Archive for tag: oriental medicine

Phlegmy Fibroids and Other TCM and Infertility Concepts

One in four American couples struggle with infertility. Of those women who either cannot get pregnant after 12 months of trying or who cannot carry a baby to term, around 45% seek medical assistance. A study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine indicates that acupuncture may increase the success of IVF therapy by as much as 65%, but how is it working?


Dr. David Bai and Dr. Linda Xu summarize that acupuncture has been shown to:

  • Balance elevated follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) and regulate the menstrual cycle
  • Improve ovary or testicle health resulting in better egg or sperm quality;
  • Increase blood supply to the uterus and build up the uterine lining;
  • Help implantation and reduce the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy;
  • Release the stress of infertility and its related treatments;
  • Increase the success rates of IVF and IUI.

That's the western world's attempt to explain an ancient Chinese practice. Now let's put it into our Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terminology. Infertility can be caused by a variety of disharmonies in the body of the woman, the man, or both. Generally speaking, it can usually be traced to some sort of deficiency, stasis, or heat condition. That's too general for me. I need more specific information.


Kidney Yang Deficiency, Ren and Chong Disharmony, Jing Deficiency, Kidney & Liver Yin Deficiency, Spleen Blood Deficiency, Spleen Qi Deficiency, Heart/Liver Blood Deficiency, Damp Retention, Phlegm Accumulation, Blood Stasis, Qi Stagnation, Heat in the Blood, and the list goes on seemingly indefinitely as you combine the abovementioned patterns in a horrid and unsatisfactory mix and match fashion.

Think that's a lot of patterns? Well, there's a lot of infertile couples out there. This array of options lends itself to several western presentations of infertility. It also explains why one treatment strategy, whether it be an herb, an exercise, or an acupuncture point prescription, can't work for everyone. There are indeed acupuncture points and herbal formulas that address each and every one of those patterns of disharmony, but each patient can expect a unique treatment strategy based on his or her presentation.


While acupuncture appears to give the same result as Clomid (a 50% success rate for producing an egg in a given cycle), it also has a two-fold added bonus. First, acupuncture has no negative side-effects. Secondly, acupuncture will almost always produce seemingly unrelated positive benefits on health and wellness. Going in for irregular menstrual cycles? You'll probably also sleep better. Going in for low sperm count? You'll probably also feel relief from your chronic lower back pain.


Many patients seeking acupuncture assistance for infertility will also be given herbs to assist in the balancing and overall wellness. These two modalities in combination often produce better results than either one alone, similar to the way that patients receiving acupuncture with IVF have better results than those undergoing IVF alone. No matter the high efficacy of TCM in infertility cases overall, it's still not magic. If you've ruptured a fallopian tube or lost an ovary and are working with only one, it's still harder to conceive. If there's a structural issue, it's more difficult for TCM to help; in these cases, surgical repair might be indicated.


What's the conclusion? If you're struggling with infertility, give acupuncture (and herbs) a try! You could experience the improved menstrual regularity, ovulation, and conception that many others have. In the background, odds favor improved balance in other aspects of wellness from bowel movements to sleep quality. Our tip, as always, is to seek out a Licensed Acupuncturist to ensure you are working with someone who has been through the most rigorous and complete education and practical programs for Traditional Chinese Medicine in its entirety, rather than a provider from another field who has "added on" some hours in acupuncture training. Happy needling!

Further Reading: Treating Infertility with Traditional Chinese Medicine (Infertility Awareness Association of Canada)

Want to Freak Out an MD?

2014-07-03_yurasekWhen they ask you why you came in for an appointment today, go ahead and let them know that your urine is coming out in long, clear streams, and that your dreams have been creepily vivid this week. Tell them that your bowel movements are light brown, formed, and coming with ease twice per day in forearm lengths that would make Dr. Yurasek proud. Mention that you've been feeling kind of cold and that you can't stand being out in the wind. That heaviness in your arms? Mention it.

