One of the most exciting and fulfilling applications of acupuncture is in the area of fertility. The incidence of infertility has been rising, and currently affects about 12 percent of couples trying to become pregnant, which is about seven million couples in the United States. There are a number of reasons why this is happening, from lifestyle factors to diet, but one of the most common issues is that women are waiting until they are older to have children.
To understand why this is happening from the viewpoint of Chinese medicine, we need to look at the Kidney system. Each of our organs in Chinese medicine have a physical presence in your body, but they also work as a symbolic system of functioning, and have emotional importance as well. Your Kidney is considered to be the deepest organ in your body, and is home to the vital substances of Yin, Yang, and Essence.
Essence determines your overall health, and is one of the most important substances in your body. It serves as the foundation for all the others, from Qi and Blood, to Yin and Yang, as well as body fluids. Essence is responsible for tasks like growth, maturation, and development, that are also attributed to the Kidney system, where it is housed.
At the moment of conception, you inherit something called Pre-Natal Essence, which accounts for your growth, maturation, genetic traits, fertility, and body constitution. When you overdo it by working long hours, eating a poorly, struggle with unrelenting stress, and even as you age, your Pre-Natal Essence becomes depleted. When this kind of Essence is completely tapped out, you die. And while Pre-Natal Essence can’t be replaced, you can safeguard it through living healthfully, and you can supplement it by another kind of essence, called Post-Natal Essence.
You have some control over Post-Natal Essence, because it’s made from the nutrients you get from food, and can be built up by eating well, sleeping well, and living a life of moderation. You know your Post-Natal Essence is well-stocked if you have good energy, strength, and good overall health. In addition, any extra Post-Natal Essence is stored in your Kidney to augment Pre-Natal Essence.
Simply put, you can be born with poor-quality Pre-Natal Essence, but by living well, you can build up your Post-Natal Essence and protect what you have. It’s like being dealt a poor hand in a card game, but whether you win or not depends on how you play the game.
Your fertility is impacted by your Essence (both kinds) in that it becomes depleted as a part of the aging process. This is one of the reasons that it becomes harder to conceive as a woman gets into her mid to late thirties. As you are aging and Essence is diminishing, your ovaries are aging, too. This means that you may not ovulate every month, the number of eggs is reduced (we are born with a finite amount), and the quality of your eggs may decrease—all of which make it more difficult to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term.
In the context of Chinese medicine, the way to enhance fertility is by keeping your Essence and Kidney system as healthy as possible. There are a number of ways to do that. Among them:
-Your Kidneys are the organ system most damaged by chronic stress. In the early stages, stress affects functions like immunity and digestion, but over time that stress damages at a deeper level, which is when your Essence begins to take a hit. My best advice is to do whatever it takes to get your stress under control. Whether it’s taking a Yoga class, going fishing, or quitting your toxic job, getting out from under big stressors is the best thing you can do for your health.
-Your Kidney houses the vital substances of cool, nourishing Yin and warm and active Yang. To care for both of these substances means that you need to balance physical activity with rest. Yang activities are considered to be active, challenging, and exciting. In contrast, Yin activities are those that include rest, rejuvenation, and quiet reflection.
-You can enhance the health of your Kidney system through diet. The color related to the Kidney is black, so foods that are very dark in color are especially nourishing. Good choices include darkly colored vegetables, dark berries, black beans, black sesame seeds, and walnuts.
-Because the Kidney is associated with the water element, foods that come from the sea are also a good choice. Choose fish, sushi, seaweeds, and shellfish. Seafood is a good choice for an additional reason—the flavor of saltiness is Kidney-nourishing. So go for foods from the ocean (as opposed to fresh water fish), miso, and other lightly salted foods. Remember however, while a little salt is helpful, too much can upset the balance of fluids in your body, so stay with lightly salted foods.
-The physical Kidney is related to your lower back and knees. Gentle exercises to strengthen your back or knees, and stretches for those areas are beneficial to your Kidney. In addition, you can stimulate your Kidneys by gently patting your lower back at about the level of your waist on a daily basis.
-Finally, the emotion most associated with the Kidney is fear. Beyond dealing with stress, acknowledging and handling any circumstances in your life that make you feel fearful will help to enhance the health of your Kidneys. Certainly the emotional toll of fertility issues can lead to fearfulness and anxiety. It’s important to recognize those feelings, and realize how important it is to be kind to yourself. Your Kidney depends on it!