The heartache and emotional turmoil of infertility affects more and more couples every year. As the number of infertile couples grows, so does the intervention offered by the various health care industries. Many couples are aware of no other option other than conventional medicine and consequently have a treatment program that consists of drugs and surgery. However, in this society where health care is shifting from pain and drugs to health and wellness, countless others are calling out for a holistic, natural approach for the treatment of infertility. So what kind of solution can chiropractic offer?
Recent research reinforces that the chiropractic approach to fertility is the same approach that has encouraged so many to adopt the chiropractic lifestyle: a safe and economical alternative to traditional medicine and a focus on whole body wellness. Recent chiropractic research into fertility offers hope and encouragement to those seeking a natural option for wellness.
Infertility is defined as a couple’s inability to become pregnant after 1 year of intercourse without using birth contraception. However, it is important to note that, “normal fertility” is defined as the ability to naturally conceive within 2 year’s time. Statistics report that the infertility culprit is a combination of ovulation dysfunction, fallopian tube problems or other pelvic and hormonal problems.1
Medical management of fertility often includes medication, surgery and other invasive forms of treatment for the physical component. Although thousands of couples seek care with conventional medicine that result in pregnancy, there are concerns for the safety of the treatments that conventional medicine has to offer. Nadler writes, “These interventions can manipulate the hormonal influences on the menstrual cycle. This type of intervention directly affects the individual’s hormonal balance whether the predisposed condition is a result of physiological dysfunction or whether it is nothing more than variant.” 2
Research provided by Dr. Bedell agrees with the idea that drugs and other forms of invasive treatments have devastating side effects. Bedell writes, “The use of synthetic hormones to both prevent and promote fertility has been shown to have severe and well documented toxic side effects for women. About 10 million women in the USA use the pill at any one time but from 3-50% stop using it within a year because of undesirable side effects. About 120 risks and side effects are associated with this combination (estrogen and synthetic progestin) some of which are life threatening, including not just heart problems but cancers of the reproductive organs, breast cancer, increased risk of diabetes, asthma, thyroid imbalance, and immune dysfunction.”3 This research shows that surgical and pharmaceutical treatments involve some very frightening risks with little support for effective results.
If the risk factors of conventional medicine are not enough to search for other treatment options then certainly the economic factor will be motivation to seek alternative care. Researchers agree that there is a significant concern to find something more economical. With the combination of rapidly increasing medical insurance premiums in conjunction with significant costs of conventional treatment for infertility and the fact that many of those treatments are not covered by insurance plans, conventional treatments are not economically feasible for many couples. Statistics report that cost for fertility treatment can be as much as $6000 for fertility medication therapy per cycle and $10,000 for assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF per cycle. Considering that multiple cycles must be attempted for a possibility of success, these costs can add up very quickly.4 The extreme costs associated with conventional medicine’s treatment for infertility is quite simply unrealistic for most couples.
There appears to be a definitive agreement among all of the research available on the topic of chiropractic and infertility. Current medical care for infertility is extremely expensive, involves potentially significant negative side effects, and has not been proven to be more successful than chiropractic care for treatment of fertility.
The research reviewed regarding the chiropractic approach to fertility should be looked at in two separate and specific areas: how the wellness approach of the chiropractic lifestyle directly affects total health and more specifically the idea that the physical component is not the only factor in infertility. It is important to note that all of the researchers initially provided a definition of chiropractic and its philosophy and goals. Perhaps the most thorough explanation of the chiropractic philosophy, science, and physiology was provided by Shelley:
One of the major premises of chiropractic philosophy is that normal nerve function is essential to good health. The spinal cord, which transmits nerve impulses between the brain and the organs and tissues of the body is supported and protected by the spinal column. Vertebral misalignments or subluxations disturb normal nerve function. When nerve function is disturbed, dysfunction and disease may result. Chiropractic adjustments restore proper alignment to the vertebrae thereby supporting proper function to the nervous system. This promotes an increased state of health regardless of the presenting problem or complaint.
