Q: I get regular acupuncture treatments to help me conceive. My acupuncturist recently started talking to me about the role of nutrition – and she mentioned “dampness” in particular. Can you explain how nutrition and acupuncture work together in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to help women get pregnant?
A: As an acupuncturist and herbalist my patients always want to know how nutrition affects their fertility. As your acupuncturist probably told you, nutrition is a very important part of TCM, but when I’m explaining it to my patients I usually like to start with the idea of dampness.
You can think of dampness as a kind of blockage in your body. That obstacle (which isn’t a real physical blockage, like a tumor, but an energetic blockage, according to TCM) means your body has to find other ways to work. Not surprisingly, if the blockage is in your reproductive organs that can make it a lot harder to get pregnant. Dampness can be created by either external or internal factors. Internally, it is directly related to the foods we eat. The main instigators include alcohol; fried, greasy, and spicy foods; cold and raw foods like salads, fruits, and vegetables; and the biggest culprit of them all – dairy, including milk, cream, cheese, and butter. (You can also watch this short video on dampness, created by Dr. Goldberg: http://vimeo.com/31466445)
In TCM, the belief is that the spleen is the key organ in digestion. Think of the spleen as a cast-iron pot that cooks the food you eat. When you continually put food in your body that is cold or raw, your spleen has to “cook” the food before it can use its energy. By eating warm foods you are saving your spleen-energy, which will increase your body’s overall health.
If you eat a dairy food, like a piece of cheese, for example, you can see that it’s heavy and greasy, and even after you wash your hands after holding it you can feel a stickiness between your fingers. Also, when you take that block of cheese out of the refrigerator it’s at about 40ºF, but when you eat it you’ve added a chemical reaction – heat -- because your body is at 98.6ºF. What happens when you add heat to cheese? It becomes delicious, but it also stretches out, becoming thicker, longer, and greasier, which increases its natural properties (dampness), which adds to that energetic blockage.
With the severe role that blockage already plays in fertility, I generally ask my patients to avoid dairy, and other dampness contributors, as best they can, during the month leading up to and during pregnancy.
Alex Goldberg is a licensed and nationally board-certified acupuncturist and herbalist with a private practice in Brooklyn, New York, Garden Acupuncture. He has studied with Randine Lewis, a premier fertility specialist and is the only TCM practitioner in Brooklyn who has had the esteemed privilege of learning directly under her tutelage. You can follow Alex on Facebook here.