Throughout Asia, acupuncture has had a long history as a fertility treatment. It is used to address the kinds of medical problems that prevent a couple from conceiving. More recently, the popularity of fertility acupuncture has spread as an effective adjunctive treatment to IVF after studies have shown that it can increase the efficacy of IVF by 50%.
Acupuncture for Fertility
As clinicians, we use Chinese medicine to treat women for fertility related problems such as PCOS, endometriosis, luteal phase defect, irregular cycles and amenorrhea. We also support women with acupuncture as they go through IVF and other assisted reproductive techniques. Why does it work? To put it briefly, fertility acupuncture helps to increase blood flow to the ovaries and the uterus. This supports a healthy ovarian follicle and uterine lining. It also decreases inflammation and corrects subtle hormone imbalances. We combine acupuncture with Chinese herbs to support a woman’s natural rhythms. We also use it to address complex patterns that affect the whole body and impact fertility.
The Chinese originally described the effect of acupuncture by referring to channels (meridians) through which energy flows deep into the body. This sounds esoteric, however, whilst researching for my new book, Energy Medicine: The Science and Mystery of Healing, I realized that not only were they right, but that there is a scientific explanation for these channels. Fascia is a form of connective tissue that, due to its collagen content is highly electro-conductive.
If you overlay a map of the fascial planes on a map of the traditional acupuncture channels they trace the same paths. Acupuncture has been shown to stretch connective tissue to increase its electro-conductivity when the needles are placed and manipulated. And the signal that it creates is transmitted deep into the body via the fascia. This discovery has led us to understand that there really are channels that conduct energy. From a modern anatomical perspective these are the pathways of the fascia.
Recent research showed that acupuncture given at the time of embryo transfer during an IVF cycle improved pregnancy rates.
Acupuncture to Support IVF
Recently, there has been a proliferation of studies that show acupuncture has measurable physiological effects. Diminishing the idea that once dominated the medical world that it was simply a placebo. Doppler ultrasound has been used to show that acupuncture increases blood flow and circulation and MRI readings demonstrate that acupuncture can prompt observable changes in the brain. Wide-ranging research suggests that acupuncture can do everything from improve sleep to increase blood flow in the umbilical cord of pregnant women to easing mental health struggles.
There is also an increasing body of research that supports the use of acupuncture used in conjunction with IVF treatments. Recent research has built on the data supplied in a 2002 study published in the journal, Fertility and Sterility, that showed that acupuncture given at the time of embryo transfer during an IVF cycle improved pregnancy rates.
A meta-analysis of 7 studies that was published in the British Medical Journal showed that acupuncture given to patients undergoing IVF also led to an increase in live birth rates. And a further meta-analysis looked at Whole Systems Traditional Chinese Medicine in the run up to an IVF cycle. This includes acupuncture used alongside Chinese herbs and dietary and lifestyle advice. It concluded that using a Chinese medicine approach for three months prior to an IVF cycle (approximately 12 treatments) may increase the odds of achieving a live birth over usual IVF care alone or the more limited two acupuncture treatments administered around embryo transfer.
How Does it Work
So, how does acupuncture have an effect on fertility? Firstly, it is able to influence the menstrual cycle, ovulation, and fertility. Acupuncture does so by mediating the release of neurotransmitters, which in turn, stimulate secretion of gonadotropin releasing hormone. Secondly, acupuncture can help stimulate blood flow to the uterus by inhibiting uterine central sympathetic nerve activity. And finally, acupuncture stimulates the production of endogenous opioids. This may inhibit the central nervous system’s outflow and the biological stress response. Which in turn offsets the effects of stress and anxiety on reproductive hormones.
Ancient Practice and Modern Science
So, whether you are struggling to conceive or are simply wanting to get in the best shape before getting pregnant. Acupuncture is worth exploring. More broadly, the whole system of Chinese medicine. You’ll be drawing on thousands of years of experience brought right up to date by some very current research.