After three years of trying to conceive and three failed attempts at in vitro fertilization, Tracey Carroll, 33, desperately turned to the East for help. She sought the needles and herbs of an acupuncturist.

In fact, her new in-vitro doctor insisted. After she had her fourth session of getting pricked, her menstrual cycle became regular for the first time in three years. Carroll also swallowed 18 pills of “smelly, yucky herbs” of which the ingredients were derived from cow spleen and pituitary gland believed to regulate her hormones.

Six months later, the woman is now expecting twins, due in December – and believes acupuncture played a large role.

Carroll is among an increasing number of American women who are turning to alternative, Eastern medicinal arts for problems with infertility, menopause, weight loss and even dry skin.

Once dismissed as mystical quackery by many medical doctors, acupuncture treatments are now recommended by some in-vitro specialists as a way to increase fertility. Meanwhile, other women turn to ayurveda – a 5,000-year-old practice from India that incorporates mind, body and spirit -to ensure health. Women turn to it to rid their body of toxins and dull skin. Both Eastern holistic approaches employ herbs and massage or acupuncture to bring the body into balance.

Carroll, a teacher, says that in her first session, Milpitas, Calif., acupuncturist Robin Hays diagnosed that her natural killer cells in her immune system were elevated, which meant her body might attack an embryo. A week later, blood tests confirmed it.

Acupuncture, an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine, stimulates blood flow and encourages better circulation. Needles are inserted into the body at various energy points, which correspond to organs in the body. Acupuncturists also employ herbs to bring balance to the body.

For women trying to conceive, acupuncture often focuses on the uterus, Hays says.

“It’s creating a fertile valley to grow a seed or an embryo,” she says. Hays, who turned to acupuncture for a sprained ankle two decades ago, was so delighted with the results that she pursued it as a profession. She graduated from San Francisco’s American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1985.

Back then, it was mostly Chinese and older hippies who turned to acupuncture, Hays says. Her patients didn’t even tell their primary doctors about their treatments because most of the medical establishment eyed it suspiciously. Now, some insurance plans cover acupuncture, and she’s getting referrals from doctors, including Dr. Christo Zouves of the Zouves Fertility Center in Daly City, Calif.

Eighty-five percent of patients at the fertility center undergo acupuncture as part of their treatments, Zouves says. He also recommends yoga, meditation and eating healthily to his patients.

“It’s about the mind/body connection,” says Zouves, who adopted Eastern holistic approaches to his practice a decade ago.

His experience and medical studies show that acupuncture stimulates blood flow to the pelvis and uterus. “We don’t know how it works, but it does,” he says.

At Hays’ practice, about half of the patients see her for women’s health issues, including premenstrual syndrome, irregular menstrual cycles and menopause. She also treats many patients for pain disorders and allergies.

“Most of my patients come because they don’t want to take drugs,” she says.

Meanwhile, other women are turning to ayurvedic remedies, which use herbal treatments, tailored diets and massage to build up immune systems and detoxify bodies. Across the country, ayurvedic spas have sprung up to pamper women and promise radiant skin. A survey of spas offering “wellness treatments” in 2004 found that 12 percent added ayurvedic services while an additional 7 percent planned to, according to the International Spa Association.

Ayoma LifeSpa in San Jose, Calif., offers ayurvedic massage treatments as well as longer-term nutritional consultations for regular members. Before each treatment, clients fill out a questionnaire so an ayurvedic consultant can gauge the imbalances in their body.


“All ailments in your body have to do with something you’re eating,” says Jenny Rodriguez, the spa’s owner.

According to ayurvedic philosophy, a person’s health is governed by three biological forces – vata, pitta and kapha – that need to be in balance. Illness and disease stem from imbalances, and treatment seeks to equalize them. Too much vata, for example, causes dry, sensitive skin.

Ayoma’s treatments emphasize skin and the release of toxins through massage. Herbal oils and exfoliants made from chickpeas and lentils are used. The “shiro abhyanga” head massage, for example, releases toxins, according to the menu. Another favorite is the third eye treatment, where warm herbal oil is continuously poured for 40 minutes onto the center of the forehead, which adherents believe contains energy.


Marsha Fischer of San Jose is a new convert. The high-tech sales representative discovered the spa earlier this year and goes in every few weeks to “de-stress and relax,” she says. On a recent appointment before her period started, she says she felt bloated and uncomfortable. The warm oil massage focused on her stomach, a first for her. “It felt weird,” she recalled. “But it worked.”


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