DR BARBARA LEWIS, BSC, DHOM, DHERB, MNIMH, is a registered herbalist and homeopath, and has been in practice for the past 24 years. She has taught homeopathy at the Durban Technicon, and has recently co-authored a self-help book on homeopathy. Dr Lewis practices at the Refuah Healing Centre in Sea Point and in Rondebosch, Cape Town. Tel. 021-433 2858.
While many young couples focus on contraception, the opposite focus, namely the desire to conceive a baby, can sometimes be fraught with difficulty. Homeopathy has a lot to offer in these situations. There has been a trend in the last 20 years to delay childbearing until couples are more financially viable or careers more established. Unfortunately fertility diminishes as women age beyond 34 years, and research has indicated that sperm count worldwide has dropped by 50% since the 1940s. The reason is probably environmental (food, water and air) pollution involving chemicals. Along with many homeopathic colleagues, I have been in the fortunate position of helping numerous couples to conceive and bear healthy babies.
While a woman is born with all the eggs she'll ever have, men produce sperm on a continuous basis. Therefore, a man’s day-to-day lifestyle can affect the sperm maturation process. Smoking, drinking, drugs, stress with its production of extra adrenalin, poor nutrition and lack of exercise can all contribute to poor sperm quality. It was also recently discovered that a man's sperm quality begins to decline around the age of 25.
Treatment for infertility must always be holistic. The individual physical, emotional and psychological health of both partners is of the utmost importance. Constitutional homeopathy is essential in restoring an individual to his or her true potential. I do not believe that ‘homeopathic’ electronic machines can truly assess the deepest interactions of emotional and physical interplay within people, and thus a very comprehensive empathetically taken case history is essential.
The term ‘sub-fertile’ refers to couples who are unable to achieve conception after a year of unprotected intercourse (or 6 months if the woman is over the age of 35). This is different from infertility. A sub-fertile couple merely has lower odds of conceiving during any given month than fertile couples. This is thought to be because of male problems in 40% of cases, female problems in 40% of cases, and mutual interactions in 20% of cases. A temporary low sperm count may be due to increased scrotal temperature, infections such as colds and flu, increased stress, lack of sleep, the overuse of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, many prescription drugs, exposure to radiation, and exposure to toxic solvents, pesticides and poisons. The female menstrual cycle is also a delicately balanced cycle that can be adversely affected by environmental toxins, pressures and life stresses. However after a few months of healthy living, sperm counts and menstrual cycles should correct themselves naturally. If not, homeopathic help can be invaluable.
Sperm count refers to the number of sperm in the fluid that is ejaculated (semen). There are over 40 million sperm in a normal ejaculate. A total count below 40 million may indicate decreased fertility. Concentration is a measure of the number of sperm cells in a millilitre of semen. Normal concentration is at least 20 million sperm cells per millilitre of semen. A healthy sperm cell will have a shape similar to a tadpole. The sperm's oval head contains the genetic material, the centre provides energy, and the tail propels the sperm forward. Five main factors contribute to overall sperm quality. These include sperm motility, speed, count, concentration and morphology (shape and size). A weakness in any of these areas can affect the chances of conception.
Sperm motility describes the sperm's ability to move in an active fashion; in other words, are the sperm ‘strong swimmers’. In healthy sperm, typically more than 50% are active, with over 25% moving forcefully in one direction. Motility enables the sperm to travel through the cervical canal, into the uterus and the fallopian tubes and, finally, to penetrate the egg. It is thought that sperm with good progressive forward-motility have the best chance of successfully fertilising an egg. More than 60% improvement in rapid linear progression was noted after 4 months of treatment with acupuncture, herbal medicine and supplements.
Another common problem is poor sperm quality, and some men's ejaculate contains antibodies to their own sperm. Causes of male infertility, i.e. inadequate sperm production by the testes or poor sperm motility, may be due to environmental toxins, radiation, drugs, heavy metal exposure, cigarette smoking, street drug use, pollution, toofrequent sex, prolonged exposure to hot tubs or saunas, pants/underwear that are too tight, poor diet and stress. Infertile men with abnormal sperm characteristics exhibit increased levels of DNA damage in their sperm. There is some suggestion that the use of antioxidant therapy (Pycnogenol 200 mg daily, L-Carnitine 3 g per day, acetyl carnitine 500 mg per day, vitamin C 1 000 mg per day, vitamin E 800 IU per day and acupuncture and certain herbal medicines) taken for several months, can cause the sperm assay to revert to normal in many cases.
