Science and holistic therapies have always been traditionally two separate worlds, but it really does feel like they are now coming closer, and complementing each other. We turned to Dr Izquierdo from IVF-Life in Spain to hear his thoughts
The holistic world has historical roots. This schism between the medical-scientific world and alternative therapies has always existed due to egos and separations. There has always been a preconceived idea that scientific and academic knowledge should be more valid than ancestral, cultural and traditional knowledge. But it turns out this background is legitimized by thousands of years of experience and evolution.
Naturally, when a certain status quo is reached, human beings tend to look to the past for answers through religion, culture and movements. It’s a matter of reassessing ourselves by looking back. This is exactly what happened when parascience scientists suddenly started devoting their attention and doing research around the field”.
There is scientific evidence regarding the physical and emotional benefits of holistic therapies within the patient care world. Specifically, there is a branch of medicine called psycho-neuro-endocrinology. Let’s break the term down:
- PSYCH refers to our thoughts, our feelings, our desires and our conscious and unconscious wills.
- NEURO is linked to the whole chemical work of neurotransmitters between the brain and the body that awaken also feelings, emotions, etc. We all know serotonin and dopamine have effects on our mood and our development;
- And the last term, ENDOCRINOLOGY, which is related to “hormones” and we also know that they have effects on our body.
Earlier we seemed to understand these 3 realities separately. It turns out we now have found these 3 dimensions are cyclical and they influence each other. Our feelings are expressed in our bodies through neurotransmitters and these, in the end, can generate the release of hormones; as a consequence, this has repercussions on why we feel in a certain way, directly through the neurotransmitters or through the hormones. And if this is indeed so, if we know that by administering hormones or neurotransmitters we can alter this balance so that we feel better in some way, the other way around should also be possible: if we manage to feel better in some way, we can then generate a new balance of neurotransmitters and hormones that at a certain moment will lead us to a better holistic wellbeing.
The role of stress and emotional wellness in the fertility journey
I can’t stress this enough: human beings are very arrogant and we want to think we have nothing to do with animals. But the truth is that we ARE animals, we’re simply the result of evolution, and this can be seen in the manifestation and management of stress and our relationship with it.
In many aspects, we react moved by an instinctive, biological, primitive response: love, desire, reproduction and physical well-being. In the case of animals, this applies all the time, they constantly feel environmental stress, they are not capable of modifying their environment, they are victims of it, so this is a source of stress for them, that is, all external factors are stress generators. As humans have evolved, we have broken this paradigm because we’ve been able to modify the environment, although we have not modified our structure, so we feel stress. Because of that inherent structure, we ourselves ‘produce’ stressful situations for fictitious situations. They wouldn’t exist by themselves, if you do not exist: work, family, relationships, friends, the day, the weather… We are in a state of well-being in which we look for reasons to feel bad, and the stress that we generate affects our bodies.
In nature, if we look at rabbits, for example, which are the most fertile species of all, if they go through a phase in which there is dryness, they do not reproduce; if they go through a phase in which there is little food, they do not reproduce; then, the environmental stress of animals results in a reproductive pause. Therefore, the stress in us also affects our reproductive capacity. I am not claiming that ‘as you are stressed, you won’t get pregnant’ but it is a factor that should not be left aside”.
Philosophy defines the concept “holistic” as a whole where all the parts involved are intimately interconnected
“The term itself indicates that we misunderstand these theories and that the breaks with the scientific world are false. Holistic therapies can be as good as medical treatments. You have to define who you are and what you need. It may be that with alternative therapies, if your situation is the right one, you can reach your goal, without other therapies, but it’s a doctor who will tell you what situation you are in.
It’s about approaching each case as a unique situation, by finding a ‘good fit’ for the patient. If we always work in teams and from an interdisciplinary perspective in all areas of life, why not in fertility? Nutrition, coaching, journaling, acupuncture…all this, in certain cases, can make a difference. Also, there’s no need to say not even traditional medicine can guarantee anything so it’d be unfair to demand others to guarantee results.
The core problem is that all these therapies lack the support to do research to ‘mathematically’ define their effectiveness. Without new studies, we cannot make conclusions. Even in medicine, there were undeniable truths that have turned out to be fallacies.
The sole difference is the investment devoted to science. In medical and conventional therapies, you have variables that you can control and evaluate to verify the likelihood of everything, and this is the only thing we lack when it comes to alternative therapies. Science is measurable.
The chances of pregnancy with medical treatments are defined and standardised, that’s why we stick to it and we do it that way. Medical treatments help many women to get pregnant, that is a fact and that’s why I do what I do, but it must also be said that many patients have not gotten pregnant, and it’s only when they’ve tried other things that they’ve achieved pregnancy. They are not the majority but it also happens. This should be a powerful reason for us to work together for the ultimate good: helping the patient to feel better and succeed in her pregnancy journey.
I consider myself a medical consultant who gives advice and helps the patient to find the option that works best for them
Whenever a patient brings me a concern, we start doing research, experimenting, I never make decisions for them, I am more a person who offers advice, based on her knowledge and looking at the patient’s options, so that she, empowered with all the information I give her, can make assertive decisions about what she wants and does not want to do, and I always welcome her to do so.
I have several patients with eating disorders, where the ‘complementary’ benefit of these alternative therapies is more obvious. In most of these cases, a right balance through nutrition, counselling, self-awareness and all these alternative therapies is achieved, where their eating disorder gets finally side-lined and they reach a state of wellness.
A real case where I’ve seen holistic therapies and science work hand in hand
I had once a patient with anorexia nervosa who, as you might expect, was experiencing a lot of stress during her fertility treatment, which caused her symptoms to get worse, we were not getting anywhere. We made a stop, we sent her to a psychologist, a therapist, she joined a support group, the patient managed to immerse herself in all these so-called holistic aspects that were around her and she started to feel much better; she started to eat much better, she started to feel much better, and we achieved a pregnancy. So, I’m not going to say that improving her nutrition got her pregnant, but I can’t say that my treatment got her pregnant either. I think all things combined did it. It really works.
We all have our own path and we are all different, the most important thing is that you discover yourself, so that you can define your path and your needs.
It is a fact that emotional well-being impacts fertility. It’s all about self-awareness and self-discovery: looking for what you think is missing in you, what nourishes you or what generates wellbeing in you.
Huge thanks thanks to Dr Izquierdo for his insightful thoughts. If you would like to get in touch with Dr Izquierdo, drop him a line by clicking here