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 Herbal Medicine: 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.
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 About The Author
David Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMHWhilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it......more
 
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