Further causes of male infertility include blockages in the sperm's delivery system or ejaculatory dysfunction. Also injuries to the testicles (one would use homeopathic remedies like Bellis perennis and Arnica for the effects of old injuries) and low or high hormone production. Obviously anatomical problems like undescended testes or congenital defects or the effects of a vasectomy or a varicocele (varicose veins around the testicle) requiring surgical treatment, past illnesses or infections or various diseases like mumps that spread to the testicles, sexually transmitted diseases, diabetes, and infections of the testes or prostate can affect sperm production. Sperm production is also affected by certain medications, e.g. cancer treatments or ulcer medications. In some cases an autoimmune condition can occur with the man producing anti-sperm antibodies that reduce his sperm health.
In women, common reasons for infertility include failure to ovulate (including polycystic ovary syndrome), blocked fallopian tubes (due to endometriosis, for example), and the production of antibodies to a partner's sperm.
Psychological issues, such as stress or fear of parenthood, may contribute to infertility as well. Women with a previous history of the following are often unable to conceive: pelvic inflammatory disease leading to scarred or blocked fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancy outside the uterus, intra-uterine device (IUD) complications, or fibroids. Women may develop an incompatibility with or allergy to the partner's sperm, which are destroyed as a result of immune system malfunction. Additional factors like failure to ovulate, endometriosis, ovarian failure, pituitary or thyroid problems, the long-term effects of the pill, abnormal womb shape, a history of pelvic infections, diminished fertility after the age of 35, being underweight or having nutritional deficiencies, are all causes of infertility.
The treatment of infertility must start primarily with optimising health in the couple, and for this a very healthy lifestyle is advised for up to 6 months prior to conception. One hour daily of aerobic exercise, e.g. fast walking, is recommended, but no marathon running or training. Done together, this is a great time to unwind and chat.
An ideal diet would be rich in raw vegetables, fruit and nuts (all organic if possible), with wild (not farmed) fish and organic chicken as protein. Avoid shark and tuna, as the concentration of mercury is higher in predatory fish. Avoid refined flour, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate, food with additives or preservatives, and saturated fats. Filter drinking water if possible. Greatly reduce or eliminate caffeine and coffee. Coffee is a vasoconstrictor, which can impede blood flow, and some research evidence indicates that caffeine can impede ovulation. Take sufficient essential fatty acids. Primary sources of the latter are oily fish, fish liver oils, seeds, nuts, pulses, beans and unrefined vegetable oils. The essential fatty acids stimulate the production of hormones. Eat lots of cashew nuts to increase sperm production. Curb unhealthy cravings.
Eat breakfast! Skipping breakfast can make cravings worse. You will also be advised to restrict alcohol intake, since excessive amounts increase the hormone prolactin, which may disturb the menstrual cycle. Smoking is also seen as harmful, reducing blood flow to the cervix and inhibiting the action of the cilia, the tiny hairs in the fallopian tubes that guide the egg toward the uterus. Avoid chemicals for cleaning and gardening. There are many ‘friendly’ cleaners available.
Look into potential psychological blocks. An example might be recollection of an abusive parent saying that children are ‘a curse’ or ’killing me’. A bad relationship with a parent or stories of mother’s terrible time giving birth to you may set up unconscious blocks. Seeing a psychologist can be an investment in a happy future. Meditate daily for relaxation, with positive visualisations of opening up to peace, love and hope. Regular prayer is important, as all life is a gift from the Divine. One would like to ‘open the gates of Heaven’.
Take regular short holidays out of the city. Massage the area of the inner and outer ankles. This is the reflexology point for the genital organs. A qualified reflexologist can give further help. The essential oil ylang ylang is said to be wonderful massaged into the ankle area, but a qualified aromatherapist can give more detailed advice here.
