Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Black Chicken Soup for Fertility

I've found a number of recipes for Black-Chicken Soup, also called Silkie or Silkey Chicken. These can be found in the frozen sections of some grocery stores or in Chinese Food stores. The name comes from the fact that the meat of this chicken is dark gray or black. It has been used traditionally for supporting the kidneys, as a post-menstural tonic, for recovery after delivery, and to support fertility.

Here's a link to one of the better recipes available on-line.

The Ultimate Kidney Tonic- Black Soup

The ingredients:

1 Whole Black Chicken- called Silky Chicken or Silkie Chicken (found at Asian grocery stores)
1.5-2cups Black Beans - Huge amount of protein, good for kidneys
Kombu Seaweed - minerals and alkaline
Rice noodles or Bean Threads - wheat free noodles, clears body heat
Tamari (premium soy sauce) - adds fermented food to diet
1 can Vegetable Stock - vegetables
1/8 cup olive oil
4 tbl minced garlic
Sea Salt
Large Crockpot

and the herbs to add (available from Chinese herb stores, online, or from your acupuncturist)
30g He Shou Wu- Kidney and blood builder
30g Shu Di Huang - Rehmannia Prepared - Kidney and blood builder
20g Gou Qi Zi - Goji berries - antioxidant, blood builder
10g Shan Zha - Hawthorn Berry - helps the properties of the soup move through normally
10g Chen Pi - Citrus Peel - allows all the building properties not cause constipation.

The link provides detailed instructions on making this (a 4-6 hour process), but it can also be made more quickly as a regular chicken soup. Soak the beans overnight with the seaweed. Change the water (keeping the seaweed) and cook the beans for one hour. Prepare the chicken and stock as you normally would, adding the herbs one hour before the end. The Goji berries can be added free, but the other herbs should be bagged so they can be removed before serving. Add the noodles last and enjoy as a healthy and tasty treat.

Byron Russell

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Daily Sex Improves Male Fertility

In my fertility practice it is very common that only the wife of the couple comes in for treatment. Often I never see the husband. This reflects the fact that there remains in our culture a sense that fertility issues are a woman's problem. However, current estimates suggest that 30% of fertility problems result from male factor infertility issues, including problems with repeated miscarriage. An additional 30% of couples show problems for both partners. So, there is good reason for evaluation and treatment to include the male partner for any couple experiencing problems. This is becoming a bigger issue as human male sperm counts continue to decline, an issue that has been well-documented and well-publicized over the past few years and is a factor of increasing concern.

A study presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology looked at the effect of regular ejaculation on sperm quality, specifically DNA damage.
The study was conducted with 118 male test subjects; all of whom had a history of infertility. Infertility includes such conditions as damaged sperm, repeated miscarriages and recurrent failure of in vitro fertilization. Samples from all 118 test subjects showed over 15% of their sperm showed DNA damage.

The test was very simple: for a week each man was required to ejaculate daily. At the end of the week, a sperm test sample was provided for clinical review. The results showed that DNA damage was reduced in a whopping 81% of the men; by any standard that is a very significant change.

Nineteen percent of the test subjects actually showed increased damage to the DNA in the sperm. The study concludes that the 19% that showed increased DNA damage most likely had underlying problems that were not “treatable” with the ejaculation method.

The results here are a little mixed, showing improvements in DNA quality for most (81%) of the men. One item to note is that the testing period was only one week long. The effects of daily ejaculation over a longer period of time are not addressed in this study, and Chinese Medicine would expect a decline in fertility over the long-term for most men due to over-taxing the Kidney Jing (or vital essence).

The traditional Western medical advice has been for men to refrain from ejaculation from 3-7 days before their partner's ovulation time. A number of research studies are showing that this is not true and that more frequent sex during the fertile window can improve the chances of pregnancy.

