Understanding Ovulation Factors and How They Can Affect Fertility
Before discussing factors that may affect ovulation, it’s important for patients to fully understand the process of a normal ovulation cycle. During the beginning of a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen levels are low. The hypothalamus (which is in charge of maintaining hormone levels) sends out a message to the pituitary gland which then sends out the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This FSH triggers a few follicles in a woman’s ovary to develop into mature eggs. One of these follicles will develop into the dominant follicle, which will release a mature egg and the others will disintegrate. As the follicles mature they send out another hormone, estrogen. The high levels of estrogen will tell the hypothalamus and pituitary gland that there is a mature egg. A luteinizing hormone (LH) is then released, referred to as the LH surge. The LH surge causes the egg to burst through the ovary wall within 24-36 hours and begin its journey down the fallopian tube for fertilization. This first half of the ovulation cycle is referred to as the follicular phase.
The follicle from which the egg was released is called the corpus luteum, and it will release progesterone that helps thicken and prepare the uterine lining for implantation. The corpus luteum will produce progesterone for the next 12-16 days (the luteal phase of the cycle.) If an egg is fertilized, the corpus luteum will continue to produce progesterone for a developing pregnancy until the placenta takes over. If fertilization does not occur, the egg dissolves after 24 hours. At this time, hormone levels will decrease and the uterine lining will begin to shed about 12-16 days from ovulation. This shedding starts menstruation and day 1 of the next cycle. The journey then begins all over again.
Many women suffer from ovulation factors which will ultimately affect their fertility. The most common ovulation factors are annovulation (lack of ovulation) and irregular ovulation, both of which can result in no egg for fertilization, thus creating an impasse to conception. Ovulation can be affected by many things, including stress, illness, or disruption of normal routines. Often an imbalance of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis develops and results in an irregular production of hormones needed to produce a normal ovulation cycle.
How Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Treat Ovulation Factors
Chinese medicine and acupuncture can help regulate ovulation by sorting out the hormonal confusion that results from hyper or hypo stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis.
By working with kidney energy, the seat of reproduction in Chinese medicine, we can positively influence the quality of follicles and their stimulation during the LH surge. Ovulation complications can cause a back up in the body’s energies, creating an internal climate that can be inhospitable to a maturing follicle. Through acupuncture this climate can be controlled and harmonized, paving the way to conception. Our protocol for treating ovulation factors includes the use of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, reproductive organ Massage, and nutritional guidance.
Acupuncture assists the body in regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, thus balancing the hormones to produce an increased number of follicles, better quality eggs, and a normal LH surge to release a mature egg. It increases the blood flow to the uterus and increases the thickness of the uterine lining to improve implantation rates. Acupuncture also relaxes the nervous system and decreases stress levels to dramatically improve chances of pregnancy. If annovulation exists due to immune issues, acupuncture can regulate the immune system and help restore hormonal balance and ovulation.
Chinese herbs aim to re-balance the hormones while focusing on the production of high quality follicles. Clinical research has demonstrated that a properly prepared herbal formula specific to a patient with ovulation issues can lower elevated FSH levels and initiate the proper adrenal function necessary in ovulation. Certain single herbs have been shown to have a strong stimulatory effect on uterine and ovarian blood flow, which is necessary for follicle maturation and implantation. Single herbs also work together to regulate the temperature and climate of the whole reproductive system, hence insuring smooth transitions between the follicular and luteal phases of a woman’s cycle.
Reproductive organ massage (ROM) increases blood flow to the entire abdominal area and all of the organs through gentle manipulation of the abdominal musculature. This technique targets areas of stagnation and adhesions which can impede proper follicular maturation and release. ROM also retrains the breath into a deeper diaphragmatic space, allowing the body to process stress more quickly and achieve a parasympathetic state on a more regular basis. This parasympathetic state is necessary for proper hormonal production and regulation.
Nutritional guidance recommends certain foods that are natural sources of estrogens and can be used in accordance with Western lab findings to help regulate fluctuating levels of hormones. Proper PH is also necessary for ovulation and inspections of a patient’s diet can sometimes uncover additional underutilized tools in improving reproductive health.