Chinese Medicine and Grief after IVF

The entire IVF rollercoaster can pretty much cover every type of emotion possible. From joy, hope and happiness to anger, sadness, loss and grief.

Experiencing negative emotions in intensity, for long periods of time or not acknowledging them or expressing them can result in long term health concerns.

Chinese medicine has a different way of looking at emotions. We see pathological negative emotions as a cause of disease, similar to a poor diet and lack of exercise.

Each emotion has a particular affect on the body’s energy. For example, worry and anguish ‘knots qi’. Worry specifically affects the stomach, which is why you can feel that knotted feeling in your abdomen when you’re worried or anxious.

Anger causes your Liver energy to tighten and heat up, sending heat up to your head. The old saying of ‘steam coming out of your ears’ exactly describes what anger does to the body. Alcohol can worsen this reaction in some people because it adds heat to your Liver.

But sadness and grief has a strong affect on the Lungs. In Chinese medicine, healthy Lung energy works to pull the breath into the body, manage the rhythm of all of the body’s processes and is the first line of defence in protecting the body against pathogens.

Sadness weakens Lung Qi. After loss, you can experience a tight chest, shortness of breath, hyperventilation and general tiredness. You may even develop a cough within a couple of days.

I see in clinic many women suffering from the effect sadness and grief has on the Lungs after an IVF failure or miscarriage. But I also see lots of women who haven’t expressed their grief or sorrow. So below are some health tips for helping deal with grief and sadness…naturally.

Natural Health Tips for Dealing with Grief, Sorrow and Sadness

Breathing – spend time each day to breathe. Mindfully concentrate on deep inhalation and exhalation – even pairing this with yoga if you feel up to it. You will noticeably feel better

Crying – don’t be afraid to express your grief with tears. Crying moves qi and helps you to ‘let go’ of sadness. Holding on to tears can actually cause accumulation in the lungs and I often see bronchitis or pneumonia develop after experiencing loss because of this.

Keeping warm – this prevents you from getting sick. Because the Lung’s defence is weakened during grief, make sure you keep your neck, abdomen, low back and feet warm.

Talking to someone – if it’s your partner, a good friend, your mum or even a professional, talking again keeps Lung energy moving. It helps with the process of ‘letting go’. I find as an acupuncturist, seeing women after their IVF has been unsuccessful, this appointment is really important for expressing feelings.

Massage – a great way to unknot stuck energy. I would advise telling your massage therapist about your loss as massage during grief can result in huge emotional releases. You could be sobbing the whole way through your treatment….which is ok!

Acupuncture – we have specific points and treatments to improve the function of your Lung energy after experiencing grief and sadness. We can use acupuncture to strengthen Lung Qi, move accumulation and improve the Lung detoxification process. Similar to massage, acupuncture can result in a big emotional release.

Grief, loss and sadness are unfortunately an inevitable part of life. Our bodies are great at managing negative emotions when give the opportunity to do so. Be kind to yourself and let your body process your grief in it’s own time.

Laughing after Embryo Transfer Improves Your Chance of a BFP

I really just love that a bunch of researchers have made the effort and had the research funds approved to find out the answer to this question…does laughing after your embryo transfer improve your chance of falling pregnant?

Turns out the answer is yes!

So the researchers figured that IVF is stressful (we’re in agreeance here right?). They also found that stress can have negative effects on fertility (also in agreeance). He then discovered that laughing reduces stress (it’s a hat trick!). Therefore, why wouldn’t laughing improve your chance of falling pregnant?

The design of the study included a 15 min visit from a “professional medical clown” (fantastic occupation title!) just after the embryo transfer. While the women were still lying on the treatment table.

Each patient in the intervention group was visited by a professional medical clown immediately after their embryo transfer. “The routine included jokes, tricks, and magic and was performed on a one-to-one basis with the clown dressed as a ‘‘chef de cuisine.’’” (Friedler et al, 2010).

36.4% of these women fell pregnant as opposed to the group with no medical clown intervention, where only 20.2% of women fell pregnant. As far as statistics go, this is a significant finding!

We’ve all heard that ‘laughter is the best medicine’ and all over the globe there are laughing classes designed to improve health. I also found you can participate in laughing yoga!

In research, laughing has been found to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenalin, reduce blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol. It has also been found to boost the immune system and improve blood circulation – similar benefits to regular exercise.