Chinese Medicine makes a prescription for ejaculation based on a person's age and state of health - particularly the state of the Kidney Jing. For a healthy man in his mid-30's, the number tends to be 3-4 times a week. I see great variation in my patients, from those who ejaculate 5-6 times a day, to those who ejaculate 1-2 times a month. This reflects differences in basic constitution as well as current health and it is not helpful to state a single number that is right for all men or all situations. For instance, one of my patients who ejaculated multiple times a day had problems with insomnia and migraine headaches if he cut back on that number. I've had other patients who experienced sore throats and frequent colds with increased sexual activity beyond a couple times a month. So, it is important to evaluate your state of health and how sexual activity plays into that. Remember also that there is a very long tradition in Chinese Medicine for maximizing virility and fertility into old age. This was a very important issue in Chinese culture and many treatments were developed to address this issue.

When fertility is the goal, we want to maximize the health of the Kidney Jing and the quality of the sperm. Acupuncture has been shown to do that when low sperm quality is an issue. Herbs like Huang Qi have been shown to improve specific factors like sperm motility. Another possible approach that is recommended in Taoist texts is frequent sexual activity without ejaculation. This has a strong effect on increasing testosterone levels, and higher testosterone levels have been linked with higher quality sperm. In a general sense, balancing the body and improving general health reduces demands on the vital (or constitutional) essence, leaving more body resources for creating healthy sperm.

Lastly, here is a look at current research from the World Health Organization (WHO), via the Oxford Journals on sperm quality parameters for fertility.

semen volume, 1.5 ml (1.4–1.7);
total sperm number, 39 million per ejaculate (33–46);
sperm concentration,
15 million per ml (12–16);
vitality, 58% live (55–63);
progressive motility, 32% (31–34);
total (progressive + non-progressive) motility, 40% (38–42);
morphologically normal forms, 4.0% (3.0–4.0)

These numbers came from a study of men whose partners became pregnant in 12 months or less.

Byron Russell

Friday, December 11, 2009

Timing Your Fertility

Here are some tips from FertilityFriend on the timing and frequency of sexual intercourse in promoting pregnancy. This is an update on what was generally recommended in the past, particularly regarding the frequency of intercourse.

The Fertile Window

Sperm may last up to 5 days in cervical fluid and the egg may last up to 1 day after ovulation -- but these are the extremes. Intercourse during the two days prior to ovulation and on the ovulation day is more likely to produce a pregnancy.

Your fertile window is made up of the days in your menstrual cycle when pregnancy is possible. The length of this fertile phase is determined by the maximum life span of your partner's sperm and your egg. Sperm can survive a maximum of five days in fertile cervical fluid and your ovum can survive for up to one day. Your theoretical fertile window is thus six days long, comprised of the five days before ovulation and the day of ovulation. You only have a chance to conceive when you have intercourse on these days. This means that pregnancy is technically possible from intercourse on any of these six days. The likelihood of actually becoming pregnant, however, is dramatically increased when you have intercourse in the three days immediately leading up to and including ovulation. This makes a practical fertile window of just three days.

Frequency of Intercourse --

In the past it was suggested that the male refrain from ejaculation for 3 days prior to intercourse, giving the sperm cells a chance to mature in the epididymis, and giving the semen volume and sperm count time to build. But, this is no longer thought to be true. Frequent intercourse during the fertile window produces a higher chance of pregnancy.

There has been some speculation that couples who are trying to conceive should reduce the frequency of sexual intercourse during the fertile window to increase sperm supply. This is not true for most couples. While couples with known male factor issues should consult their doctor for the best intercourse strategy, couples with normal fertility and no known sperm issues should not reduce the frequency of intercourse in the fertile window. Your probability of conception is increased when you have intercourse multiple times in your fertile window. While it is true that sperm concentrations decrease slightly with increasing intercourse frequency, frequent intercourse is still more likely to result in conception than infrequent intercourse for couples with no male factor fertility issues. Each additional act of intercourse within your fertile window increases your probability of conception for that cycle.

