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The medical definition of infertility is; the failure to conceive following twelve months of unprotected intercourse. Global estimates of infertility range between 8 and 12% of couples with women of childbearing age, affecting between 50 and 80 million people. Infertility is often perceived as a predominantly female disorder, even though male-factor infertility is equally prevalent. In addressing infertility, it should be recalled that social and environmental factors, as well as physiological and genetic ones, contribute to the condition.
The primary symptom of infertility is difficulty getting pregnant. Various causes of infertility may result in additional symptoms. Any of the following problems may cause infertility:
• Infrequent ovulation (egg release from the ovary) accounts for 20% of female infertility problems. If your ovulation is infrequent, your periods will be spaced apart by longer than a month, or they will be absent. Common causes of infrequent ovulation include body stresses such as eating disorders, unusually ambitious exercise training, rapid weight loss, low body weight and obesity. Some hormonal abnormalities such as thyroid problems, pituitary-gland problems, adrenal-gland problems and polycystic ovary syndrome can delay or prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg. Some symptoms that might suggest a hormone abnormality include unexpected weight loss or gain, fatigue, excessive hair growth or hair loss, acne and ovarian cysts. Cysts in the ovary can cause pelvic pain and also can interfere with the normal process of ovulation.
• Scarring in the fallopian tubes can prevent pregnancy because it stops the egg from travelling into the uterus. Fallopian-tube problems are the cause in approximately 30% of female infertility problems. Damage can be from a previous surgery, a previous ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, tubal scarring from endometriosis or from pelvic inflammatory disease. Pelvic inflammatory disease is a bacterial infection in the pelvis, caused by sexually transmitted bacteria such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. It often scars, damages or blocks the fallopian tubes. A history of pelvic pain, with or without fever, may suggest a diagnosis of endometriosis or pelvic infection.
• Abnormalities in the shape or lining of the uterus account for almost 20% of female infertility problems. Fibroid tumours or uterine polyps sometimes result in heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain or enlargement of the uterus. Scar tissue can develop within the uterine cavity as a complication of uterine infections, miscarriages, abortions, or surgical procedures such as a dilation and curettage (D&C). Such scar tissue can lead to infrequent periods or minimal menstrual flow.
Several other factors such as age, stress, poor diet, athletic training, being overweight or underweight, tobacco smoking, alcohol, sexually transmitted diseases (STD), health problems that cause hormonal changes, can affect a woman’s ability to have a baby.
Many herbs are used in Ayurveda for the treatment of female infertility.
• Ashoka (Saraca asoca) : Saraca asoca is a small evergreen tree. Its bark contains an oestrogenic compound and has a stimulating effect on the endometrium (inner layer of uterus) and ovarian tissue.
It is useful in menorrhagia (excessive menstrual bleeding) due to uterine fibroids, leukorrhoea (white discharge) and in internal bleeding. It is well established for its effectiveness in menorrhagia and dysmenorrhoea. It also has a stimulatory effect on the ovarian tissue and may produce an oestrogen like effect that enhances the repair of the endometrium and stops bleeding.
• Lodhra(Symplocos racemosa) :Symplocos racemosa (SR) is an evergreen tree, with white to yellowish flowers, and purplish black drupes. Its astringent bark is recommended in the treatment of menorrhagia and other uterine disorders.
The stem bark has anti-inflammatory properties. SR is used in Ayurveda for various female disorders. Studies have reported that SR stimulates and increases the levels of reproductive hormones, FSH (Follicular Stimulating Hormone) and LH (Luteinising Hormone). An increase in the ovary weight was also found due to the observed FSH surge. These results are in concordance with the traditional use of this herb for female disorders.
• Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus): Asparagus racemosus (AR) is a multi-branched, spinous undershrub, bearing numerous succulent and tuberous roots. The plant contains triterpene saponins, which are phytoestrogen compounds.
The plant is demulcent, aphrodisiac and galactagogue (promotes secretion of milk). The results of a study suggest an oestrogenic effect of the herb on the female mammary gland and genital organs. AR is often used for infertility, threatened miscarriage, leukorrhoea and menopausal problems. It nourishes the ovum and increases fertility.
• Kumari (Aloe barbadensis) : Aloe barbadensis has long been in use for a host of diseases such as, digestive, skin and liver ailments. A study on Aloes showed that the in-vitro production of oestradiol and progesterone by ovarian cells was significantly increased by it.
Infertility is a cause for concern. Nevertheless, for a substantial percentage of men and women with reproductive disorders, adopting changes in lifestyle, healthy exercise and dietary habits, reducing stress levels along with holistic healing techniques in Sanyukta Upchaar Paddhati can help overcome infertility. Both women and men experience considerable psychological distress when experiencing reproductive health problems, including feelings of low self-esteem, isolation, loss of control, sexual inadequacy and depression. Infertility, accordingly, is a source of diminished health and social well-being.