Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for thousands of years. In the United States, physicians have been practising acupuncture since the 1800s and, with the continuing rise in popularity of this age-old technique, researchers felt compelled to take a closer, more scientific look at exactly what acupuncture had to offer. It’s now believed that besides assisting in weight loss, relieving pain, and reducing stress, acupuncture may be able to increase chances of conception. And so, whilst acupuncture is typically used by Western practitioners to reduce pain, some researchers and doctors now believe that it can help with contraception.
Acupuncture is based on the concept of Qi (pronounced Chee) which is the energy connecting all cells of the human body. Acupuncture is used to create harmony in the body – emotional, physical, and mental harmony – by balancing Qi in specific meridians of the body. Because of its ability to regulate our body’s healing systems, acupuncture is now widely used to treat a variety of health concerns, from indigestion right through to fertility. And now, statistics show that when acupuncture is used in conjunction with Western fertility treatments, conception rates increase.
How Does Acupuncture Improve Fertility?
Studies now show that acupuncture may not only assist in combating infertility, it may help couples who are trying to achieve a pregnancy. There is a very delicate balance in our body between the pituitary, hypothalamus, and reproductive glands, and we know that stress can completely prevent a woman from ovulating. We also know that stress can produce spasms in both the fallopian tubes and uterus, thus interfering with the movement and implantation of a fertilised egg. And stress in men can alter sperm counts and even cause impotence. And it’s here that acupuncture can help, because acupuncture fertility treatments can reverse the effects of cortisol and stress by releasing endorphins in the brain.
There have been many studies conducted on acupuncture and fertility. Many have found that that women who undergo acupuncture do have a higher rate of pregnancy. Whether the treatment is initiated due to conditions that interfere with getting pregnant, like polycystic ovary syndrome, or simply to increase their chances of successful IVF, many women are achieving a successful pregnancy and birth. In many instances, fertility doctors have recommended that their patients use acupuncture to help lower their stress levels. This is because it is now common knowledge that stress hormones can lower fertility hormones.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
The practice of acupuncture is the placing of very thin, stainless steel needles in specific locations on the body. These needles are inserted just below the skin’s surface, because acupuncture practitioners believe that, while energy flows through the body, it can easily be disrupted by injury, stress, and other health problems. Acupuncturists believe that acupuncture not only calms the nervous system, it moves the body into repair mode where it’s better able to heal itself. Needles are used by the acupuncturist to stimulate meridians, or specific energy channels, in order to keep the energy flowing. For fertility, the needles are placed at key energy meridians linked to the person’s reproductive organs.
Anovulation is when a woman does not ovulate. Or ovulates infrequently. It is one of the most common causes of why a woman cannot conceive. Anovulation can be the result of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). This is a syndrome that causes congested ovaries that do not ovulate at all or ovulate very irregularly. PCOS is a very common hormonal disorder. It is thought to affect about 1 in every 5 women in the UK.
Hypothalamic amenorrhea is another reason for anovulation. This when the brain and ovaries are not talking to each other and the ovaries are taking a nap! This can occur in some women when they lose weight very quickly, or they are on very restrictive diet, or their BMI is not high enough and they stop having periods.
Acupuncture has been shown to help women with both hypothalamic amenorrhea and PCOS. Studies confirm that it has helped the to begin to ovulate regularly.
In one study of women with PCOS a 10 to 13 week course of acupuncture increase their frequency of ovulation, compared to another gorup that only received counselling. One theory suggests that acupuncture can encourage beta-endorphin production, which in turn can release hormones that start ovulation and menstruation.
Reducing Stress with Acupuncture
More and more we’re learning about stress and how it damages the human body and mind. High levels of stress in women can cause hormones to be disrupted; and when the stress is extreme it can even affect ovulation. Couples trying to conceive can become extremely stressed. Acupuncture can help, by bringing your body back to balance. It may be that acupuncture can help with even more serious infertility issues. Some women report that it helps with treating luteal phase defect and ovulation disorder.
