Infertility and (In)Digestion
A 28-year-old blond woman, let’s call her Anna, came into my office lamenting she could not get pregnant for the past year and a half despite no apparent pathology according to western medical understanding. She appeared frustrated, and with tears in her eyes cried, “why can’t I get a baby, if everything is okay? Why can’t anyone tell me the cause!?”
Doctors found no endometriosis, no fibroids, no ovarian cysts, except for a slight hormonal imbalance – a slightly lower progesterone level during the second half of her cycle, but still within the normal range.
Anna had undergone 3 artificial inseminations and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) with two embryo transfers. All procedures were unsuccessful in impregnating her. At that point, before trying IVF for a third time, Anna decided to seek possible “alternative” solutions.
The Cause of Infertility
When I went through her anamnesis, including “Food, Mood and Poop Diary,” I uncovered significant digestion issues that may explain her inability to conceive. Her diet consisted, in a big part, of sandwiches, sweet snacks, fruits, and fruit smoothies (all of cold nature, according to Tibetan medicine). She also ate processed meats, grains, and some raw fresh vegetables such as salads. Noticing that diary does not make her feel good, she tried lactose-free milk with not much improvement in the symptoms.
Anna had sugar cravings and would get easily irritated. Her stools were irregular; sometimes liquid, sometimes hard. After having fresh bread, beer, or garlic, Anna would experience bloating. Even without doing expensive testing, it is a clear sign of gut dysbiosis, leaky gut and resulting hormonal imbalance from a functional medicine practitioner’s perspective. And for a Sowa Rigpa practitioner, this boils down to indigestion or “Mashupa,” in Tibetan, known as the cause of all internal disorders.
Food as Medicine
We started with a food elimination protocol, avoiding all pro-inflammatory foods such as:
- dairy (including lactose-free due to a high probability of casein intolerance which is proinflamatory),
- grains (especially those containing gluten – there is emerging research linking celiac disease and gluten sensitivity with infertility and hormonal disbalances),
- sugar ( hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia is the first step to other metabolic and hormonal swings)
- and all processed foods and preservatives.
We had her eating a wide variety of warm, cooked or baked vegetables, nut, seeds, eggs, organic meats, and fish. Nowadays, it is called a Paleo diet, but I prefer to call it Real Food, or a Nutrivore diet, focusing on nutrient rich, natural foods.
The aim was to heal the gut and to stabilize her blood sugar, and from the Eastern perspective, to warm up her digestion and kidneys. According to Sowa Rigpa – Tibetan and Himalayan medicine, she not only had ”mashupa” or maldigestion, but also “cold kidneys,” a functional lack of energy in the urogenital system, which is often a culprit when it comes to inability to conceive.
Concept of Preconception
I told Anna to take this time of fixing her gut and hormons as Preconception. Preconception is time to prepare the body and mind (and thus epigenetic expression) before getting pregnant.
If you are to become a mother, it is important to nourish your body first in order to nourish your future baby. Your baby will get the preset of genes you are activating now through food, lifestyle, mental attitude and exposure to specific environment.
Even a few months of improved nutrition, stress management, lifestyle changes, and therapies can shift the genetic expression and make a big difference for your and your future baby’s health.
After 6 weeks, Anna noticed that her digestion is much improved, with good stools, no bloating, and she has much more energy! Her PMS – breast tenderness, mood swings, sugar craving before menses almost vanished and her periods are less painful.
We added some herbs and supplements to strengthen the kidneys, and had a series of moxa treatment. At home Anna did special yoga exercises (Nejang) and acupressure on points I showed her to maximize the effects.
After 4 months since that first appointment with me, Anna successfully conceived with two stripes on the pregnancy test!
What about you?
She was not the first woman who came to me with this problem. There are so many other women coming with similar issues: “idiopathic” infertility, hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, PMS, endometriosis, etc. and not knowing the possibilities of nourishing themselves back to an amazing state of health!
Of course, infertility and hormonal imbalances can have many other causes. But if you are like Anna, who was “healthy” but infertile, maybe it is worth looking into what you are eating and how you are living before undergoing invasive treatments. If you are interested in learning more, I am preparing a detailed online course for fertility support, where we will go in depth with all the possible causes and solutions to get you finally to meet your offspring.
- Gyu Shi - the Four Medical Tantras, Yuthok Yonten Gonpo, Dharamsala
- Tibetan Book of Health, dr Nida Chenagtsang, Sky Press Books, 2017
- The Hormone Cure, Sarah Gottfried, 2014
- Hormone Repair Manual, Lara Briden, Green Peak publishing, 2021
- Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing, Christiane Northrup, revised edition 2020