Dive straight into the rest of Oriental Medicine's famed "Ten Questions," noting whether you've been extra hungry, not so thirsty, frigidly anti-sexual, exhausted from periods with quarter-sized black clots, or muzzy-headed in the afternoons. It all matters. If you're in an AOM clinic, these are the types of things you can expect to be asked by your acupuncturist or herbalist. No one here bats an eye when patients share the color and consistency of their bowel movements. In fact, if you withhold that information, we can't really help you very well.

Here they are, in detail but translated by me:

The Ten Questions

  1. 2014-07-03_outlineDo you feel hot or cold, or do you experience fever or chills?
  2. Are you sweating and is it during the day or at night?
  3. What's up with your head and face? (EENT)
  4. Do you have any pain anywhere?
  5. How's your urine and stool coming out?
  6. Are you thirsty? Hungry? Got cravings?
  7. How've you been sleeping?
  8. Anything noteworthy going on in your abdomen/thorax? Who says "thorax"?
  9. What's up with your gynecology? If male, you can put "N/A," thank goodness.
  10. 10. General/Past Medical History (in case we didn't cover it all yet)

Your acupuncturist or herbalist not only wants to know these things, but also actuallyneedsto know many of these things in order to properly diagnose your condition and begin a treatment plan. If you have long, clear streams of urine, loose stool, weak knees, a sore lower back, and feel cold all the time...well, we know what's going on. No, I'm not going to tell you here. Look it up. Better yet, visit an acupuncturist!

So, if you're in an AOM clinic, have your thoughts on these vital topics prepared beforehand. Otherwise, you might be so thrown off guard by some of the Ten Questions that you can't formulate sentences. That's actually fine, because none of the 10 questions directly correlate to grammar skill level. Thank goodness, right? However, if you find yourself in the office of an MD, keep in mind that you might not want to just jump right in with details about where you are in your menstrual cycle and how gassy you've been, if your chief complaint is seasonal allergies. Just a tip, from me to you.

How to Use Chinese Herbs

Think it's too difficult for you? I think you're wrong. File this post away under the "if I can do it, you can do it" series. Unfortunately, this practical how-to post is the result of someone actually needing to use raw Chinese herbs to feel better--and that someone is me.

Remember that whole "damp-heat in the gall bladder" thing from a couple of weeks ago? Yep, me too. Turns out, I still have that going on. Yes, I self-diagnosed and self-treated in near silence. Did I say I was good at this? I'm sorry. No. I'm a student. I know close to nothing. In my defense, upon an actual visit to the NUHS AOM clinic to exercise my student-access-to-free-care privilege, I learned that I nailed my diagnosis and was only one off in my acupoints selection plan.

Ingredients for Treatment

I was indeed on my way towards getting back to normal, but not quite there yet. No. What I needed was a boost -- a big powerful boost in the health direction. I needed herbs from Dr. Cai. After showing my tongue and displaying my pulsating wrists to the masses of interns, I left the clinic with my trusty sack of Chinese herbs. At Dr. Cai's request, I also needed to add in a slice of fresh ginger and three red dates with each batch, which I happened to have on hand.

Many people would peer into this bag thinking, "What the heck do I do with this pile of roots, bark, mushrooms, berries, and other unidentifiables? Technically, there could be geckos and cicada shells in there...shudder. In fact I refuse to look up everything in the formula shown on my receipt just in case therearegeckos and cicada shells in there.... So, here it is--your pictorial step-by-step guide to using raw Chinese herbs in a decoction. This is the instruction sheet that goes home with the patient.

Instructions for Cooking Chinese Herbal Formula

What this is trying to say is dump one batch of the herbs into a pot, soak it, bring it to a boil, then simmer to reduce the liquid to a drinkable amount. Now, you'll want to find the perfect balance between "disgusting taste" and "effective dose," and that isnoteasy. You know you want to concentrate the liquid for potency, but you also know that you're increasing the taste by the same stroke.