Laughing can also increase endorphins (happy hormones) which helps manage pain and helps create a positive frame of mine. All very much needed throughout your IVF experience.

“Laughter is a highly complex process. Joyous or mirthful laughter is considered a positive stress (eustress) that involves complicated brain activities leading to a positive effect on health.” (sciencedaily.com)

Research into laughter’s effect on the body started in 1978 when Norman Cousins (not a doctor), was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and treated himself into remission (with the guidance of medical professionals) with laughter.

His study is still reportedly one of the first into mind-body medicine.

All kidding aside…(see what I did there?)

Laughter can improve your chance of falling pregnant with IVF. Research says so. 

From a Chinese medicine point of view, laughing helps move blood and energy. Stress through the IVF experience can cause energy to stagnate which results in pain, emotional upset and unsmooth uterine blood flow.

In ancient Chinese texts, it is also mentioned that joy (and therefore laughter) is an emotion strongly linked to healthy heart energy. Your heart energy is connected to your uterus energy for the purpose of growing your baby with love.

I would think it’s important to encourage yourself to laugh throughout your entire IVF experience, not just after transfer. As we have just learned, it has so many other health benefits.

It also doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t take much time. Sounds like an ideal natural support for IVF to me!

So don’t forget to find ways to laugh throughout your IVF experience :)

References: Friedler, S et al., 2010 The effect of medical clowning on pregnancy rates after an in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer, Fertility and Sterility, vol. 95, no. 6, pp. 2127-2130

Getting More Sun Improves IVF Success

Vitamin D has long been linked to improved physical and mental health.

It is important for the production of hormones, bone health, a well working immune system, muscle function, heart health, respiration and brain development.

It has specifically been found to be a great predictor of success in IVF too with higher levels found to correlate with a higher chance of pregnancy success*.

In Chinese medicine, the sun’s warmth increases internal warmth and blood flow, which is ideal for improving medication delivery to your ovaries and blood delivery to your uterine lining.

Being outside is also a great way to feel relaxed.

So aim to get at least 30% of your skin (arms, legs and face) in the sun for 20-30 minutes per day for adequate amount of natural vitamin D absorption.

Of course, avoid the sun in the middle of the day to reduce excessive sweating, sunburn or heat stroke, especially after your embryo transfer.

Supplementation can of course help, but nothing beats the real thing!

 

Avoiding Getting Sick with the Change of Seasons

A cool shift has already started as early as this morning. Summer is almost over.
The body is really great at adapting to seasonal changes when you feel healthy. However, if you feel run down, stressed, exhausted or feel like you’ve been fighting off a cold for the last couple of weeks, the change of seasons can really upset it’s ability to adapt.

In Chinese medicine, you have this incredible type of energy called Wei Qi, translated as Defensive Qi, that circulates in the outermost layer of your body. It’s kind of like the security guard to pathogens entering your body.

When you are really healthy, this energy is thought to extend further than the skin, kind of like a protective shield around your body.

It is continuously fighting off pathogenic attacks but if it can’t match the strength of the pathogen, you unfortunately get sick.

The change of seasons is almost like the ‘shift change’ of one security guard to another. There’s a little gap of time where immunity is not as strong as the body adapts to changing environments.

However, you can strengthen this immunity by improving your general wellbeing. A balanced lifestyle and diet is the ideal way to improve your Wei Qi and protect your body against pathogens.

So over the next week or so, aim to do some of these things:

  • ensure you get 8-9 hours sleep each night and be asleep by 11pm (Wei Qi needs time to be nourished)
  • have a big glass of water first thing in the morning, before you doing anything else – with lemon if you can
  • ensure you are eating 5-7 serves of vegetables per day
  • avoid cold foods – especially for breakfast
  • drink peppermint tea and ginger tea – great for boosting immunity
  • enjoy low intensity aerobic exercise and yoga/tai chi or qi gong
  • practise mindfulness to help slow down your body, save energy for immunity instead of stress
  • keep with your regular acupuncture treatments – all acupuncture treatments strengthen qi, including Wei Qi. Many people notice they stop getting as many colds with their treatments, even if I’ve been treating their back pain!
Lastly, and most importantly, RUG UP – this is a big problem on the GC, going from summer to winter. Start getting out your closed in shoes, slippers, cardis, jackets and scarves. Start wearing singlets under your work shirts and keeping your slippers on around the house. Keep your neck, low back, low abdo and ankles warm as this is where pathogens enter your body. Let your clothes protect you first so your Wei Qi doesn’t have to work so hard.

