Herbs And Treatments To Enhance Fertility From Chinese Medicine

A male hand touching a pregnant woman's belly
Picture of Natalie Chandra Saunders, BA(Hons)
Natalie Chandra Saunders, BA(Hons)

LicAc graduated from the College of Traditional Acupuncture, UK, with a Batchelor of Arts degree and Licentiate in Acupuncture with further training at Heilongjiang University

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is increasingly being considered as an option to enhance fertility, promote conception, and support healthy pregnancies. It can be used as a standalone treatment or alongside conventional therapies, including assisted reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

This article explores how TCM views fertility, and some of the most common treatment methods.

Table of Contents

The TCM view of fertility is quite complex and many different factors can affect it. However, the most fundamental aspect of it involves something known as the “three treasures.”

The three treasures include:

    • Jing – also known as Essence, jing is responsible for birth, growth, reproduction, and aging.

    • Shen – usually translated as “mind” or “spirit,” shen is responsible for our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

The other substance that plays a crucial role in fertility is Blood. It is especially important in female fertility due to its vital role in the menstrual cycle.

In TCM, Blood is spelled with a capital “B” to distinguish it from the western concept of blood. Although the two are quite similar, the TCM view of Blood is that it not only transports nutrients and oxygen around the body, but also has nourishing, warming, and moistening qualities.

Several different organs are involved in the production and maintenance of jing, qi, shen, and Blood. We will discuss these briefly below.

Kidneys

The Kidneys are considered essential to fertility in TCM. They store jing, which is responsible for a person’s reproductive capabilities. There are two types of jing: pre-heavenly and post-heavenly jing.

Pre-heavenly jing is present at birth and determined by the health of one’s parents at conception. Post-heavenly jing is cultivated after birth and depends upon a person’s diet and lifestyle.

Having strong and healthy jing generally results in fertility, and although pre-heavenly jing cannot be influenced, post-heavenly jing can. Therefore, it is crucial to pay attention to diet and lifestyle when trying to conceive.

In addition to storing jing, the Kidneys play a role in the production of qi and Blood, making them essential for good fertility.

Spleen

The Spleen is one of the key digestive organs in TCM. It is responsible for extracting the nutrients from food and circulating them around the body. As such, the Spleen plays a crucial role in the production of qi and Blood, and also the formation of post-heavenly jing.

Lungs

The Lungs draw fresh air into the body, which is necessary for the formation of qi and Blood. They work closely with the Kidneys and Spleen to create these vital substances and disperse them throughout the body.

Liver

The Liver is responsible for the smooth circulation of qi and Blood around the body. It also stores Blood and helps to maintain its nourishing properties.

The Liver is particularly important for female fertility and is often implicated in menstrual disorders, such as irregular or missing periods. In these cases, treating the Liver can often help to restore regular menstrual cycles.

Heart

The Heart houses the shen and is considered the seat of the emotions. A healthy Heart is crucial for good fertility, as emotional disturbances can have a knock-on effect on all of the other organs.

The Heart also plays a role in Blood formation and circulation and has a direct connection with the uterus via a special channel known as the Bao Mai (uterus vessel). Therefore, it is particularly important for female fertility.

Western Medicine Physiology

Like TCM, there are many different factors that can affect fertility in western medicine. They include genetics, stress, diet, and exposure to environmental toxins.

One of the key considerations is hormonal balance. In women, this includes the hormones estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These hormones are responsible for maintaining a regular menstrual cycle, promoting a healthy uterus, and supporting pregnancy.

Another important hormone to consider in female fertility issues is anti-mullerian hormone (AMH). It is an indicator of ovarian reserve and AMH levels decline with age. Low AMH levels can mean that it may be more difficult to get pregnant.

In men, the most important reproductive hormones are testosterone and FSH. They work together to ensure healthy testicular development and optimal sperm production. Imbalances in either of these hormones can result in a low sperm count, abnormal morphology (sperm shape), or motility (sperm movement).

TCM Approaches to Improving Fertility

According to TCM theory, fertility can be improved by using clinical approaches and dietary and lifestyle modifications.
Clinical approaches include herbal medicine and acupuncture, both of which can be adapted to suit the patient’s individual needs.

The potential benefits include improved hormonal balance, reduced stress, and increased circulation to the reproductive organs.
A 2021 review found that herbal medicine was useful for improving female fertility and increasing pregnancy rates in conditions including anovulation and PCOS. It was also beneficial for those undergoing assisted reproductive technologies. The evidence relating to acupuncture was more mixed.

Meanwhile, a 2022 review found that acupuncture could enhance male fertility by improving semen parameters and treating conditions such as varicocele and sexual dysfunction. The authors concluded that acupuncture could safely and effectively treat male infertility.