Shelley went on to explain how the chiropractic adjustment specifically affects reproductive health. She writes, “Spinal movement contributes to the proper flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Restrictions of spinal movement alter the flow of CSF and may impact the hypothalamus and/or pituitary gland. These glands are responsible for reproducing hormones such as follicle-stimulating hormone and lutenizing hormone which are vital to reproductive function.” She adds that the vertebral subluxation of the spine has far reaching affects on numerous glands and organs that directly contribute to a healthy reproductive system. 5
Shelley’s definition of the foundational principles for the chiropractic lifestyle is a perfect segue way into a better understanding of the success of some specific case studies. Dr. Tammy Kaminski provides a case study of a practice member who presented with infertility issues. Her results with care were quite successful as she stopped taking fertility drugs and conceived naturally after nine months of wellness chiropractic care. Kaminski writes, “Increased function of the autonomic nervous system as a result of chiropractic care appears to benefit normalization of the menstrual cycle, in this case regular ovulation occurred and subsequent pregnancy.” 6
Dr. Peacock provided research on two case studies in which practice members presented with issues of infertility. She made an important note that their care was not based on the symptoms or conditions with which they presented but to improve neurological function and health by reducing vertebral subluxations. Dr. Peacock deems both of these cases as successful because both saw positive physiological changes, with one case resulting in a healthy pregnancy. She writes, “It is postulated that the changes observed with each patient’s re-assessment and the improvements in spinal and neural integrity caused changes to occur in far reaching ways. Upon reduction of the vertebral subluxation there was an improvement in spinal-neural function which appears to have an impact on the reproductive system through various postulated mechanisms.” 7
The success of these cases involves many factors. First, each practice member presented with infertility as either a primary reason for obtaining care or was found to be a secondary concern after the history and consultation. However, the foundation of their care was not symptom based, as chiropractic never claims to treat symptoms or to cure medical conditions. Conception and delivery of a healthy baby was a “side effect” of their wellness care, a side effect which had no adverse reactions. In the process of obtaining their objective, each practice member also received increased spinal-neural integrity thus resulting in overall improved health and wellness.
Another factor that researchers discussed was the suggestion that mental and emotional health is as much a factor in fertility issues as is the physical factor. Dr. Madeline Behrendt’s research on the topic offers a whole body approach to factors affecting fertility. She points out that the villain causing infertility cannot be narrowed to only one thing. It is a combination of chemical, physical and emotional stress and a person’s ability to adapt to those stressors. She suggests that the mental and emotional stress of the modern work habits and lifestyle habits of most women plays a crucial role in fertility. She writes, “Essential to all processes of life is the nervous system, which perceives the environment and coordinates the cellular community’s biological response to impinging environmental stimuli. It is reasonable to consider that a system that is properly functioning to its potential may resist destructive forces more successfully and with less damage.” 8
Dr. Bedell’s research also points out that the cause of fertility is affected by many different factors. She writes, “There is a growing body of evidence that chiropractic care can promote the ability of the body to communicate at a cellular level, allowing us to make changes in the way we react to previous experiences and adapt to internal and external stressors.” She states that even after testing and treatment, the medical profession finds that up to 20% of causes are unknown. She suggests that emotional components may have the greatest impact on the cause of the subluxation, which consequently causes interference to the information linking the nervous and endocrine systems to the reproductive organs involved. Furthermore, she adds that the “mind-body” connection has a paramount impact on the treatment of this condition and that the natural approach of chiropractic care is a great option to detect and correct any interference within the body. 3
Dr. Peacock also notes in her research that fertility is not the result of merely one culprit but rather the abnormal function of one or more variables. She states the cause may not be only physical but could be a combination of any of the following three: trauma, toxicity, and thoughts. She explains, “Chiropractic as a vitalistic profession would recognize the interplay between the three as an impact in one may dynamically alter or change the effect in another system as all systems are interdependent.” She also writes about the importance of a person being able to adapt to those stressors in order to maintain health and wellness and that chiropractic has been shown to promote that physiological and emotional adaptation. 7
After carefully reviewing all the of the current available chiropractic research of fertility, my conclusions are as follows:
- Couples wanting to become parents must know that chiropractic is a viable, natural choice. Family wellness begins with conception. The importance of a functional nerve system is vital for parents to be made aware of. With regular chiropractic care, families have a unique opportunity for optimal health and wellness.
- The potential impact that chiropractic can continue to have on our culture and economy and, more importantly, on an individual’s quality of life, is accomplished through the increased public awareness of chiropractic and published research. As our efforts to tell others bear fruit, the impact on family wellness will be momentous.