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Old medicine brings new life

 Author: Mary Keating

For: Family Living Magazine

Date:  January 2011

            1960 words (including sidebars)

With all the infertility treatments, technologies and prenatal care available to women today, both Laurie Echevarria and Shai Brown credit the success of their pregnancies to Traditional Chinese medicine.

When Echevarria was 17 years old, specialists diagnosed her as postmenopausal. With that diagnosis, also came the news that it would be near impossible for her to conceive a child. At 17, the news was difficult, but when Echevarria got married, the diagnosis became heart wrenching. Determined to beat the impossible, she began researching and reading everything regarding her medical condition.

After much reading and nearly a decade of research, Echevarria read the book, The Infertility Cure by Randine Lewis.

The author, Randine Lewis, is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist who believes infertile couples should turn to Chinese medicine as an alternative to what she considers painful, invasive, expensive and time-consuming Western treatments.

“Traditional Chinese medicine holds that a woman’s body must be gently nourished and encouraged to bear fruit,” writes Lewis. “I have found that most hormonal imbalances (which contribute to 40 percent of documented cases of infertility, yet are considered untreatable by conventional Western medicine) respond to Eastern methods of treatment.”

Echevarria was inspired and encouraged to explore Eastern alternatives. Although initially she entertained the idea of traveling from Rexburg to work directly with Lewis, she decided to first try an acupuncturist a little closer to home and subsequently contacted Ethan Fisher, L.Ac., Stillwaters Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Clinic in Pocatello.

“Fisher suggested I read Lewis’s book. When I told him the book inspired me to contact him, Fisher mentioned that Lewis had very close ties to his own mentor,” Echevarria said. “We had reached the point where we felt we had nothing to loose and this could be our only chance. God works in mysterious ways.”

However good contemporary science is, many who desire to bear a child find themselves turning to old medicine to bring new life.

“As an acupuncturist, I have heard that I was the last chance many times,” Fisher said. “Traditional Chinese medicine is very old, but here, in the West, it is new. People often have not heard about acupuncture and if they have, it sounds very strange and perhaps a little scary.”

“The first time I went, I was anxious and nervous,” Echevarria said. “My husband went with me and held my hand. At first, I felt a little awkward, but Ethan makes you feel so comfortable. He is so easy to talk too and very professional. He was equally invested in seeing us get pregnant.”

After three months of acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbal medicine, Echevarria’s menstrual cycle returned. Typically, acupuncture treatments are scheduled once a week, but, because the Echevarrias traveled from Rexburg and were not always able to maintain a weekly treatment schedule, it took approximately a year and half before Echevarria was pregnant.

Bellarosa Echevarria, a baby girl, is now 15months old.

“It is a miracle,” Echevarria said. “It is one of those things that Western medicine cannot explain.”

Similarly, Brown spent four years trying to conceive.

“Our doctors told us that we should try for two years before scheduling fertility treatments,” Brown said. “After two emotional years, we moved on to fertility treatments and started to save money for in vitro. I was prescribed Clomid (an ovulatory stimulant). It was the most horrible time of my life. My hormones were crazy.”

It was an emotional rollercoaster. Brown was bitter and frustrated. Although she struggled to be positive, the routine, scheduling and medical appointments, which were now approaching four years, started to take their toll.

Conception continued to be elusive and fertility drugs were creating more strife.

The emotional cost of infertility also comes with a hefty financial price tag. In vitro fertilization can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 per cycle and generally is not covered by insurance.

“I had previously seen Ethan for headaches. He is a friend of my husband’s family. When we started investigating in vitro, we discovered that acupuncture increases success,” Brown said. “Because of the expense involved with in vitro, we wanted to do everything possible to increase our chances of first time success. So once again, I started seeing Ethan.”

A study at the University of Texas found that Traditional Chinese medicine can increase the chances of success with in vitro fertilization by as much as 50 percent.

Fisher prescribed Chinese herbal medicine in additional to weekly acupuncture treatments.

“I felt my body relax. It was a strange feeling, but it felt right,” Brown said

About two months after acupuncture treatments began and prior to in vitro fertilization, the Browns were pregnant. Boden Brown turned 18 months old in December.

History of Acupuncture

Recently acupuncture has been picking up steam as a possible remedy for female and male infertility. A handful of American and European studies show that it not only enhances the success rate of in vitro fertilization, but offers anecdotal evidence that it can help other fertility and pregnancy problems.

Acupuncture, a medical system that has evolved over thousands of years, involves the placement of tiny needles in various locations on the body.  The stimulation of these acupuncture points directs energy or Qi (Chee) flow. Historically, the Chinese believed that to remain healthy, that energy should flow in a balanced way throughout the body. Whenever there is a blockage in that flow of energy, inflammation can occur leading to severe pain and several types of diseases.

“Acupuncture works by stimulating the peripheral nervous system. This stimulation leads to a response from the central nervous system, i.e the brain. The brain’s response is multifaceted and may include the release of natural biomolecules such as neurotransmitters, vasodilators and hormones,” Fisher said. “In Chinese medical theory, acupuncture works by balancing the body’s Qi. Qi can be described as a form of bioenergy that runs along the 12 major meridians of the body. If Qi gets blocked, it shows up as an imbalance or illness. Basically, if you have a health condition, some part of the body’s system is out of balance.”

