All other things being equal , or in satisfactory balance ( which of course they never are), physiologically, optimum fertility for a woman will be connected to the rhythm and hormonal balance of her cycle; the ease of passage of the ripe eggs along the fallopian tubes to the location of conception, the uterus; and the capacity of the uterus to nourish and sustain the embryo(s).
In men is about mechanical function (erection), and motility, quality, and quantity of sperm.
A herbal medicine practitioner will support fertility, initially by helping to rule out and/ or address reproductive system pathology , weakness or imbalance. Then by nourishing and promoting function at a tissue level , while supporting individuals holistically to optimise their general health.
At a home remedy level promoting fertility will generally be about optimising nutrition , reducing inflammation and improving circulation.
Herbal medicine, through helping promote a regular cycle, with distinct phases of mucous and predictable ovulation times, makes it easier for women to take control of their fertility, including pin pointing the time when not to have sex.
As with the rest of this website, clink on the image to the left of the blurb, for links to more information
There are many websites and forums with natural fertility advice. Most are also selling products and vary in integrity and reliability. This American site, Natural Fertility Info.com is a positive example. It sells its own products, but is full of good articles, relevant information and about herbs,nutrition, causes of infertility and potential solutions for men and women. It has a very good section, an 'A-Z of fertility herbs' which is a great starting point for further research.
Fertility and gluten intolerance
While extra nutritional support is important to fertility, so is knowing what not to eat. This article by Aviva Romm explores the connection between infertility and gluten intolerance. There is not an inevitable connection - but for some just the change in diet that flows from avoiding gluten can make all the difference. It is definitely something that I would also always consider.
Acupuncture and female reproductive health
This a literature review of all the studies involving acupuncture and female reproductive health. In the course of the review, experimental animal models are mentioned which took me by surprise . If my understanding is correct, insulin resistance and (induced) poly-cystic ovaries in rats may be ameliorated by acupuncture!
This strange fact aside, the conclusion of the review is that acupuncture does impact positively on the menstrual cycle, and hence reproductive health. It speculates that one mechanism might be through impact on stress and cortisol levels. It concludes: “There is preliminary data indicating acupuncture may improve menstrual health and coping for women experiencing delays falling pregnant. There is experimental data showing that acupuncture can influence female reproductive functioning, although the actual mechanisms involved are not yet clarified.” And inevitably: “Further well-conducted clinical research would benefit our understanding of the usefulness of acupuncture to women’s health.”. Yep. Of course. In the meantime, I would suggest acupuncture may be something to consider if you are trying to promote conception
The Infertility Network UK
The information on this side does not particularly lean towards herbs or nutrition, but as a significant Uk patient voice in the area or conception and fertility, it links to broader information and support.
3. Balancing Our Cycles
Polycystic Ovaries syndrome, the Natural Prescription
This blog article from Aviva Romm's website gives solid , clear, referenced advice on natural solutions to balancing hormones and optimizing the possibility of viable ovulation. Romm details the connection between PCOs and insulin resistance. She makes recommendations for changes in diet; appropriate supplementation including vitamin D; strategies for managing stress including herbal adaptogens;and herbal medicines including cinnamon, a peony/licorice combination, vitex angus castus, blackcohosh and Maitake mushrooms.
Prelmiinary evidence that cinnamon improves menstrual cyclicity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome
The small trial reported in an article in the American journal of obstetrics and gynaecology suggests that there is preliminary evidence that cinnamon improves menstrual cyclicity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. In previous trials ( although interestingly not in this one)cinnamon has been shown reduce insulin resistance and the theory is that it helps to balance sugar levels and addresses hormone levels through this mechanism, in the same way that the pharmaceutical preparation metformin would seem to. When women come to me for treatment for PCOs they will receive an individualized prescription, but it will often contain cinnamon and or goat’s rue (galega officinalis) which is another plant medicine that herbalists use to help regulate sugar levels.
Vitex Angus Castus
Most of the evidence base in relation to Vitex angus castus is composed of studies relating to pre menstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms. This link summarises the information and links to 70 trials. There is less peer reviewed evidence of vitex ‘regulating cycles’, but based in their clinical experience many herbalists would consider the plant a key tool in this process. However at a home remedy level the strategies of choice for promoting regular cycles are more likely to be about regulating sugar levels (low GI diet, cinnamon) and gentle liver support – eg milk thistle and dandelion root.
4.Mapping our cycles
The Billings Method
The Billings method was developed by a husband and wife team of Australian scientists in the 1950s. The method of natural contraception that focuses on observation of mucous has been researched for over fifty years and trialed by the world health organisation with a claimed 90% success rate. This is the uk based site with links to educational materials and free e-books.
The Fertility Awareness Method
The Fertility Awareness method of contraception (FAM) is a modern version of the Billings method. This webpage explains clearly and concisely how to combine calendar charting, mucous observation and basal temperature monitoring to create a safer method
Online charting /monitoring software
Many websites now offer free online ovulation charting software or phone apps. Some also sell products including the urine analysis ovulation predictor kits or the saliva testing kits. All these tools are helpful - especially in the early days of mapping - you can 'triangulate' your results across different methods, to build up confidence in your conclusions. This US based website is a good example or the kind or resources that exist
What do the different types of cervical mucous look like?
This is from a website called baby centre.com, which is off putting if you are looking for contraception solutions - but is is helpfully graphic in its illustrations of what cervical mucous looks like through the cycle.
4.Reproductive health and politics
Our Bodies Ourselves
Our Bodies Ourselves was the seminal feminist reproductive health book published by the Boston Women's Health book Collective in 1971. Over 40 years later, this website is a testament to the ongoing work.
Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS) is now a nonprofit, public interest organization based in the US, that develops and promotes evidence-based information on girls’ and women’s reproductive health and sexuality. OBOS’s Global Initiative provides support for and works closely with women’s groups around the world that choose to adapt “Our Bodies, Ourselves” for their own countries and communities.
The website is great resource for articles on sexuality and reproductive healthcare, and recommendations for publications.
The Beautiful Cervix Project
This website is incomplete and work in process in places, but it is a great site , in true seventies feminist tradition.Quoting their introduction:
"The Beautiful Cervix Project is a grassroots movement celebrating the beauty and intricacies of women’s bodies and fertility. This website provides accessible information about women’s fertility and menstrual cycles and showcases photographs documenting changes in the cervix and cervical fluid throughout the cycle.
The Beautiful Cervix Project encourages women to learn cervical self-exam and fertility awareness as a revolutionary path of promoting respect, confidence, and health."
The website documents hundreds of photos of women's cervixes and encourages women to submit their own images to contribute to the project. The website is US based, and the author is currently on maternity leave, but when she is back I will write and ask if it is possible to be a UK distributor for their self exam pacts.