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, with many finding 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, 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.
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, and this is where acupuncture can help, by bringing your body back to balance. It may be that acupuncture can help with even more serious infertility issues, with some women saying 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 not only for a woman to become pregnant – 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, thus promoting 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%, while 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.
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. In order to reduce the risk of miscarriage, some women continue on with their acupuncture treatments through the first three months of their pregnancy.