If you do think you are starting to feel sick, pop in for a treatment. Acupuncture works so well in the very early stages of getting a cold. It actually supports your Wei Qi to push invading pathogens back out instead of just masking symptoms. Kind of like improving the strength and training of your ‘security guard’.

I can honestly say I do this. If I wake up with a sore throat, I make an appointment with my acupuncturist that day. This has happened twice in the last month as my exposure to people being sick is increasing. I haven’t taken a cold and flu tablet for at least 10 years now. They don’t help very much anyway.

Acupuncture, rest and nourishing foods is the best cure for a cold :)

Complementary Therapies for Labour and Birth – New Study

When it comes to complementary medicine, the scientific results for what to use to assist with a safe and natural labour, are very hit and miss. The reason for this, is that complementary medicine usually treats individuals and research studies look at large groups. So it’s hard to say for sure what single therapies work best on their own in large studies. Unfortunately small studies aren’t able to give enough weight to the result either – a constant problem with complementary medicine research and evidence based medicine.

However, with a rise in the rates of intervention in labour, particularly in Australia and other developed countries, more information is desperate.

So earlier this month, there was a new Australian study published looking into the effect of an integrative antenatal education programme to assist pregnant women through labour. The integrative part is the bit I like best. They looked at six different techniques including; acupressure, visualisation and relaxation, breathing, massage, yoga techniques and facilitated partner support.

They were looking to see what effect these therapies combined would have on the rate of epidural use, onset of labour, augmentation (added methods to bring on labour like manual membrane rupture or oxytocin medication), mode of birth and newborn outcomes.

They found that the implementation of these techniques together significantly reduced epidural use and caesarean section.

Other findings – although not significant, they also found that there was a reduced rate of augmentation, length of second stage labour, perineal trauma and resuscitation of the newborn.

For full disclosure – there were no differences found in spontaneous onset of labour, pethidine use, rate of postpartum haemorrhage, major perineal trauma or admission to intensive care unit. However, these may have been more physical or functional concerns associated with existing conditions and not able to be assisted with complementary methods.

Something they noted, is that the study did include a high number of ‘relatively wealthy, well educated women’ but it was also followed up with the discussion point that the highest rates of epidural use and caesarean section are amongst this same population.

Any complementary therapies that can help reduce epidural use and caesarean section numbers are a worthwhile investment in my opinion so it’s some exciting news. Not so much for the people already using these therapies because you’re already benefiting. But it will mean more women and families could be directed towards this style of protocol.

I do recommend all of these therapies with all of the pregnant women I see. Usually prior to 36 weeks because I find it can take some practice for some of the visualisation, yoga and breathing techniques. The great thing is, all of these therapies are safe. Safe pregnancies with healthy mums and bubs is the most ideal outcome.

For a link to the original article, click here.

Wonderful news!

Details of the techniques if you’re interested…

The protocol started prior to 36 weeks in combination with their usual hospital care and included:

  1. Visualisation – four guided visualisations rehearsed through the courses and given to participants on a CD to practice at home
  2. Yoga postures – five postures and movements practiced to encourage relaxation, physiological position for labour, opening of the pelvis and downward descent of the baby
  3. Breathing techniques – four breathing techniques were introduced: soft sleep breaths for relaxation between contractions; blissful belly breaths (BBs) which were used during contractions for pain relief; Cleansing Calming Breaths used following contractions during the transition period of labour; and the gentle birthing breath (GB) which was for use during the second stage of labour and encouraged descent of the baby avoiding active pushing and protection of the pelvic floor
  4. Massage – two techniques were shown to partners: the endorphin massage used between contractions, which is a soft technique and encourages endorphin release; and the stronger massage which is used during contractions for pain relief and focuses on squeezing the buttock, especially the piriformis muscle, to interrupt pain perception
  5. Acupressure – the use of six main points for use during labour selected from a previously published protocol. These focus on hormone release for labour progression, augmentation of contractions, pain relief, nausea and positioning of baby. For a free booklet on these acupuncture points and how to use them, head to Debra Bett’s website here.
  6. Facilitated partner support – used concept of working with pain and instructs partners to advocate for the labouring woman, promoting her oxytocin levels and minimising her stress with actions and techniques which are supportive for the birthing woman, and gives time for facilitated discussion and rehearsal by couples during the course.

