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Natural Awakenings Richmond

Reducing Stress Can Improve Fertility

Oct 31, 2014 11:52AM ● By John Kang, LAc

For couples struggling with fertility, the passing months can feel a like rollercoaster of hope and uncertainty. One of the most frustrating diagnoses is unexplained infertility, as the tests often show normal hormone levels with healthy fallopian tubes and uterine lining and physicians determine no medical reason for the infertility. The standard suggestion is usually to keep trying, to take medications like Clomid or to explore techniques like intrauterine insemination.

Sometimes stress levels are overlooked as little evidence correlates stress to infertility. However, when it comes to the stress response, human anatomy and physiology have not changed much since prehistoric times. The physiological response to car troubles and work deadlines is not unlike the response to being chased by a saber-toothed tiger—blood moves into the heart, lungs and limbs and away from the reproductive organs. 

As a result of stress, fewer reproductive hormones reach the ovaries and uterus. The adrenal glands pump out cortisol, further disrupting hormonal balance. Over time, this chronic state of stress becomes the new normal, leaving the body a less-than-hospitable environment for nurturing a viable embryo.

Chinese medicine considers the impact of stress on the body as Liver Qi Stagnation. Stagnation can occur when the liver’s function is constrained by stress-related hormone imbalances. This can manifest in seemingly minor ways, such as cold hands and feet, sweet cravings, sighing and feeling easily overwhelmed. While these symptoms may seem insignificant, Chinese medicine recognizes a pattern of imbalance that can negatively impact fertility.

Some proactive measures that can be done on a daily basis to reduce stress include:

Yoga and Deep Breathing Exercises: Stress causes shallow breathing and these activities help improve oxygenation and blood circulation.

Diet: Reduce processed foods, coffee, tobacco and alcohol, as they constrain liver function. Use aromatic additives like garlic, onions, peppers and ginger when cooking. Slightly sweet foods can help harmonize the liver in mild cases, but bitter and sour foods such as lemons, limes, grapefruit and vinegar can be used for more severe cases. Mint and jasmine teas are good replacements for coffee, as they encourage the free flow of liver energies.

Creative Endeavors: Fertility can become all-consuming. Each unsuccessful month can spiral into a vicious cycle of frustration and low self-esteem. Engaging in creative activities that stimulate a satisfying sense of well-being can reduce the stress and negative feelings.

Remember You Are Not Alone: The issue of support is also an important factor with stress and pregnancy success; couples struggling with infertility tend to feel isolated. It can be helpful to join an online or local support group, such as RESOLVE ( 

Richmond is home to several Chinese medicine practitioners who are well-equipped to assist patients dealing with stress and infertility. Acupuncture, herbal medicine and abdominal massage can help regulate the body’s hormonal environment and improve blood circulation to the reproductive organs.

John Kang is a licensed acupuncturist specializing in fertility issues. Location: Richmond Acupuncture and Wellness, 3961-D Stillman Pkwy., Glen Allen. For more information, call 804-513-4408 or visit