Byron Russell

Monday, November 30, 2009

Acupuncture for Fertility

Here is a small summary of the use of acupuncture for fertility issues from, October 2009. I was particularly struck by the comment on a study from the British Medical Journal showing nearly twice as many live births for IVF when acupuncture is added.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be used in combination with conventional reproductive medical care or as a primary treatment approach. Acupuncture can be effective for women taking fertility drugs or reproductive technology techniques (such as IVF or IUI). Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine can also be effective as a stand-alone approach to treat infertility for those not undergoing conventional medical treatment. Acupuncture helps to regulate hormonal activity, thus regulating menstruation, ovulation, and pregnancy. A recent study from the British Medical Journal found that among women who received acupuncture and IVF, the pregnancy rates were 65% higher and the rates of live births were nearly twice as high than among women who received IVF with sham acupuncture or no acupuncture.

Acupuncture helps to reduce stress and decrease the hypersympathetic nervous system response. Studies have shown that high stress levels decrease the likelihood of conceiving. Acupuncture has been shown to stimulate chemical changes within the uterine lining, thickening the endometrium, and preparing the uterus for implantation.

In men, acupuncture can improve sperm motility, volume and concentration as well as increase libido. From the perspective of Chinese medicine, optimum fertility enhancement would involve a course of treatments with the aim of nourishing the Kidney Essence and regulating the menstrual cycle as well as clearing any pathogens that may be interfering with the natural process of conception.

Byron Russell

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ancient Chinese Secret May Help Overcome Jet Lag and Insomnia

Many of my fertility patients have jobs that involve regular air travel -- and one of the issues of regular travel is stress, jetlag and insomnia.

Here is an article by Allison Neves on Tango Diva, a website for women travelers. In this article Allison interviews me about the use of Chinese Medicine for treatment of jetlag and discusses her treatment and results. The focus of the article is insomnia resulting specifically from jetlag, but the impact of the treatment is to reduce stress and normalize hormone levels and settle and ground the body. All these things are very important for improving fertility.


As a travel writer, I find myself in and out of different time zones a handful of times each year. I’ve had my occasional bouts with jet lag and usually, within a day or so, all is right with the world and my internal time clock has acclimated. I’ve never experienced anything major when it comes to sleep issues until a trip to London last winter. During that time, I was stuck in what seemed to be a perpetual limbo of two full weeks of sleepless misery. Ever since that trip, my sleep has been an issue. I thought I had tried EVERYTHING… that is until a friend of mine mentioned acupuncture. I had tried acupuncture treatments in the past for facial rejuvenation and chronic neck pain. Both treatments were successful. But I guess it never occurred to me that this ancient Chinese secret just might be the cure to my current ailment.

In my relentless search for a few good Zzzzzzz’s, I enlisted the help of Byron Russell, a San Francisco-based acupuncturist who was not only enthusiastically referred to me by four different people but was also recently named one of the top three acupuncturists in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle. So, not too shabby, right?

continue reading

Byron Russell

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

UCSF Women's Reproductive Center Mt. Zion

I had a great experience a few days ago -- doing an acupuncture treatment for a patient in the UCSF Women's Health Center at Mt. Zion Hospital. My office is across the street from the UCSF Mt. Zion center; so, I believe I am the closest acupuncturist to their very busy Women's Reproductive Health Center. It is a big office with some of the best fertility experts in the Bay Area, including Dr. Marcelle I. Cedars. She is the Director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and many of my patients have gone to her for help with fertility problems and IUI and IVF procedures, and all speak very highly of her.

The surprise for me was that the Center now keeps a room reserved for use by acupuncturists. Though they don't have their own acupuncturists on staff, they keep space free for patients who want to bring an acupuncturist with them for treatment immediately preceding their IUI and IVF procedures. I got a call from a patient whom I had not seen in a few years who now lives out of the area, but was coming in to San Francisco for her fertility procedures. She asked me to meet her there for a treatment. It was too far away for her current acupuncturist to travel, but very convenient for me to accompany her.

The staff at the center is very friendly and accommodating. My patient was in great spirits and very excited about the procedure. It was interesting to note that her excitement translated into a very wiry (read: STRESSED) pulse. Stress -- even the excited kind -- is not helpful in achieving good fertility results. A forty-five minute electro-acupuncture treatment calmed her pulse and put her in a sleepy, mellow mood for the procedure.

The research on the benefit of acupuncture at the time of fertility procedures is very strong and I'm glad to see fertility centers like UCSF's making space for this in their program. Pacific Fertility does the same thing, and I will be doing an on-site treatment for another of my patients there next month.

