There are two types of immunologic reactions involved in conception and infertility:
Autoimmune disorders are more common, contributing to over ninety percent of immune-related infertility. A woman’s immune cells form antibodies (small proteins that target and attach to cells and identify them for destruction) to tissue that is normal and part of their own body. This is an abnormal reaction that is associated with several non-pregnancy related diseases.
Alloimmune disorders, in contrast, involve the formation of antibodies against tissue associated with the male partner (e.g., paternal sperm proteins). Alloimmune problems are associated with less than ten percent of implantation failure or recurrent pregnancy loss.
During implantation, at the site where the fetal and maternal tissue meet (the embryo meets the vaginal wall), the maternal immune cells in the lining interact with one another through mutual exchange of hormone-like substances called cytokines. Because of this complex immunologic interplay, the uterus is able to foster the embryo’s successful growth without allowing bacteria and other abnormal cells to infiltrate. In other words, the immune cells aren’t shut down, they agree to host the embryo when all goes right. Thus, the trophoblast establishes the very foundation for the nutritional, hormonal, and respiratory interchange between mother and baby. In this manner, the interactive process of implantation is not only central to survival in early pregnancy but also to the health of the baby after birth. Problems occur when the maternal immune cells don’t cooperate. Typically when this occurs, it will lead to implantation failure or pregnancy loss thereafter.
How Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Treat Immunologic Factors
Traditional Chinese medicine has been treating autoimmune infertility for thousands of years. Modern Reproductive Endocrinology has only recently recognized the impact that immunologic factors have on fertility. Elevated immune markers, like Antiphospholipid Antibodies (APA) and Natural Killer Cells (NKa), are thought to be associated with an immune reaction to an implanting embryo. Anti-sperm Antibodies (ASA) inhibit the sperm from ever reaching the egg for fertilization. Other markers of potential immunological fertility factors include anti-nuclear antibody, premature elevations of follicle stimulating hormone, lupus anticoagulant, and other clotting factors. The main treatment protocol in Chinese medicine for immune factors is to reprogram the immune system so it will not react to self-tissue, and to allow the normal suppression involved in implantation to occur.
Acupuncture will balance the immune system by treating the immune system directly and via the lymphatic system. By selecting certain points, acupuncture can either down regulate or modulate the immune system and reduce possible inflammation that may be causing the elevation.
Chinese herbs are very effective at modulating the immune system and can thin the blood to encourage proper circulation.
Reproductive organ massage (ROM) increases blood flow to the entire abdominal area and all of the organs through gentle manipulation of the abdominal musculature. This technique targets areas of stagnation and adhesions which can impede proper follicular maturation and release. ROM also retrains the breath into a deeper diaphragmatic space, allowing the body to process stress more quickly and achieve a parasympathetic state on a more regular basis. This parasympathetic state is necessary for proper hormonal production and regulation, and helps control an overactive immune system.
Nutritional management is an essential element in ensuring proper functioning of the immune system. Eating a diet rich in organic fruits, vegetables, grains, and microalgae, and eliminating cold and raw food, as well as wheat, will ensure the immune system does not become overactive. Supplementation with antioxidants, flower pollen, and Reishi mushrooms will also help rebalance the body. Including mediation and stress reduction into your daily activities will reduce stress and lower the immune response as well.
Immune infertility is a type of autoimmune disease. Women with immune infertility produce anti-sperm antibodies (ASA) in their reproductive tracts. These antibodies neutralize sperm by clumping them together and poking holes in their membranes. Anti-sperm antibodies also smother receptors involved in sperm-egg binding and fertilization. An estimated 12-15 percent of unexplained infertility in women is linked to ASA.