‘She made us believe we could have a child. And now we can’ Cheaper, painless and just as successful as IVF – HESTER LACEY investigates natural fertility treatment.

Real Lives

Fertility problems in Britain are such that experts are talking in terms of a crisis. The number of couples in Britain seeking medical help to conceive has increased 55 per cent in the last five years to 27,000; the average man's sperm count has fallen by almost half in 60 years.

But conventional infertility treatment is failing to address the problem. Results obtained in different areas of the country vary enormously, as does cost. The system has frequently been described as a lottery and some couples are attempting to shorten the odds by seeking extra help: they are turning to practitioners who use natural, holistic techniques to enhance fertility.

Alternative practitioners claim success rates that compare favourably with those obtained by conventional procedures (though, of course, success can never be guaranteed). The cost of natural treatment also compares extremely favourably with the cost of IVF.

Holistic methods are gentle and non-invasive and, with their emphasis on overall lifestyle overhaul, they improve general levels of health and well-being. At the same time, effective holistic practitioners can establish a rapport with their clients and offer a level of support that many women feel is missing in more conventional clinics.

Dr Elizabeth Muir began treating women with fertility problems six years ago. Her approach is unique and based on hypnotherapy, though she may also recommend that her clients see other practitioners, such as a nutrition specialist - her initial consultation includes a detailed lifestyle analysis.

Dr Muir specialises in cases where there is no apparent medical reason why a couple should not conceive. "My work is based on the assumption that medically unexplained infertility is a natural contraceptive," she explains. "There may be very specific factors that stress a woman; perhaps she feels fearful about childbirth, or guilty about a previous termination, or uncertain about the state of her relationship. Any such fears, which may be completely subconscious, may stop her conceiving. By accessing these fears through hypnosis, we can address them, release them, and get on with reproduction."

Dr Muir believes that the mind has a strong influence on the body, and that the psychological issues around pregnancy are not sufficiently well-addressed for most women who are having fertility problems. After an initial consultation, her clients commit to 10 sessions at fortnightly intervals; in the intervening weeks, the client must practise relaxation techniques and other exercises.

"The clients must work throughout the treatment, and it is a very intense interaction between them and me," she says. "I aim to help my clients to create solid beliefs that they can do this themselves. The treatment centres on putting a woman in touch with her own fertility, and putting her in charge." Dr Muir's ambition is to set up an independent clinic focusing on infertility and staffed by all kinds of alternative therapists.

Nutritionist Dr Gillian McKeith finds that often she has to repair problems caused by conventional infertility treatments. "Often women who have tried the conventional route become ill - bloated from drugs and generally unwell." She treats not only the woman but her partner: “Unless the partner is willing, there's no point." Initially she carries out biochemical tests, and she usually finds nutritional deficiencies: perhaps a toxic metal load, leaking amalgam from tooth fillings, malabsorption of nutrients, or, for men, a deficiency in sperm-building nutrients such as zinc. "Once nutritional profiles are improved there is a better chance of getting pregnant," she explains. "People tend to eat too much refined, processed food and take in too much alcohol and caffeine and mucus-producing foods." Prescribed medication, antibiotics and stress can also affect fertility, she warns.

A digestive system that isn't functioning properly may be unable to absorb nutritional supplements, she says. Fresh vegetable sprouts are rich in enzymes and can strengthen the digestive system – after years of experimentation, she has devised a way to package the richness of sprouts, seaweeds and algae in powder form. She will also prescribe a combination of various Western and Chinese herbs. "Key deficiencies tend to include zinc, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and iron, and essential fatty acids – people are so worked up about getting fat that they strip all the fats from their diet, including the essential ones." Dr McKeith's first child was conceived with the aid of her own techniques; her second is expected in a few months.

Zita West and Gerad Kite's address is in Harley Street, but while their offices may look conventional, their approach is not. They use a combination of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and, like Dr McKeith, they prefer to treat both partners.

West, who practises as a midwife and acupuncturist in the NHS and was formerly at the Hale Clinic in London, concentrates on the female partner. Acupuncture, she says, opens up channels of energy through the body. Different channels are important at different points in the monthly cycle; the conception channel runs up the middle of the body. She will also use hair analysis or nutritional analysis to identify any potential barriers to conception. Nutrition is particularly important – Zita produces her own dietary supplements, VitaMen and VitaFem, balanced with fertility in mind, which she uses alongside Chinese herbs. "The whole principle of Chinese medicine is that you need to be at maximum strength to conceive," she says.

Meanwhile, Gerad Kite, a therapist and acupuncturist, looks after the potential fathers. "A lot of men are shocked if they have been identified as having a problem, and they need help to adjust and guidance about what they need to change in their lives," he says. "Most men would never dream of having complementary therapy; they feel there is a stigma attached, and they don't have the time – they want a quick fix. Acupuncture can achieve that, provided you have the right diagnosis."

Growing interest in natural fertility treatment is reflected in a number of upcoming titles on the subject. Dr Gillian McKeith's Living Food Energy will be published by Piatkus in April and she is working on another volume specifically for women. Zita West is working on a book on natural pregnancy, which will be published in spring next year by Dorling Kindersley. Piatkus books is publishing a book titled Natural Solutions to Infertility in March, while in June a Simon and Schuster tide. Natural Hormone Balance, also addresses the issue. Natural practitioners are united in a belief that holistic treatments for infertility are the way forward. "There is so much scope to help women in so many ways, so much more that can be done," says Dr Elizabeth Muir.


Emma, 36, a marketing and communications executive, had been told by infertility specialists that she would never be able to conceive naturally when she went to see Dr Elizabeth Muir. Now she and her husband have a one-year- old son and they are expecting a much-wanted second baby.

Emma: "I had four unsuccessful IVF treatments and was quite distraught when I joined an infertility support group, which was where I heard about Dr Muir. The first time we  Spoke she gave me such hope. I wasn't sure what to expect from hypnotherapy, but after my initial consultation I immediately felt at ease. She made me feel confident and relaxed, something I hadn't felt in a long time, and during the treatment she broke through a lot of psychological barriers. Her work is very subtle and it works at a very deep level. She made me believe that I could become pregnant – and after seven sessions I did. She also helped me in so many other ways: my health improved and so did my outlook towards life; and she recommended that I see a nutritionist, which was also helpful.

My experience with IVF left me feeling damaged, physically and psychologically. When doctors say 'Your egg quality isn’t good' that hurts in so many ways. They didn't have the knowledge to tell me exactly what was wrong, and it was very expensive too. Dr Muir helped me recover from the experience. She concentrated on me as a person and that meant so much. When I leave her office I feel fantastic."

Reprinted from The Independent on Sunday, 20th January 2000

Print this Page