Complementary Medicine for Fertility
If there’s one thing for sure with infertility, it’s uncertainty. While each couple's response to fertility treatment is unique, complementary medicine for fertility modalities may help.
What is complementary medicine?
Complementary medicine is the umbrella term for various medical systems, practices and products that are used in combination with conventional medicine.
Some complementary medicine therapies like acupuncture are deeply steeped in ancient Asian traditions. Other complementary medicine therapies, like meditation for stress reduction, are more New Age treatments.
Types of complementary medicine
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), there are different types of complementary medicine treatments, including:
- Biologically based therapies such as vitamins and dietary supplements
- Energy modalities such as Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, Reiki, and magnets
- Manipulative and body-based treatments such as massage, chiropractic, and bodyworks.
- Mind-body medicine such as guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, and biofeedback
Sometimes complementary medicine modalities overlap, depending on the practitioner and the problem.
Asian ginseng and male infertility
Asian ginseng is a type of complementary medicine purported to boost male fertility and libido. There are some reports of Asian ginseng improving sperm count and motility and boosting a male’s libido, but the science behind it is lacking.
Fertility diet tips
Dietary changes and lifestyle habits are an important part of complementary medicine. Ingesting omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water or fatty fish and vegetable oils is one complementary medicine for fertility recommendation. These essential fatty acids are also available as dietary supplements.
Along with being important for fertility, omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for the relaxation and contraction of muscles, blood clotting, digestion, cell division, and more.
In addition, DHA in omega-3 fatty acids is vital for fetal brain development. Some findings show that pregnant moms who ingest dietary DHA omega-3 fatty acids have babies with fewer behavior problems, better language skills and possibly higher IQs.
While eating fish has limitations for pregnant women because of mercury buildup, omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid are also found in walnuts. One ounce of walnuts has as much as 3.5 ounces of salmon. Other sources include flax seed, soybeans, canola oil, and other seeds and nuts.
Acupuncture and IVF
Some experts use acupuncture as a complementary medicine treatment with in vitro fertilization (IVF). In a study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found acupuncture to show promise when used with IVF. More clinical trials are needed to confirm these findings.
Use caution with complementary medicine
Just because complementary medicine is “natural” does not mean that it’s safe – especially at a time when you’re trying to get pregnant.
Some herbs and supplements marketed for “fertility treatment” may be toxic and can even cause liver damage or death. Some believe that herbs such as St. John’s wort, echinacea, and ginkgo may block conception. One study mentions genetic damage to sperm, raising questions of whether these abnormalities could cause problems for the resulting babies.
Several herbal products contain hormones that mimic estrogen and could possibly interfere with your fertility. In fact, a diet high in soy can have a negative effect on the developing male reproductive system. Other dietary supplements may contain iron or vitamin A, which is toxic when taken in large doses.
Talk to your doctor
If you want to try complementary medicine as one component of your fertility treatment, talk to your doctor first. While some therapies such as acupuncture or stress reduction may be safe, other complementary medicine therapies may cause harm to you and your future children.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
- Sinclaire S. Male infertility: Nutritional and Environmental Considerations. Alt Med Rev. 2000;5(1):28-38.
- Bruce, D. The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Medicine.
- Manheimer E, Zhang G, Udoff L, et al. Effect of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilization: systematic review and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal. Published online February 2008.