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Published March 31, 2012, 11:30 PM

Natural options for treating infertility

FARGO – Before couples pursue expensive medical treatments for infertility – such as hormonal medication, insemination or in vitro fertilization – Renee Johnson advises they explore a more natural option.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

FARGO – Before couples pursue expensive medical treatments for infertility – such as hormonal medication, insemination or in vitro fertilization – Renee Johnson advises they explore a more natural option.

Johnson, a registered nurse with FirstChoice Clinic, is certified in Marquette University’s system of natural family planning. She meets individually with couples to teach them how to recognize biological markers of fertility.

Natural family planning has long been touted, particularly by the Catholic Church, as a morally acceptable way for married couples to postpone pregnancy. Its scientific techniques can also be used to help achieve pregnancy naturally, Johnson says.

“It can be a good first step in treating infertility,” she says.

There are many systems of natural family planning, though most involve checking and charting of cervical mucus, using an electronic fertility monitor, which tests for certain hormones in the urine, and sometimes temperature taking.

These all indicate different stages of a woman’s menstrual cycle, and can help a couple pinpoint ovulation, Johnson says, adding that a woman is most likely to conceive two days before she ovulates. “A couple who understands and charts their fertility knows the signs,” she says.

Johnson says looking at the charts she can see patterns that may indicate a specific medical issue that may interfere with conception, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome. She can then refer the woman to a doctor.

When charting is ineffective because of an underlying condition, Johnson recommends couples look into NaPro Technology, a women’s health science that provides medical and surgical treatments.

Developed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction and the national Center for Women’s Health in Omaha, Neb., it is described on its website as “a fertility-care based medical approach rather than a fertility-control approach to family planning and gynecological health.”

Johnson also encourages women who are trying to conceive to read “The Fertility Diet,” by Harvard researchers Drs. Jorge Chavarro, Walter Willett and Patrick Skerrett. The book suggests reducing the intake of refined sugars, animal proteins and trans fats, eating more whole grains, beans, vegetables and whole fruit, and drinking whole milk instead of skim to increase fertility.

“I feel like we always turn to doctors to treat everything. I just like the idea of early intervention, to try a natural route,” Johnson says.

Other options

Some women have found success improving their fertility by using other more natural, non-traditional approaches such as acupuncture, reflexology, chiropractic care and hypnotherapy.

Christy Fetzer, a chiropractor with Fetzer Family Chiropractic in Fargo, says she hasn’t seen patients looking specifically to treat infertility, but treating the nervous system can improve chances of conception.

“Normal female function starts to work better,” she says. “We get everything lined up so they have better chances of getting pregnant.”

Jen DeMaio of Two Turtles Wellness provides acupuncture and Chinese herbs to help women with infertility. She says 90 percent of her practice is women, and a third to half of that is fertility support.

“In a really natural and gentle way it can balance your hormones. It reduces stress. It helps your body adapt to life,” DeMaio says. “It’s a holistic viewpoint. I’m not just treating the idea they have hormonal imbalances. I’m looking at their own entire ecosystem,” including their diet and stress levels.

Alternative medicine is also complementary, she says. Research has shown that acupuncture can increase the effectiveness of in vitro fertilization by 40 to 60 percent, DeMaio says. Fertility specialists at Sanford Health and Essentia have referred patients to her, she says.

Dr. Randle Corfman with the Midwest Center for Reproductive Health, who treats patients at Essentia, says approaches like acupuncture and massage therapy haven’t been largely studied to see if they help or hurt. “I think most of them do not hurt anything,” Corfman says.

He encourages women to use a fertility monitor, but thinks charting cervical mucus is stressful and not very useful.

DeMaio says her job is more challenging when women come to her as a last resort, after traditional medical treatments failed. “They might be even more imbalanced now than if I would have been able to see them before they started,” she says.

She wishes patients would pursue more natural treatments first.

“We’re socialized into certain forms of medicine and not until we hit walls with our desires in life do we look at different options,” DeMaio says.