pregnancy picture

Aging and Environmental Factors Affect Embryo Growth

Recently, a comprehensive article was published in the respected journal, Fertility and Sterility detailing the effects of aging and environmental factors on egg, sperm and embryo growth and development. When you look at the statistics of IVF, the numbers aren’t great. Out of all eggs that are retrieved, only 7% of those will result in a full term delivery. So as you can imagine, there is a lot of research looking into how that number can be improved….not surprisingly many of the points relate to ways of being healthier in general but there was some interesting new findings. The article was technical and a bit tedious so I have done the hard work for you and summarised the important points below.

Aging and the Environment for Egg, Sperm and Embryo Health

  • positive environmental factors include; androgen supplementation (testosterone), healthy diet, exercise, nutritional supplements and pyschological interventions
  • negative environment factors include; aging, reduced androgens, oxidative stress, obesity, smoking, alcohol, oxidative stress
  • CoQ10 – antioxidant found to be very important for cellular energy and energy for cell division, reducing CoQ10 was associated with a reduction in the number of follicles, the recommended daily dosage is 600mg per day for at least 2 months prior to IVF
  • Androgen (eg, testosterone) – adrenal DHEA and testosterone decline with age and are associated with reduced number of follicles, increased cell death and reduced egg competence
  • Antioxidants – reduced antioxidants reduce embryo quality, affects sperm DNA fragmentation and it’s recommended for all men over the age of 40 years old to be supplementing, vitamin C is the most cost effective antioxidant, increase pomegranate, berries, chocolate, espresso, fruits and vegetables, turmeric, cumin, ginger and oregano
  • Obesity – associated with high level of oxidative stress in follicular fluid, moderate exercise was associated with 3 fold increase in clinical pregnancy, weight loss is recommended as well as supplementation of omega 3 and antioxidants
  • Smoking – for the female smoker it can reduce IVF success by half and increase miscarriage rate by one fourth, a similar trend was found even with donor eggs so there is a uterine effect as well as ovarian, for the male partner smoking is associated with reduction in IVF success, results in severe oxidative stress, recommended to high does antioxidants and quit smoking 3-6 months before considering IVF
  • Alcohol – reduces IVF success and increases miscarriage rates, suggested to avoid throughout IVF cycle
  • Caffeine – conflicting research, advise to limit consumption
  • AGEs (advanced glycation end product) – toxic end products from high glucose diets and ingestion of food at high temperatures, suggested to boil, microwave or poach food to cook to avoid
  • BPA (bisphenol A) – a chemical found in plastic containers, canned food linings and credit card receipts, high levels found to show lower implantation rates, also associated with miscarriage and reduced sperm quality
  • Exercise – moderate exercise recommended, found to improve egg and sperm function and IVF outcomes, also reduces oxidative stress, vigorous exercise can however reduce IVF success although not in obese women, men cycle more than 5 hours per week was found to reduce semen quality, proposing increased heat as the reason
  • Diet – recommendations include less red meat, less saturated fats, more seafood, more fruit and vegetables – similar to a Mediterranean diet
  • Omega 3 fatty acids – exist in large quantities in sperm membranes, early research shows it improves IVF outcomes, suggested to supplement with 1800 mg per day for 6 months to increase total sperm, motility and morphology
  • Stress – stress of infertility has been compared to having a diagnosis of HIV, depression and anxiety are negative factors for pregnancy outcomes, negative life events 12 months before IVF cycle predicted failure and reduced number of eggs retrieved, suggested that stress shifts blood flow to the heart, brain and muscles and away from non essential organs like ovaries and uterus, decreases in anxiety were associated with the greatest improvement in pregnancy rates, suggested treatments included cognitive behavioural therapy and mind body sessions to work on relaxation, stress management, lifestyle recommendations and group support, also to deal with cycle failures

These are all factors you can include in your IVF cycle to maximise your pregnancy outcomes. Acupuncture works well to improve blood flow and reduce your stress response to improve your pregnancy outcome. I cannot stress the importance of a healthy diet and good quality supplements in really improving your cellular energy. Science can only take you so far. Never feel like there is nothing else you can do to improve your chances of having a family through natural fertility or IVF.

Please let me know if you have any questions or would like further clarification about any of these points.

Paige :-)

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