Acupunture for Fertility
When I first started working with fertility, more than 25 years ago, there was little research in the West on this method. Even many Western treatments were completely new and few people discussed their problem. Things have changed dramatically since then. Acupuncture has become widely recognized as effective for fertility, on its own or in conjunction with orthodox reproductive medicine, such as IVF, IUI, GIFT or ICSI. What acupuncture does is to help prepare the ground, much like a gardener, so that seeds can be nourished, can implant and grow.
Fertility and mis-conceptions
A majority of women have grown up with the idea that pregnancy happens easily and that one must therefore take precautions. However, pregnancy followed by the delivery of a healthy baby does not happen as easily as one might think. The facts are that for women in their late teens and twenties the chances of pregnancy in a given month is less than 25% (they have to try, on average, for four months) despite perfect timing of intercourse and the release of a healthy egg! Reproductively healthy women in their thirties will, on average, have to try for ten months (or they have a one in ten chance for each fertile period.) Once women get into their early forties, despite all appearances to the contrary (athleticism, youthful appearance, vigour and energy) the chances per month of becoming pregnant is reduced to 3%, or, they will have to try for almost three years on average, if there are no other barriers (bar age) to conception. The chances at all ages are further reduced if the man has a low sperm count, poor morphology, or low motility, or if the woman has anovulatory cycles, short luteal phase (less than ten days), polycystic ovaries PCOS, hormonal insufficiency, thin endometrium, endometriosis, or physical barriers such as fibroids or blocked fallopian tubes. This last problem is best corrected by IVF and has one of the higher success rates for IVF on its own.
Such statistics might appear to contradict our own experience – the conceptions we have heard about that take place during drunken one-night stands or the women who discover that their menopause turned into motherhood. These incidences are rare, which is why these stories circulate so quickly through the grapevine.
So don’t worry if you don’t conceive even though you have tried for a baby at exactly the right time. This does not, on its own, suggest that you have any particular barrier to conception. However, for all age groups, acupuncture improves the chances of conception through stimulating ovulation, regulating hormonal cycles, promoting the function of the corpus luteum (increasing progesterone production) and increasing the flow of blood to the uterus.
The important role of acupuncture in reducing stress has a direct impact on a woman’s ability to conceive and also her ability to carry the baby to full term. In many cases, especially in those who have unexplained infertility, acupuncture which treats any underlying distress is often enough to turn things around. However, in some of these cases both partners may have a sub-clinical imbalance in energies, i.e. they may not suffer any noticeable symptoms but according to acupuncture theory they may have an underlying yin or yang deficiency, or a blockage in one of their meridians. Treating both partners can make a big difference to the chances of, and speed of, successful conception. Physical, mental and emotional components are all important, and the harmonious integration of these more subtle aspects of our being can help create the fertile conditions necessary for conception and a full-term healthy pregnancy.
- It is generally advisable for both parents to prepare for conception for at least four months beforehand. These are some of the things you can do, in addition to having acupuncture, to encourage fertility:
- Come off the contraceptive pill some time before you start trying for a child. Even though there is a suggestion that fertility increases in the first one or two months immediately after coming off the contraceptive pill, it is recommended that you allow one month off for each year that you have been on the pill.
- Stop smoking – smoking can cause irreversible effects on ovarian function by accelerating the loss of eggs. It also increases the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, significantly reduces the chances of a successful outcome of IVF, and lowers male fertility (sperm count, motility and increased abnormalities). Passive smoking is also seriously damaging to female fertility.
- Significantly reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol inhibits ovulation and impairs the sperm’s ability to move through the fallopian tubes.
- Cut out marijuana. Even moderate consumption of marijuana has a toxic effect on the developing egg and impairs ovulation.
- Eat a healthy, well balanced diet. Make sure you get enough Vitamin E and B including folic acid.
- If you are too thin then put on a few pounds by eating a healthy diet in enough quantity and by reducing excessive exercise.
- If you are overweight then reduce weight by cutting out refined carbohydrates, all sugar except fruit sugar, and increasing exercise. If this is connected with ovulation problems or insulin resistance your doctor may prescribe Metformin.
Research on Acupuncture for Fertility
Research has shown that acupuncture increases the success rates for women having in-vitro fertilization – IVF – by almost 50%. The studies show that acupuncture reduces stress and increases blood flow to the reproductive organs, all of which improves the success rate of IVF and IUI. Importantly, acupuncture helps prevent cramping in the womb after IVF treatment, and this not only helps prevent expulsion of the embryo after IVF but it is also important in helping to prevent ectopic pregnancy, as well as assisting implantation of the embryo.
Acupuncture can counteract the effects of polycystic ovaries or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, commonly known as PCOS.
It can help women with higher than normal FSH levels to conceive naturally.
Acupuncture promotes ovulation, whether you have anovulatory cycles or amenorrhea with polycystic ovaries.
Acupuncture provides more subtle enhancements such as reducing anxiety and hot fluses, all of which is helpful for those who are taking fertility drugs.
In endometriosis the endometrial tissue found outside the womb can trigger an immune response which can prevent successful conception. In these cases acupuncture can help by dampening the specific immune response, as well as reducing painful periods commonly associated with this condition.
I have also successfully used acupuncture for low sperm count, poor morphology and slow motility.
In one study it was shown that women who used acupuncture without any other fertility treatments were just as likely to conceive in the same period of time as women who took a fertility drug.
[Source: Reuter’s Health: Fertility and Sterility 2002;78:1149-1153].
A comprehensive analysis of acupuncture for breech position discovered that 80% of foetuses turned into normal (cephalic) presentation after acupuncture (which includes moxabustion.)
Click Acupuncture and Fertility – Maybe Alternative Baby by Sally Brown, pub. Guardian Newspaper