During pre-conception preparation, the woman should ascertain when she ovulates using her temperature or available urine sticks. Intercourse for conception should occur the day before ovulation and on the day of ovulation. This will help ensure that healthy sperm are in the fallopian tubes ready for the egg to be released. One should also avoid intercourse for 3 - 5 days prior to day 12 to build up a high sperm count (not longer than 5 days as one does not want to risk sperm ageing before ejaculation). Continue to have intercourse every day or every other day until you are sure that ovulation has occurred. Once ovulation has occurred, abstain for a couple of days. This reduces the risk of an ageing (and potentially defective) egg being fertilised, which is likely to result in miscarriage Internet research also indicates that the chances of conception drop by 50% if ovulation occurs later than day 17 in the menstrual cycle.
It is often best to find a product that contains many of these vitamins and minerals in one tablet so that one doesn’t feel like a rattle!
Homeopathy treats the individual, and where there are infertility problems, I would encourage one to consult a registered homeopath. However, some potential remedies are given as an indication.
Sepia has an effect on testosterone levels in both men and women, improving libido. In women it is very useful in regulating the menstrual cycle. This remedy deals with the effects of fatigue and exhaustion from overwork and the feeling that one is doing too much for too many other people, without a slice of life’s ‘cake’ left for oneself. Sepia, along with Thuja and Medorrhinum, have allowed many homeopaths, myself included, to help women to conceive.
Thuja and Medorrhinum are deep-acting remedies indicated after any pelvic inflammation or illness. Folliculinum made from follicular material is a very effective hormonal balancing remedy that in low potencies can stimulate ovulation.
Lycopodium is often effective in sexual dysfunction in men brought on by stress or anticipatory anxiety.
Nat mur and Nat carb work well if indicated in both men and women. Women may have very heavy periods with a very short cycle. There may be a history of grief or depression in people who enjoy solitude.
Phos ac may be indicated for infertility after long debilitating illness. In the man testicular output and functioning is weak, with uncertain erections.
The new remedies like Salmon, Lac Humanum and Amn fluid have deep and marked effects in terms of increasing fertility. They would only be prescribed by qualified homeopaths.
Borax has a long history as an effective remedy for sterility, in women with very short hormonal cycles.
Conium is indicated in ovarian inactivity where there is breast tenderness and hardness.
Sabina is indicated where there is a history of repeated miscarriages.
Astragalus has been reported to stimulate sperm motility.
Damiana, Sarasparilla, Saw Palmetto, and Yohimbe enhance sexual function in men. (Do not use ginseng or liquorice if you have high blood pressure).
Vitex agnus castus, chaste berry, has been very well researched, particularly in Germany. It was found that chaste tree fruit preparations act on the pituitary gland to regulate the production of ovarian hormones, and induce their normalisation. The timing of the release of pituitary hormones regulates menstruation, fertility, and other processes. The fruits contain flavonoids including the major flavonoid casticin, as well as orientin and isovitexin.
One needs to take about 40 drops of Agnus castus tincture a day for several months before conception. Once pregnant, stop taking the tincture.
Chinese or Korean (Panax) ginseng has been used for centuries to enhance male potency. A large percentage of men who have used it have reported increased satisfaction with their sex lives. Erections were said to be firmer and maintained longer, with increased testosterone levels and increased sperm count and motility.
Animal studies also showed that Panax ginseng promotes the growth of the testes, increases sperm formation and testosterone levels, and increases sexual activity and mating behaviour. Select a standardised extract, and take 100 mg twice daily for 2 - 3 weeks. Stop taking the preparation for 2 weeks, then repeat. If the herb does not have the sought-after effects within this period of time, discontinue use. It is unlikely that it will do anything further. Some people are allergic to ginseng. Discontinue if you experience any negative side-effects.
Pygeum, an evergreen tree found in southern Africa, may be effective in improving fertility in cases where diminished prostatic secretion plays a significant role. Pygeum increases prostatic secretions and improves the composition of the seminal fluid. Pygeum extract has been shown to enhance the capacity to achieve an erection in patients with BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia) or prostatitis. BPH and prostatitis are often associated with erectile dysfunction and other sexual disturbances. Presumably, by improving the underlying condition, pygeum can improve sexual function. As indicated in this article, there are many remedies for restoring the body to its optimal healthy condition so that conception can occur naturally and result in the blessing of a healthy baby.
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