Acupuncture and Infertility

Acupuncture is addressing the problems of infertility, which has grown increasingly common as more women in their thirties and forties try to get pregnant.

The primary question of most patients is how acupuncture infertility treatments work.

“Many who desire to have a child find themselves turning to alternative ways for assistance,” Fisher said. “More often than not, patients turn to acupuncture infertility treatments whenever  conventional medical treatments fail, but acupuncture can and should often be a first step.”

Chinese medicine often proves to be very efficient especially for couples who have already tried other fertility treatments.

“Acupuncture works through the strategic placement of needles to target specific organs in the body,” Fisher said. “The energy points in the human body regulate every aspect of the human being if stimulated properly. For most women, acupuncture infertility treatment works because the latter significantly energizes the spiritual, emotional, physical and mental balance; qualities which are needed to develop and maintain a positive pregnancy.”

It improves the circulation to the ovaries, which makes for healthier eggs and to the uterus, which increases the chances that the lining will be strong enough to hold the egg and then nourish a fetus. There is also the fact that acupuncture can be a stress-reliever during an emotional time.

“Trying to get pregnant is incredibility stressful,” Brown said. “And the longer you try, the worse it gets.”

Part of acupuncture is simply relaxation. When the body is relaxed, all systems function better.

“The treatments were so relaxing I had my husband drive home, “Echevarria said. “And I looked forward to each and every treatment.”

Is it Safe?

Patients who are invested in Western medicine often ask physicians if they believe in acupuncture.

“Do I believe in it? Absolutely,” said Cheryl Callaghan, Ob/Gyn, Pocatello Women’s Clinic. “While some medical practitioners may not enthusiastically embrace alternative medicine, I believe that the mind and the body are capable of amazing things and if it takes acupuncture to help realize a dream, there is no harm in trying it.”

A study at the University of Heidelberg in 1982 shows acupuncture to be more effective for infertility than hormone therapy while having no negative side effects.

“There is absolutely nothing to show that acupuncture is harmful if done with a trained and appropriately skilled acupuncturist. This is a notion that nearly everyone in the medical field, whether they believe in needles or Qi or not, seems to agree on,” Fisher said.

Close research on acupuncture and infertility shows that treatment differs from person to person. Whether it is low sperm count, bad quality eggs, miscarriage problems or trouble ovulating, acupuncture might be right for many individual situations.

“Additionally, acupuncture is very safe,” Fisher said. “Needles are pre-sterilized, individually packaged, and disposable. But perhaps more importantly, acupuncture works well in coordination with Western medical treatments.”

Is it Painful?

Most people barely feel a thing when needles are inserted.

“The needles were placed mostly in my arms and legs and sometimes on my head,” Echevarria said. “At first I was afraid they would be painful, but I hardly felt anything.”

Acupuncture points used to treat fertility are often located on the body’s extremities, particularly the arms and legs.

The reason acupuncture needles do not give the painful sensation expected is because they are very, very thin.

“In comparison, hypodermic needles used for injections are hollow and have a blunt point,” Fisher said. “Forty acupuncture needles can fit into the tip of one standard 18 gauge hypodermic needle.”

While many local couples have already proven the efficacy of acupuncture fertility treatments, acupuncture can be used to treat a number of other ailments.

“If you want the best in health care, learn about both Western and Eastern treatments and use them wisely,” Fisher said.

To learn more about acupuncture or to contact Ethan Fisher visit www.stillwatersclinic.com or contact Stillwater Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Clinic at 208-233-3237.

Mary Keating is a monthly contributor to the Family Living Magazine, a national award-winning feature writer, a wife and mother of two. She serves as the Editorial Analyst for SheWrites in New York and can be reached on her website www.marykeating.com.

 

Conditions Treated By Acupuncture

 A few of the conditions successfully treated by acupuncture and Oriental medicine:

General:

  • Women’s issues, including infertility, pms, menopause, and other gynecological issues. These are treated without requiring uncomfortable examinations.
  • Chronic pain, especially joint and muscle pain, arthritis, as well as headaches and other discomforts.
  • Fatigue, including chronic fatigue syndrome, or a general feeling of being down.
  • Most chronic conditions such as allergies, asthma, and more respond extremely well to acupuncture.

Specific conditions treated:

Cardiovascular Disorders

  • Angina
  • Hypertension

Dermatology (Skin Conditions)

  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea

Endocrine/Metabolism

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid Conditions

Gastrointestinal/Digestion

  • Acid Reflux/Heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Gynecology

  • Breech Positioning Of The Fetus
  • Female And Male Infertility
  • In Vitro Fertilization Support
  • Induction Of Labor
  • Irregular/Painful Menstruation
  • Menopause
  • Morning Sickness
  • PMS
  • Post-Partum Depression

Mental Health

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia/Sleep Disturbance
  • Stress

Musculoskeletal Pain

  • Dental Pain
  • Joint/Limb Pain
  • Low Back Pain/Sciatica
  • Neck Pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Repetitive Stress Injuries
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Sports Injuries

Respiratory

  • Allergic Rhinitis
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Common Cold
  • Cough
  • Flu
  • Sinusitis

Neurological

  • Bell’s Palsy
  • Headache/Migraines
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Post Stroke Paralysis
  • Shingles
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • TMJ
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia

Uro-Genital

  • Bed Wetting
  • Bladder Dysfunction
  • Incontinence

Other

  • General Well Being
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Weight Control