nearly twice as likely (1.99x) as pharmaceutical drugs to relieve pain
- Overall symptoms of the period: over twice (2.17x) as likely to work compared to pharmaceutical drugs
- Reducing the use of additional medication: the Chinese herbs were more effective (1.58x) than the pharmaceutical drugs
When the Chinese herbal prescriptions were individually tailored to patients the results for pain relief were even better.
(7) Chinese herbal medicine for endometriosis[viii]
Chinese medicine has a long history of use in Taiwan; the National Health Insurance Research Database surveyed a million users and found:
- 8% women of childbearing age with endometriosis used Chinese medicine
- Women were as likely to use Chinese medicine as Western medicine for endometriosis
Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are effective in treating endometriosis and also have the advantage of improving fertility and improving pregnancy rates:
- Chinese herbal medicine given after laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis shrinks the endometriosis and reduces pain as effectively as any medical drugs. 69% of the women later became pregnant[ix]
- Chinese herbal medicine is more effective than western drugs at improving both woman’s quality of life and increasing the chances of a pregnancy after surgery to remove endometriosis[x] [xi]
- Acupuncture significantly reduces endometriosis pain, as confirmed by the few quality studies conducted into this[xii]
[i] ‘Chinese herbal medicine for infertility with anovulation: a systematic review.’ Tan L et al. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Dec;18(12):1087-100.
[ii] ‘Efficacy of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine in the management of female infertility: A systematic review’ Karin Ried, Keren Stuart Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2011) 19, 319—331
[iii] ‘Effects of Chinese Medicines for Tonifying the Kidney on DNMT1 Protein Expression in Endometrium of Infertile Women During Implantation Period.’ J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Oct 17.
[iv] ‘Can Chinese herbal medicine improve outcomes of in vitro fertilization? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.’ Cao H. et al. PLoS One. 2013 Dec 10;8(12):e81650.
[v] ‘Clinical observation on treatment of 2,062 cases of immune infertility with integration of traditional Chinese medicine and western medicine.’ Du Y, et al. J Tradit Chin Med. 2005 Dec;25(4):278-81.
[vi] ‘Acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment for women undergoing intrauterine insemination’ Keren Sela et al. European Journal of Integrative Medicine Volume 3, Issue 2, June 2011, Pages e77–e81
[vii] ‘Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhoea.’ Zhu X, Proctor M, Bensoussan A, Smith CA, Wu E. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Oct 17;(4):CD005288.
[viii] ‘The traditional Chinese medicine prescription pattern of endometriosis patients in Taiwan: a population-based study.’ Fang RC, et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:591391.
[ix] ‘Chinese herbal medicine for endometriosis.’ Flower A, et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Jul 8;(3):CD006568.
[x] ‘Chinese medicine improves postoperative quality of life in endometriosis patients: a randomized controlled trial.’ Zhao RH et al. Chin J Integr Med. 2013 Jan;19(1):15-21.
[xi] ‘Controlling the recurrence of pelvic endometriosis after a conservative operation: Comparison between Chinese herbal medicine and western medicine’ Zhao RH, et al. Chin J Integr Med. 2012 Dec 22.
[xii] ‘Acupuncture for pain in endometriosis.’ Zhu X, et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Sep 7;(9):CD007864.