Infertility

Failure to achieve conception by couples who have not used
contraception for at least 1 year.


Inability to conceive after at least a year of regular sexual intercourse
without the use of contraceptives, can be due to causes that lie either
in the man or the woman or both. Identification of the underlying causation
is the key to successful treatment, but is extremely difficult. It often
occurs in women who have a history of conceiving and then losing the baby
before the foetus is old enough to support itself outside the womb. Infertility
can be either temporary or, in a small percentage of cases, permanent.


Male Infertility

  • Sperm count. The commonest cause in men is no sperm or a low sperm count.
    This may be caused by numerous factors including an infection after puberty
    which was accompanied by a high fever, unrepaired undescended testicles,
    taking certain drugs, trauma to the testicles, or exposure to large amounts
    of X-ray. For the most part however, a low sperm count tends to be related
    to more easily reversible conditions. A long illness or a chronic infection
    may lower general health, as could poor diet, strenuous physical exercise,
    lack of exercise, too much smoking and drinking, over-weight, overwork,
    tension and fatigue. A common reason for a low sperm count is abnormal temperature
    regulation in the testicles, which function at a temperature slightly lower
    than the rest of the body.

  • Low sperm motility. This makes them unable to travel from the
    vagina, through the fallopian tubes to fertilize the ovum. This tends to
    be related to some of the above factors, and may also be due to enlargement
    of the prostate gland, as well as an imbalance of male hormones in the body.
    The vessels along which the sperm travel in men could be blocked by an inflammatory
    or infectious process or by varicosity in the area.


Female Infertility


A wide variety of factors can be at work here. One may be in play or a complex
of interrelated factors may be at work. Common causes include:

  • Endocrine problems. Difficulties of the pituitary, thyroid or
    adrenal glands, which together regulate the menstrual cycle, may cause a
    failure of ovulation. To establish whether you are ovulating at regular
    intervals you can keep a record of your body temperature using a chart and
    a sensitive thermometer. Before ovulation, when there is normal secretion
    of oestrogen, the basic temperature on waking will be a little below normal, 97 or 97.8deg.F, 36deg.C. After ovulation it should rise by half or one degree and stays the same for the next two weeks.

  • Fallopian Tube problems. They could be blocked, sometimes because of an inherited difficulty, or because of an infection of the womb or other diseases such as salpingitis (inflammation of the fallopian tubes), endometriosis, and TB; these may cause thickening of the tubes which either narrow or completely block the passages, or they can cause the tubes, uterus and ovaries to become matted together by adhesions, or in the case of endometriosis, by growths of tissue from the uterus.

  • Prolapse & Fibroids. There could be malposition of the uterus
    or fibroids which can lead to sterility. The latter can also cause miscarriage early on, or a difficult labor. It is best to sort out this problem before conceiving. Their origin is largely related to a hormonal imbalance with an excess of oestrogen.

  • Cervical problems. The cervix can also be affected adversely
    and cause sterility. Infection or excess mucus from inflammation can expel
    the sperm, or polyps may prevent the sperm from entering the uterus.


  • Non-physical causes. In many women there are absolutely no physical
    problems to be found. There may be a slight hormonal imbalance or a poor
    state of health through faulty diet and fatigue. In perhaps a quarter of
    all infertile women it is emotional problems which are to blame.

There are in addition some causes of infertility which are shared by both
the man and the woman. There can be antibodies to the sperm in either partner
which can destroy the sperm. Occasionally there can be lack of knowledge
about fertile times in a cycle.


Phytotherapeutic approaches to infertility.

There is much that herbs can contribute to supporting fertility, but there
is no `wonder cure’ here. The suggestions given here will help, but the
practitioner is encouraged to be creative and intuitive in remedy selection.
Each individual woman and man will have plants that suit them best. Identifying
them is part of the skill of the good herbalist.


Hormonal imbalance

Hormonal problems, in either partner, are readily treated herbally. Whilst
not containing hormones themselves, some herbs stimulate the glands concerned,
bringing about production of the right proportions of hormones and in their
right sequence in the menstrual cycle to promote conception. Vitex agnus
castus is
the key to success here. Research carried out in the University
of Gottingen in Sweden, found that although it does not contain the hormone
progesterone, it affects the pituitary gland in such a way that it corrects
and regulates the secretion of progesterone from the ovaries. Vitex
also corrects any hormone deficiency of either oestrogen or progesterone.


Chamaelirium luteum also has the effect of correcting hormonal imbalances.
In Britain, the most frequent use of this remedy is for female infertility,
as well as impotence on the part of the man. Herbalists have been known
to warn people of the potency of this plant should they not want to conceive!
It is an effective tonic to the uterus and ovaries, and is useful to redress
almost any imbalance in either male or female reproductive systems. It helps
to prevent miscarriage, uterine hemorrhage and over-relaxed conditions of
the uterus, even to the extent of prolapse.


Debility

Where illness, malnourishment, fatigue, and conditions such as anaemia,
anorexia and kidney problems have lowered vitality and produced a state
of debility which has affected fertility, there are many herbs which can
help to build up the strength of the generative organs. Bitters, tonics
and adaptogens are actions to consider. The specifics will depend upon the
individual concerned, but application of the model for remedy selection
will usually clarify this.


True Unicorn Root (Aletris farinosa) is considered beneficial for
habitual miscarriage due to chronic weakness. It can be used safely throughout
pregnancy. It acts to stimulate the uterus and ovaries and is commonly used
for infertility and impotence.


Emotional problems

Where emotional problems cause tension and anxiety, or when just wanting
to conceive is producing psychological blockages to conception, herbal remedies
may well be helpful. Perhaps some of the success of herbal remedies for
infertility is related to the fact that both partners often feel they can
relax a bit now that they have sought help and found a herbal remedy they
feel they can rely on. Important remedies to consider, discussed in more
depth in the section on the nervous system, include:


Anemone pulsatilla Leonurus cardiaca Scutellaria spp. Viburnum opulus
V. prunifolium


Malposition of the uterus

There are no herbal remedies for infertility caused by this problem. It
might be advisable for structural work to be done. Appropriately trained
osteopaths or chiropractors will be able to give gynecologic manipulation
along with both pelvic exercises and breathing exercises that will enhance
the circulation and improve the function of the reproductive organs.

David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

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