Fertility and Western and Chinese Medicine
GAUGING A WOMAN’S HEALTH BY HER FERTILITY SIGNALS: INTEGRATING WESTERN WITH TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICAL OBSERVATIONS
By Dagmar Ehling, DOM, and Katie Singer, CFE
This article presents observations of traditional Chinese medical and Western concepts of a woman’s fertility signals. A woman of childbearing age cycles through processes of heating and cooling and moistening and drying to make her fertile. Her fertility signals—basal body temperature, cervical fluid, and cervix changes—can be observed and charted to gauge the woman’s gynecological health as well as to avoid or enhance her chances of achieving pregnancy. Introductory information about charting fertility signals, an introduction to traditional Chinese medicine theories, and various basal body temperature charts with analysis from traditional Chinese medicine and Western medical perspectives are included. Original paper published in Alternative Therapies.
The earth’s surface continues to develop through processes of heating and cooling, which in turn create moistening and drying, which in turn provide the environment for bacteria and other microorganisms to evolve. Rocks, glaciers plants, and animals all evolve in concert with these processes.
And so do humans. Our reproductive systems cycle through cooling and heating and moistening and drying to make us fertile. While maturing ovum or sperm, humans prefer cooler temperatures. While preparing to gestate a fetus, females warm up. Females of childbearing age also produce slippery fluid in their cervixes that increases the chance of pregnancy every cycle. Until the woman ovulates, cervical fluid can nourish sperm in the cervix for up to 5 days. This fluid also filters out impaired sperm and functions as a sort of freeway on which sperm can travel toward the egg at ovulation.
Three primary signals can alert a woman about her gynecological health and fertility: changes in the basal body temperature (BBT), cervical fluid, and the cervix’s position, texture, and openness. These external fertility signals mirror hormonal changes and patterns. Meteorologists and geologists look for patterns in the earth’s surface to predict weather and geological changes. Similarly, a woman can observe her body’s signals to know her own health and the days she can and cannot conceive. Charting these signals can be referred to as Fertility Awareness, the Sympto-Thermal Method, or Natural Family Planning (note 1). Used properly, Fertility Awareness is virtually as effective as oral contraceptives and is an excellent aid for couples who want to conceive a child. It has no side effects.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has evolved over thousands of years from observations about the earth’s cycles of cooling and heating, dampening and drying, darkness and light. Using research that is not widely known in the West, Dr Xia Gui-sheng, director of the Gynecology Department of the Jiangsu Province Hospital for Chinese Medicine, has developed a method for incorporating the BBT into women’s healthcare. In China, the BBT is used for birth control and as a diagnostic tool.
This article presents an introduction to a woman’s fertility signals from Western and TCM perspectives. To make this information accessible to the largest possible readership, instruction about using fertility charts for birth control or as an aid to conceiving—as well as TCM theories—has been kept to a minimum. Following a brief introduction to TCM and TCM diagnosis, the article proceeds with a review of the roles of estrogen and progesterone, followed by an overview of women’s primary fertility signals (basal body temperature, cervical fluid, and cervix changes), a look at the Fertility Awareness method for avoiding or achieving conception, and 2 sections that detail the TCM perspective on BBT.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
TCM has developed over thousands of years from observing the interplay between geological patterns and their effects on human health. All forms of Oriental medicine rely on correspondence thinking: life arises from the endless interplay of the polar forces of yin and yang, heaven and earth, active and passive, light and dark, heating and cooling, moistening and drying, contracting and relaxing. Everything is classified in terms of yin and yang; everything contains yin and yang in unique and constantly changing proportions. Yin includes yang and yang includes yin. Yin and yang attract and repel each other continuously. Their interplay creates all energy, matter, and the dynamic movement of life. Qi (pronounced chee), which translates as “ether,” “life force,” or “energy,” can be detected through Oriental methods of diagnosis. Disease is caused by imbalances between qi, yin, yang, and Blood, as well as organ pathologies, external pathogens, and emotional factors (note 4). Each disease is classified as a pattern of disharmony. (For example, Liver depression, qi stagnation with Blood stasis, Kidney yin vacuity, Spleen qi, and Blood vacuity might be a TCM diagnosis for painful menstruation.) Treatment aims to restore a harmonious pattern by controlling and regulating the flow and balance of energy. Just as nature is in a continuous state of flux, diagnostic patterns make continuous subtle shifts. TCM treatment mirrors these corrections..
Dagmar Ehling, founding member of Oriental Health Solutions, LLC, has been a licensed Doctor of Oriental Medicine in New Mexico since 1989. She graduated with a Master’s degree in Acupuncture from Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, NM, is North Carolina State licensed, and is nationally certified in Oriental Medicine by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine). Dagmar is a graduate of NC42 Leadership Program.