A truly collaborative approach between Western science and TCM is pregnant with possibilities for couples struggling to conceive.
Medical pluralism that considers treatment options from different healthcare systems and cultures can contribute to a fuller understanding of diseases. In this gradually emerging model, doctors of Western medicine and physicians of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are working hand-in-hand, feeding into each other’s treatments to help couples conceive.
Step by step
This collaborative approach encompasses the two medical modalities taking precedence at different stages of the treatment plan, each referring patients to the other when necessary.
Physician Zhong Xi Ming from the EYS Premier TCM Centre @ Paragon recalls a former patient who had undergone sperm tests and brought his medical records detailing his problem to his consultation with her. After three months of herbal therapy as prescribed by Physician Zhong, the patient was happy to report that his wife managed to conceive. Dr Ann Tan, Medical Director and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Women & Fetal Centre in Paragon, observes that women usually seek help earlier than their husbands. Both practitioners advise couples to consult doctors together so that both can receive help at the same time.
TCM tends to use the ‘see-and-touch’ method when it comes to diagnosing infertility. “Practitioners will first observe the patient’s physical stature, facial complexion and colour, the expressions in their eyes, and even their smell,” Physician Zhong explains. “We also ask them about their medical history, such as whether they have had mumps previously, as it can affect sperm production.”
TCM practitioners will then proceed to a physical examination. Physicians may then refer patients to Western doctors should they feel that Western treatment might be more targeted or if the problem might be identified much more clearly with Western screening and treatment methods.
IVF & TCM
IVF is a form of assisted reproduction technology (ART), where the egg is fertilised by sperm outside of the body. “I am open to recommending my patients to avail themselves to TCM alongside ART,” Dr Tan says. “This is because I have had positive experiences with my patients’ use of TCM, and many couples do it quietly anyway so I prefer to be upfront and ask them about it.”
“Acupuncture is mostly used in fertility treatments to complement IVF procedures performed by Western medicine,” explains Physician Zhong. “Herbs and acupuncture can help to improve the womb lining and enhance follicles so that the patient can have a stable womb lining when the embryo is transferred to it,” she adds. Increasing the yang energy also helps to create a good uterine lining environment and increase the likelihood of successful embryo implantation. Factors such as a calm mind and harmonious flow of qi and blood through the body can also influence the blood circulation in the ovary and uterus, and have a positive effect on the success of IVF.
Aside from word of mouth, Physician Zhong points out that this collaborative approach owes its popularity and use to higher number of infertility cases. She was hesitant about the need for this department at first, but was surprised when people started streaming in. She also points out that it’s not that fertility health is getting poorer in Singapore; it’s simply that those who want to be parents are much older.
A Journey Together
Although this cooperative approach gives hope to couples struggling to conceive, the road to conception can be emotional—doctors from both modalities have had to face couples in disharmony. “It’s always very difficult and stressful when one partner wants it more than the other. They must realise that it’s not a blame game; try to make the best out of what you both are as a couple,” Dr Tan advises.
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock. This article first appeared in NATURA magazine issue No.12. Find NATURA at Eu Yan Sang retail outlets, newsstands and major bookstores in Singapore.