TCM Dietary Advice

Diet and eating habits are considered effective methods for enhancing fertility in TCM. Those hoping to improve their fertility could consider eating more foods that nourish jing, qi, and Blood, as shown in the table below.

Jing-Nourishing Foods
Qi-Nourishing Foods
Blood-Nourishing Foods

Nettles
Microalgae
Seaweed
Almonds
Sesame seeds
Walnuts
Eggs
Bone marrow
Chicken
Pork kidney
Pork and beef liver
Oysters
Royal jelly
Pollen

Carrots
Chickpeas
Lentils
Shiitake
Squash
Sweet potato
Yam
Cherries
Dates
Oats
Quinoa
Rice
Egg
Tofu
Eel
Mackerel
Trout

Azuki beans
Beets
Black soybeans
Kidney beans
Leafy greens
Seaweed
Apricots
Cherries
Dates
Figs
Sweet rice
Tempeh
Beef
Bone marrow
Liver
Sardines
Squid

Avoid eating too many processed foods, refined sugars, and simple carbohydrates, and increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Try to choose organic food whenever possible. It is also important to include some whole fats in your diet, but stick to healthy options, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, and oily fish.

Good eating habits are also important as they help the Spleen to function optimally and will promote effective qi and Blood formation. For example:

  1. Eat little and often, avoiding large or heavy meals.
  2. Take your time while eating and chew your food well.
  3. Avoid distractions while eating and pay full attention to your food.
  4. Avoid eating on the go.
  5. Eat a substantial breakfast, medium-sized lunch, and light evening meal.
  6. Avoid eating late at night.
  7. Try to include a variety of colors and flavors with each meal. The five flavors, i.e. salty, sweet, pungent, sour, and bitter, are said to nourish the Kidneys, Spleen, Lungs, Liver, and Heart, respectively.

TCM Herbs for Fertility

There are also many herbs that may help to enhance reproductive health and fertility. The best herbs for you will depend on your personal physiology, and you should always consult a TCM practitioner for an accurate diagnosis and recommendation. However, herbs that most people can take safely include:

Chinese Angelica

Also known as Dang Gui, Chinese angelica (Angelica sinensis) is one of the best herbs for nourishing Blood and it is sometimes known as “female ginseng” due to its benefits for women’s reproductive health.

It has a pungent and sweet flavor and warming nature, acting on the Heart, Liver, and Spleen to replenish Blood and aid circulation. It is commonly used to regulate menstruation and relieve pain.

Chinese angelica contains many active components, including volatile oils, organic acids, and polysaccharides. It has been studied for many different conditions, including gynecological issues, cardiovascular disease, and nervous system disorders.

Dosage: Chinese angelica can be used to make wine, tea, and medicinal foods, either alone or in combination with other herbs. The recommended dosage is 6-12g.

Chinese Yam

Chinese yam (Dioscorea species), or Shan Yao, is used as both food and medicine in China. It is considered one of the most effective qi tonics, and also nourishes yin.

It has a sweet flavor and neutral nature, and acts upon the Lungs, Spleen, and Kidneys to invigorate qi and nourish yin. Its common uses include treating Lung and Spleen deficiencies, preventing spermatorrhea, and reducing frequent urination.

Chinese yam’s active components include a chemical called diosgenin, which has estrogenic effects. It has been shown to improve embryo quality in women undergoing IVF when administered in combination with other micronutrients.

Dosage: Chinese yam can be eaten as a vegetable, either steamed, roasted, boiled, fried, or baked. In Asia, it is also a popular ingredient in desserts, cereal powder, and noodles. The recommended dosage is 10-30g.

Schisandra

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) is known as Wu Wei Zi in Chinese. This name means “five flavor fruit” and it is said to contain all five flavors and, therefore, affect the Kidneys, Spleen, Lungs, Liver, and Heart. However, it is primarily sour and affects the Heart, Lungs, and Kidneys most significantly.

Schisandra is warm in nature and has astringent properties. Its many uses include tonifying the Kidneys, preserving jing, replenishing qi, and acting as a general tonic. It can also be used to stop coughs, promote body fluid production, and relieve mental stress.

In western medicine, schisandra is considered an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body adapt to mental, physical, and environmental stress. Its active components include lignans, polysaccharides, and anthocyanins. It has been researched for a wide range of physical and emotional conditions and does not cause any serious side effects. In terms of fertility, its main benefits are reducing stress and alleviating anxiety.

Dosage: Schisandra is most commonly made into tea, and it is very popular in East Asia, where it is promoted as a relaxant and mood stabilizer. The recommended dosage is 3-10g.

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