Before Cooking and After Cooking

Most herbal decoctions do not taste good. Face it. Most of us are damp. We eat dairy and fried foods (mmmm...fried dairy), and we end up with damp-heat. Thus, we need bitter herbs much of the time. Who's the lucky fella who gets a simple Spleen Qi deficiency diagnosis that results in a sweet licorice and berries formula to take home? Not this guy!

So, I soak my bitter herbs, I boil my bitter herbs, I simmer my bitter herbs. I drink my powerful decoction, and I go to sleep to let my body do its thing. I wake up a little better, and I know I have five more nights of chugging down my "bedtime tea" before my tongue can register just how gross it really tastes.

"Bedtime Tea"

I could avoid much of the "hard work" in this process by requesting my herbs in granule form (like a dusty powder that you stir in warm water to dissolve). But then I'd lose a little potency. I could avoid all the work and the taste by requesting a patent pill formula, but then I'd lose even more potency. No thanks, weak sauce. I need the most full-strength option known to man -- ancient Chinese man, specifically. I need to decoct my raw herbs!

I Want It Now

Over the past four weeks in my "Nutrition and Food Therapy of Oriental Medicine" course, I've been frustrated and slightly puzzled over the subject matter. I'm usually more a go-with-the-flow student in class; I'm sure the instructor knows what we need to cover and how to cover it. This time around, I still think he knows what we need to cover and how to lay it out, but I'm not as easy going about the whole thing for some reason.

Maybe it's because it's springtime, so my Liver wind is swirling and I'm irritable. Perhaps I'm overly critical because dietetics is my personal favorite element of oriental medicine. Maybe I'm just a jerk. I don't know. I want to study therapeutic properties of foods, and I want to right now!


Let me start by saying how much I like this professor and every class I've had with him to date. The theory behind where we stick these needles and which herbal formulas we recommend is absolutely mind blowing. He taught me two years ago that winter has a color and a flavor -- black and salty, for the record. Yet each week, we seem to review the basics -- flavors and temperatures of substances. The course title indicates that the focus of the classwork will be nutrition and food therapy within the framework of oriental medicine, so I keep wanting more -- more detail, more examples, more ideas of how to alter a person's diet in order to improve health.

As we approach the famed Week Five Quiz that now makes an appearance in most classes, I'm starting to second-guess myself. Have we been just reviewing the basics of five-phase theory, or did the professor slip pages of new detail into the lectures when I wasn't looking? I'm sure he worked new information into the framework so smoothly that my associate learning didn't even know what was happening.

My frustration with this class is that I love the topic so much that I can't reach a satiation point. I will never have enough detail about food therapy to be content. I want more, I want it now, and I want to share it with everyone I know...and some people I don't even know yet.

2014-06-04_teaOnce again, springtime has duped me. I'm irritable, I'm impatient, and my Liver is out of control. Feel my pulse, second position on the left wrist. Can you say "wiry?"

As I do from time to time, I realize now it's time to reread the Dao de Jing, or the Tao Te Ching. Same book. Oh, pinyin, you are a beast that cannot be pinned down. The point is that this book, this short, easy to read, little book, can save your sanity. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, overstressed, over Livery in any way, I know it's time to pick it up.

Look at this thing. Lao Tzu, you genius!

"Those who know do not speak.
Those who speak do not know."

I, and just about everyone else, could learn a little something from that eloquent one-liner (two-liner?).

"Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe."

I don't even like poetry, but this stuff is literally masterful.

2014-06-04_wordsSo, why I am frustrated in Nutrition class? Why do I want to rush it? Why am I desperately grasping at the next piece of information? It's that "forcing a project to completion" part, that part I love for personal reasons. My procrastination has been vindicated!

As a professor, I often wait until the deadline to return students' papers; as a student, I expect my professors to grade my paper today! Actually, I don't think Lao Tzu would like that part.