An interview with Jill Glover on acupuncture and women’s health.

Heather Davidson recently interviewed Jill Glover on women’s health and fertility. Jill teaches on the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine’s Gynaecology, Fertility & Obstetrics Diploma course.

You are well known in the field of women’s health and acupuncture. Is this your main practice? 

Yes, absolutely, it’s my passion. It’s what I love to do. I love to bring women from that place where their hormones aren’t working for them to a place where it’s nice and smooth and easy. For me, that’s my joy being a practitioner.

When you started practicing acupuncture, did you have that in mind already, or is that something developed through practice?

I didn’t have it in my mind when I started. I qualified in 1985, and I just wanted to build a practice. But I am very passionate about women’s health. Working with four male practitioners, women often came to me for treatment, so I quickly developed a women’s health practice. I loved what I could do for women.

Was there a lot of information on women’s health available at the time?

Then, IVF was still in its early days, so that has changed immeasurably, and so has the knowledge that acupuncture brings to it. Now there are online seminars and books, but there was very little information available then.

I hope to improve people’s knowledge of how to treat women so that more women can be served well. At the end of the day, that’s my deal.

Do you find there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about women’s health?

Absolutely. No matter what a woman experiences, often, if tests come back as “normal”, GP’s will say there’s nothing to be done; “I know there’s something wrong, but I can’t help you”.

In a way, acupuncturists, especially those who have done post-graduate training, are much better equipped to work with complex gynaecological issues. And generally, have much more compassion and empathy.

What kind of conditions do you see women for? Mainly fertility?

Infertility, yes, but also painful periods and endometriosis, PCOS, menopausal syndrome and premature ovarian failure. Often women have miscarried, and they don’t come for treatment when they could have been helped, which I find terribly sad.

Many women don’t know that acupuncture can help. Women are told overtly, or just through our culture, that terrible, painful or flooding periods are normal. I don’t want that for women. We know that it doesn’t have to be like that.

What saddens me is so many women come to me and say, ‘you’re my last resort’. As acupuncturists, we know that they didn’t have to go through all those years before they reached their last resort. I’d love to be able to go into secondary schools to explain. Most young women don’t know how their period works.

You used to practice acupuncture during labour and childbirth. Do you still do that?

I don’t go into labour wards as much nowadays. But there is so much more we can do to help women have smoother and easier births and labours. I think women are very susceptible to the idea that they can’t do it without medical help, and I think it’s a subtle social undercurrent undermining women. Knowing that acupuncture and acupressure can facilitate a smooth, easy, or easier, labour is important for women and their partners.  

Acupuncturists can do a lot beforehand to facilitate good labour and birth, and we can do a lot with teaching acupressure, which is what I tend to do with women now.

I want to really encourage and empower women to know that even the simplest of interventions can make all the difference in the world between having a really empowering labour or a very difficult one.

Acupuncturists are skilled at observation, and we notice nuances and changes, so we can help ease a difficult labour.

Acupuncture is becoming quite well known for fertility, breech, and labour, but what about recurrent miscarriage? Women don’t often talk about it because it’s a very difficult topic. 

I think there are so many reasons for that. You know, in the UK at the moment, women need to have had three miscarriages to have any kind of investigation done. So they will be told to just keep trying. They go away feeling confused, guilty and not helped at all. Trying to work out what they did to cause it.

After three miscarriages, you find that it’s because of an untreated thyroid, for example. Sometimes the tests are inconclusive, and so they are told there is nothing wrong. After three miscarriages women can be very depleted and despondent. They’re often depressed, often anxious. These women need help and there’s research to show that even having regular therapeutic appointments gives better outcomes.

On top of that, lifestyle advice and treating symptoms with acupuncture can turn things around. Acupuncture can help reduce anxiety and stress. The same can be the case for fertility patients who’ve been through many rounds of IVF. Unexplained infertility followed by anxiety and stress. Acupuncture is unique to help these women.

Male infertility is becoming more recognised. Does acupuncture help?

Male fertility is so often overlooked, with women taking most of the responsibility. Men with only a 4% sperm count can be told that that’s “normal.” I don’t think the word “normal” is a very useful word in fertility. If a woman gets pregnant and miscarries, hardly anyone checks the sperm, but this can be an issue. Environmental hormone disruptors, lifestyle choices, drinking too much, smoking and a poor diet all affect the health of the sperm. So a pregnancy might not thrive if the sperm is of low quality. It might end early.

Men’s sperm are created day by day, so improving these lifestyle choices can have a real effect. Often I let women know that their partners should also be tested and potentially have some acupuncture to help.

The hardest thing about treating male fertility is getting the guys through the door. Women are often reluctant to request their partner is tested or treated. The medical profession doesn’t prioritise testing men and has no treatment to improve sperm quality. They only have ICSI which puts their female partner through an invasive regime. Acupuncture treatment can offer so much more.

Another big area of women’s health is perimenopause and menopausal symptoms.

The number one complaint of menopausal women is hot flushes. The number two complaint is ‘I feel like I’m going mad.’

Acupuncturists are skilled at knowing how to bring harmony to that chaotic Qi so women don’t feel overwhelmed. Their hot flushes diminish, sleep improves and it becomes restorative and replenishing. They find their centre again through this time of change. It’s called “the change” for a reason. These women now are post-baby boomers. They have worked incredibly hard, so the depletion can make things worse.

Getting used to not having a menstrual rhythm can be difficult, even if menstruation itself was difficult. But helping women through this with our particular understanding, they get to the other side, and it’s like a walk in the park. We understand that there are different kinds of menopause and we can be very clear about the diagnosis and treatment with specific points.

Do you think, because acupuncturists treat the whole person, not just a list of symptoms, this helps? For example, their main symptom might be hot flushes, but their main experience is feeling disconnected. 

Hot flushes are a socially accepted way through the door. Hardly anyone comes to acupuncture and says, “I feel weirded out about myself.” Part of our skill is to find out what’s happening for that person. What is happening behind the hot flushes, what exacerbates them.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. You’ve highlighted so many ways that acupuncture can help with both male and female fertility and with women’s health in general.

If you are an acupuncturist and are interested in gaining a more in depth understanding of this vital area of women’s health and fertility, please visit the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine’s Gynaecology, Fertility & Obstetrics page for more information.

Jill Glover is the director of Alma Vale Centre in Bristol. Find more information here.

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