Acupuncture and IVF Treatment
From the perspective of acupuncture, the goal of infertility treatment is two-fold. Firstly, the aim is for a woman to become pregnant. Secondly, she needs to be able to stay pregnant and to deliver a healthy baby.
One of the benefits of acupuncture is that it provides smooth blood flow to the ovaries and uterus. This promotes a greater chance for an egg to be nourished and carried full-term.
In 2005, a study found that in patients who received intracytoplasmic sperm injection or IVF, the pregnancy rate was increased after acupuncture. Those who had no acupuncture had a pregnancy rate of 15.6%. There was a pregnancy rate of 33.6% for those who did have acupuncture therapy. It’s believed that these results occurred because acupuncture improves blood flow to the uterus.
Increased Fertility and Pregnancy levels
Acupuncture has been used in China for thousands of years to regulate the flow of qi and restore balance to the body. While the exact mechanisms are still being researched, studies have shown acupuncture can help improve fertility and pregnancy rates in the following ways:
Acupuncture can lessen inflammation by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors. This improves blood flow to the reproductive organs and makes the environment more welcoming for embryo implantation.
Chronic inflammation is linked to conditions like endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease, which can adversely affect fertility. Acupuncture helps modulate inflammatory pathways, decreasing pain and scar tissue.
Bettering Uterine Blood Flow
Acupuncture has been shown to increase blood flow to the uterus by regulating uterine arteries and vascular blood flow. This provides a richer blood supply to encourage thick, healthy endometrial linings ready for embryo implantation.
Improved uterine blood flow also enables better transfer of nutrients and oxygen to the developing foetus. This assists a healthy pregnancy and reduces miscarriage risk.
Balancing the Nervous System
Acupuncture helps achieve balance between the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous systems. This promotes relaxation, moderates the stress response, and aids reproductive function.
Elevated stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline can impair the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis leading to menstrual changes and absent ovulation. Acupuncture assists in lowering stress and modulating fertility-related neurotransmitters.
Supporting Lifestyle Changes
Alongside acupuncture, making positive lifestyle adjustments can also boost fertility. Acupuncturists may offer dietary and lifestyle advice to support reproductive health.
Suggestions may include:
- Eating a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet
- Exercising moderately
- Reducing stress via yoga, meditation, etc.
- Limiting caffeine, alcohol and tobacco
- Taking supplements like folic acid and CoQ10
- Getting adequate sleep and rest
Making these changes alongside acupuncture therapy can help create the optimal environment for conception and a healthy pregnancy.
Can Acupuncture Help You to Get Pregnant?
According to many of the stars of stage and screen, yes it can! More and more celebrities are embracing acupuncture as the way to get pregnant. In recent year, the list of famous names has been getting longer and longer. Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Natalie Portman, Amal Clooney are all reported to have gone down this route. Most recently, and most famously, Meghan Markle is also reported to have undergone a course of fertility acupuncture. Her husband, Prince Harry, is reported to have adopted the ancient technique before and during Meghan’s pregnancy.
Are You Considering Acupuncture to Improve Fertility?
Many doctors suggest that, if you’re around 40 years of age or more and considering acupuncture treatment, you begin by having a basic fertility workup. If you discover there is an issue that requires a traditional medical fix then the sooner that’s sorted out the more likely it is that you’ll eventually be able to get pregnant. On the other hand, women in their 30s may well choose to try acupuncture first, prior to invasive and expensive fertility treatments. A few months of acupuncture could even be sufficient to help you achieve a pregnancy on your own!
When you do seek treatment, look for an experienced, licensed acupuncturist who has a background in treating infertility. For acupuncture to be effective it is typically performed on a regular basis over a period of many months. At the very least, your acupuncture treatment should begin three months prior to commencing IVF treatment. Some women continue on with their acupuncture treatments through the first three months of their pregnancy. This is help to reduce the risk of miscarriage.