Essence: The Foundation of Fertility

by Leslie McGee RN, L.Ac.

I always loved learning physiology in nursing school. How the body works is fascinating to me. Then when I went to acupuncture school I learned that Chinese medicine has its own elaborate theory of the body’s physiology. So now I enjoy drawing on both modern and ancient insights into the body to inform me. The Chinese thinking about fertility is particularly valuable. So many women struggle to get pregnant or stay pregnant, and modern medicine simply can’t explain why they have a problem. Chinese medicine can name the imbalance that is the root of the fertility issue. Chinese medicine thinking provides much wisdom to guide women towards improved health and fertility.

Over two thousand years ago Chinese medical practitioners developed their ideas about the body. A founding principle is that health is founded on The Three Treasures. They are:





Qi  (pronounced “chee”) is energy, warmth and power in the body. Blood is blood, but in the Chinese system it has deeper significance and provides stability and nourishment on many levels. Essence is inherited from our parents and is very precious. Essence determines our overall health and longevity, and governs our reproductive capacity.

We believe that essence is the foundation of ovarian health. It is also the foundation of sperm health.

Why does essence fail to sustain fertility? What are we doing to our essence? Does modern life deplete essence?

Essence is supported and sustained by a good lifestyle. The key drivers of essence depletion are:


Stress and overwork

Unhealthy diet

The aging process


The first 2 essence depleting choices can be changed. You can reduce stress, prioritize getting more sleep, and eat better. The aging process is a fact of life. But many women have been accelerating their aging process by lifestyle choices, and that can be rectified. Contrary to what many women feel like, your ovaries do not simply suddenly turn a corner and produce only “old eggs”. Yes, a 20 year old has younger ovaries than a 38 year old, but with good diet ovarian reserves can be nourished.

I believe that the key to supporting essence and nourishing the ovaries is found in traditional foods. Foods your great-grandmother used to rely on. I will list these foods below, and you will notice how many of these foods are no longer commonly eaten, or are now considered “bad” for you.

Organ meats – liver in particular

Broth made from bones

Eggs – the yolk is most important

Shellfish – oysters, mussels, clams

Animal fats from animals that ate grass – this includes grass-fed butter, whole milk cheese, yogurt, etc. Good quality cuts of meat with some fat on them. Bacon from pigs that live outdoors.

Not many modern women have eaten many of those foods ever. Some of you have been eating egg whites and no yolks. Many of you have never tried liver. Yet, these are the foods that traditional cultures valued for supporting healthy pregnancy.

If you have been eating a low-fat diet for a while (and many in your age group have been eating low-fat for your whole lives) then I believe your essence is depleted and your ovaries are seriously under-nourished. Low-fat diets starve the ovaries. The good news is that this is something you can change. And this food  is delicious!

It will be a big change and one that you may have to work at. We have been taught for years that these foods are “bad”. The latest science is pointing us back towards enjoying these foods. The British Medical Journal recently published an article that saturated fat is NOT the culprit in heart disease, but that diets high in sugar and carbohydrate are the drivers of the inflammation that fuels heart disease.

There is a fabulous extra bonus to eating more of these foods. Your baby will be healthier, especially your baby’s brain. And, really, nothing is more important than supporting good brain development in your child. It starts with you before conception, and continues thru gestation and breast feeding. (And what your child eats later on)

Our brain is 60% fat. So when you eat good quality natural fat you are giving your baby’s brain the building blocks it needs. In addition, another nutrient that is vital to good brain development is choline. The highest dietary sources of choline are egg yolks and liver.

Silhouette of a beautiful woman jumping over sunset

OK, how to begin on a practical level. First of all, throw out any bad fats. That means no more margarine. No more “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”. No more “Earth Balance” spread. Switch to grass fed butter. It is easier to find these days – read the label.  A good brand is Kerry Gold, from Ireland, where they have lots of grass and lots of cows eating it. You will notice that grass-fed butter is softer – not rock hard even when it comes out of the Frige. It  is also a deeper yellow color. Grass-fed animal fats (such as butter) are the  only source of Vitamin K2 – one of the fat soluble vitamins. Vitamin K2 is found in both the ovaries and sperm. We don’t yet know what the K 2 does, but don’t you think it does something if it is there? Eating grass-fed animal fats (like Irish butter) will restore the K2 in the ovaries and sperm.

The other essence depleting lifestyle choice is overwork and stress. This can be difficult to change, but crucial for fertility and successful pregnancy. Women have been taught for decades that “we can have it all” – as in a high powered super-stressed job and optimal fertility. If you are reading this then I know you are serious about having a child. Take a look at how you are living. Do you get 8 hours of sleep each night? Do you use caffeine to keep going? Sometimes I think our culture values this style of life so much that those who are not on this merry-go-round are seen as lazy or incapable. See what you can do to lower stress and rest more as you prepare for pregnancy. Your essence needs to be strong and abundant to have a child.

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