Byron Russell

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Stress and Fertility

One of the best things you can do for yourself when dealing with problems in fertility is:

CUT DOWN on the STRESS in your life.

That, of course, is very easy for me to say -- and I say it a lot -- but getting rid of stress can be very hard to accomplish. So, I'd like to mention a few things that can help.

To start with, let's define what stress is. I get quite a few patients (very successful people with demanding jobs, who are well-organized, and who do strenuous exercise daily) who insist they they don't have stress. They don't feel stressed, at all, and they don't want to talk about it. Really, they do NOT want to talk about it.

For these people, the idea of being 'stressed' sounds like a criticism, a suggestion of incompetence -- and that isn't what I mean. Stress in TCM is a bodily reaction to the demands of life. So, someone who is very competent is actually likely to have and to handle more demands, and in a sense, to experience a more stressful life.

So, the first thing to realize is that "being stressed" is not a judgment about your life. Good events can cause stress. Excitement can be stressful. Winning the lottery can be stressful. Getting a promotion can be stressful. Strenuous exercise can be stressful. Any situation that involves change and adaption by your body can be seen as stress -- and it does affect your hormone levels and could affect your fertility.

In a way, that is good, because we want to affect your fertility positively -- through exercise, diet, meditation and attitude, as well as acupuncture and herbs.

What can you do to minimize the effects of a busy and demanding life? Here's an idea: try making space for a baby now. Pretend you already have a child. What do you give up in your life to make time for that? How do you change your work and socializing? Begin making those changes (cutting back) and then use your new free time to relax more, eat better, exercise slowly, and breath. Then take that calmer, more expansive attitude into the rest of your life.

Byron Russell

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sulfa Drugs Linked to Birth Defects

While the most common antibiotics were not linked to birth defects, the study shows that sulfa drugs and nitrofuranritoins were. Something to keep in mind during pregnancy. Here is an excerpt from the article and a link to the full report.

CDC Study Links Two Antibiotics to Birth Defects. No added risk was found, however, for most commonly used infection-fighters

However, the study found that two types of antibiotics were linked with a higher risk for several birth defects: nitrofurantoins and sulfonamides, sometimes called "sulfa drugs," which are prescribed for urinary tract and other infections.

Women whose children had anencephaly, a fatal malformation of the skull and brain, were three times more likely to have taken sulfonamides, the study found. Sulfonamides were also tied to an increased risk for such heart defects as hypoplastic left heart syndrome and coarctation of the aorta, choanal atresia (a blockage of the nasal passage), transverse limb deficiency and diaphragmatic hernia, an abnormal opening in the diaphragm that results in severe breathing difficulties.

Nitrofurantoins were also associated with multiple birth defects, including anophthalmia and microphthalmos (eye defects) and several congenital heart defects. Mothers whose children were born with a cleft lip or cleft palate were twice as likely to have taken nitrofurantoins, the study found.


Byron Russell

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fertility Talk: Propecia May Reduce Male Fertility

One of the goals of this blog is to collect news stories about fertility issues. There certainly is more information out there than anyone can keep track of. But, it is nice to have some of the more unusual or interesting stories collected in one place.

This one surprised me, and is something I could easily see causing problems for some of the couple who come in to see me for fertility issues. Propecia (used to prevent hair loss, and a very commonly prescribed drug)can reduce semen volume and affect fertilty in men.

A back ground quote from NetDoctor:

Primary infertility is an extremely common problem, affecting more than one in seven (15 per cent) couples attempting their first pregnancy. Among those experiencing difficulty with conception, a male fertility problem is considered important in around 40 per cent of couples. In 15 per cent of couples it will be solely a male fertility problem and in around 25 per cent, there will be a problem in both partners.
And a comment from Dr. Turek, one of the leaders in the study and treatment of male infertility:
“The FDA does not require fertility studies of these drugs, and it has been the suspicion of most of us in the field that if you take this drug for more than five years then you might consider stopping it because it does look like a player in decreasing spermatogenesis.”

click below for the full article:
Renal&Urology News

Byron Russell