If you have been trying to conceive a child for at least 1 year without success, most doctors would diagnose you with infertility. You are not alone; infertility currently affects about 6 million people in the U.S., at the time of this writing.
Many couples turn to the latest medical technologies to assist them, such as ovulation-promoting drugs, intra-uterine insemination (IUI), and in vitro fertilization (IVF). These are collectively known as Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). In vitro fertilization is an incredible technology that has led to many successful pregnancies.
However, IVF is not an easy path to choose: it is a very complex procedure, it is quite expensive, and most find it emotionally difficult. In addition, the success rates are still relatively low (generally 10% to 35% at the time of this writing). If you decide to invest your time and money into these therapies, you want to be sure you are giving yourself every advantage possible. Adding acupuncture to your ART can significantly increase your chances of success.
If ART is not for you, due to financial, medical or other reasons, or if you wish to try something less invasive/expensive first, acupuncture is, again, very valuable, for both female and male factor infertility.
Acupuncture with ART:
Growing numbers of research studies in medical journals are demonstrating impressive results when acupuncture is combined with ART. A landmark study published in April 2002 in the Fertility & Sterility Journal caught the attention of many reproductive specialists: women undergoing IVF embryo transfer who received acupuncture had a 42.5% success rate, compared with the 26.3% success rate of those who did not get acupuncture.
A study published in May 2006 (Fertility & Sterility) found that acupuncture more than doubled the pregnancy rates of IVF procedures. Because of this and other research, many infertility doctors refer their patients for acupuncture.
Acupuncture for fertility, without ART:
Acupuncture has been treating infertility for over 2000 years. Consider that throughout history in Chinese culture the inability to have a child (especially a son) was considered the worst kind of tragedy. When infertility afflicted a couple, there was a great deal of motivation for Chinese physicians to develop effective treatments.
Only recently has Western science begun to conduct studies on acupuncture by itself for infertility: one study compared women with endocrine dysfunctional infertility: one group was put on the drug Clomid and the other was treated with acupuncture. The result was 45% pregnancy in the Clomid group, and 65% in the acupuncture group.
Other studies show that acupuncture can stimulate ovulation, reduce the impedance of blood flow to the uterus, and normalize the hormone communication cycle in women. It also reduces stress hormones and increases endorphin levels, both of which positively affect hormone levels.
And there are numerous studies citing the benefits of acupuncture for male factor infertility. Acupuncture increases the number and ratio of normal-form sperm; significantly decreases the number of anti-sperm antibodies (in male immune infertility), and increases the quick sperm motility.
Why does Acupuncture work?
From an Oriental medicine viewpoint, acupuncture is effective for infertility because it helps to relieve stress, correct imbalances and ensure proper communication in the body. It increases the circulation of energy, blood and nutrients to the necessary organs and glands, so that they are healthier, work better, and communicate with each other more effectively.
In general, I recommend acupuncture treatments weekly for at least 4-6 weeks followed by twice monthly, combined with Chinese herbs, until pregnancy. The more treatments initially, the quicker the results. For those patients whose MD’s have requested that they not take herbs during their ART, I recommend once or twice weekly acupuncture treatments. These protocols are the same for both men and women.
For best chances of success with ART, acupuncture treatment should begin 3 months prior to any major procedure. If this schedule is not possible for you, aim to get treatments for as many weeks as possible before the procedure begins.
What to expect from Acupuncture for Fertility:
In my clinic, I have found that acupuncture can:
1. Regulate menstrual cycles: Often infertility is associated with irregular menstrual cycles or endometriosis. With acupuncture and herbs I have seen women without regular periods start cycling regularly again, women with heavy bleeding normalize, and significant or complete reduction of endometriosis.
2. Increase ovulation rates: Related to irregular menstruation, some infertility patients simply are not ovulating regularly. With only acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, one specific patient has been ovulating consistently for 7 months, after more than 12 years of negative ovulation test readings!
3. Increase the number and quality of eggs that are ovulated: After 2 months of acupuncture, one IVF patient produced 15 healthy eggs that were extracted; that is nearly double her first IVF cycle, without acupuncture, when she produced 8 healthy eggs.
Another patient, with a history of repeated miscarriages, was told by her infertility specialist that she could never use her own eggs to have a baby. It was his professional opinion that her eggs were too poor quality for her to get pregnant naturally and keep the child; she would have to do IVF with donor eggs. After 3 months of acupuncture and herbal medicine, she became pregnant naturally, and, at the time of this writing, is due to give birth in 2 weeks.
4. Increase the chances of implantation: Acupuncture helps to increase circulation to the uterine wall, creating a more optimal lining condition. It also helps to relax the uterus, so that implantation is more likely. Often, in IVF, the embryo transfer process stimulates uterine contractions, which can make implantation difficult. This is why studies find that acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer increases success rates significantly.
5. Increase the chances of a healthy, full-term pregnancy: Continued acupuncture treatment for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is highly recommended to decrease chances of miscarriage. It’s also useful for morning sickness, fatigue and mood swings.
The journey to overcome infertility can be a very difficult one. It makes sense to be sure that you are giving yourself every advantage. Whether you choose to receive ART or not, you can feel confident that including acupuncture in your plan will increase your chances of having the baby you want.
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Dawn Balusik, AP, DOM
Published in Tampa Bay Wellness, Sept 2007