Acupuncture & Fertility
Acupuncture is the insertion of ultra-thin, sterile needles into specific acupuncture points on the body which reside on channels or meridians; these are pathways in both the exterior and interior of the body. These points, when needled, can regulate the way in which the body functions.
Acupuncture helps by addressing problems that affect fertility such as an under-functioning thyroid (hypothyroidism) or over-functioning thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
Can Acupuncture be used to treat infertility?
Acupuncture, frequently combined with herbal medicine, has been used for centuries to treat some but not all causes of infertility. For example, acupuncture and herbs will not work to address tubal adhesions which can occur as a result of pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis.
However, an individual could benefit from acupuncture and herbs because of the potential effect of improved ovarian and follicular
function. Additionally, acupuncture can increase blood flow to the endometrium, helping to facilitate a thick, rich lining.
What is IVF (In Vitro Fertilization)?
IVF is the process by which eggs are removed from your ovaries and mixed with sperm in a laboratory culture dish. Fertilisation takes place in this dish, “in vitro”, which means “in glass”. Thousands of IVF babies have been born since the first in 1978.
When should Acupuncture treatment begin?
Acupuncture is similar to physical therapy in that it is a process-oriented method of medical intervention. It is better to do more than less. Patients are commonly treated for three to four months before progressing to insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF), or donor-egg transfer. This pacing of treatment seems to have a therapeutic effect.
In a study by Stener-Victorin et al from the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fertility Centre, Scandinavia and University of Gothenburg, women are encouraged to receive acupuncture treatments pre and post embryo transfer.
Clinical observations from the Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness suggest that the most effective fertility treatments involve a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and traditional medicine.
However, conception occasionally occurs when acupuncture and herbal medicines are used without traditional medical interventions.
When should Acupuncture treatment stop?
Typically most miscarriages occur within the first 3 months of pregnancy. Consequently, treatment of patients may often last through week twelve to help prevent miscarriage.
Are the Acupuncture points different after an insemination, IVF, or egg-donor transfer?
Acupuncturists should not place needles in the abdomino-pelvic area after insemination or transfer. There are 6 contraindicated acupuncture points which should be avoided when the patient is pregnant or pregnancy is suspected. These include Gallbladder 21, Stomach 12, Large Intestine 4, Spleen 6, Bladder 60, Bladder 67 and any points on the lower abdomen.
Are there any risks when using Acupuncture with infertility?
There are minimal risks in using acupuncture for fertility treatment. The risk of miscarriage may increase if incorrect acupuncture points are used during pregnancy. This is one reason why those choosing to include acupuncture in their treatment regimen should only be treated by an acupuncturist who specializes in treating fertility disorders. Acupuncture is generally safe regardless of a person’s medical history.
Who make up typical fertility/infertility patients?
Acupuncture can be used to treat any type of fertility disorder including spasmed tubes. Spasmed tubes are often de-spasmed with acupuncture, though blocked tubes will not respond to acupuncture. Acupuncture is often combined with herbal remedies to treat elevated follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), repeated pregnancy loss, unexplained (idiopathic) infertility, luteal phase defect, hyperprolactinemia (when not caused by a prolactinoma), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) with anovulatory cycles and male factor including men affected with sperm-DNA-fragmentation.
Is Acupuncture a licensed profession?
In most states acupuncture is a licensed profession. You can visit www.nccaom.org to find a licensed and Board certified acupuncturist in your area. However, it is important to understand that being licensed and Board certified does not guarantee expertise in reproductive disorders.
“It (acupuncture) can allow you to cross the line from infertile to fertile by helping your body function more efficiently, which in turn allows other, more modern reproductive treatments, like IVF, to also work more efficiently,” says James Dillard, MD, assistant clinical professor, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and clinical adviser to Columbia’s Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
In a study of 160 women, published April 2002 in the reproductive journal Fertility and Sterility, a group of German researchers found that adding acupuncture to the traditional IVF treatment protocols substantially increased pregnancy success.
In this study one group of 80 patients received two, 25-minute acupuncture treatments — one prior to having fertilized embryos transferred into their uterus, and one directly afterwards. The second group of 80, who also underwent embryo transfer, received no acupuncture treatments.
The result: While women in both groups got pregnant, the rate was significantly higher in the acupuncture group — 34 pregnancies, compared with 21 in the women who received IVF alone.
But increasing the odds of IVF is not the only way acupuncture can help. Chang says it can also work to stimulate egg production in women who can’t — or don’t want to — use fertility medications to help them get pregnant.
“When you compare the pregnancy rates for an egg producing drug such as Clomid to acupuncture alone, the rates are equal — a 50% chance of pregnancy in three months for general patients — to those not undergoing IVF,” says Chang.
Unfortunately, however, Chang says that because acupuncture generally stimulates the growth and release of just one egg, it can’t be substituted for fertility drugs used in IVF, since they work to produce the multiple eggs necessary to achieve success with this treatment.