Acupuncture is the insertion of ultra-thin, sterile needles into specific acupuncture points on the body which reside on channels or meridians; these are pathways in both the exterior and interior of the body. These points, when needled, can regulate the way in which the body functions.
Acupuncture helps by addressing problems that affect fertility such as an under-functioning thyroid (hypothyroidism) or over-functioning thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
Can acupuncture be used to treat infertility?
Acupuncture, frequently combined with herbal medicine, has been used for centuries to treat some but not all causes of infertility. For example, acupuncture and herbs will not work to address tubal adhesions which can occur as a result of pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis.
However, in this situation, an individual could still benefit from acupuncture and herbs because of the potential effect of improved ovarian and follicular function. Additionally, acupuncture can increase blood flow to the endometrium, helping to facilitate a thick, rich lining.
When should acupuncture treatment begin?
Acupuncture is similar to physical therapy in that it is a process-oriented method of medical intervention. It is better to do more than less. Patients are commonly treated for three to four months before progressing to insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF), or donor-egg transfer. This pacing of treatment seems to have a therapeutic effect.
In a study by Stener-Victorin et al from the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fertility Centre, Scandinavia and University of Gothenburg, women are encouraged to receive acupuncture treatments pre and post embryo transfer.
Clinical observations from the Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness suggest that the most effective fertility treatments involve a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and traditional medicine. However, conception occasionally occurs when acupuncture and herbal medicines are used without traditional medical interventions.
When should I stop?
Typically most miscarriages occur within the first 3 months of pregnancy. Consequently, treatment of patients may often last through week twelve to help prevent miscarriage.
Are the acupuncture points different after insemination, IVF, or donor-egg transfer than before?
Acupuncturists should not place needles in the abdomino-pelvic area after insemination or transfer. There are 6 contraindicated acupuncture points which should be avoided when the patient is pregnant or pregnancy is suspected. These include Gallbladder 21, Stomach 12, Large Intestine 4, Spleen 6, Bladder 60, Bladder 67 and any points on the lower abdomen.
What are the risks of using acupuncture with infertility?
There are minimal risks in using acupuncture for fertility treatment. The risk of miscarriage may increase if incorrect acupuncture points are used during pregnancy. This is one reason why those choosing to include acupuncture in their treatment regimen should only be treated by an acupuncturist who specializes in treating fertility disorders. Acupuncture is generally safe regardless of a person’s medical history.
Who make up typical patients?
Acupuncture can be used to treat any type of fertility disorder including spasmed tubes. Spasmed tubes are often de-spasmed with acupuncture, though blocked tubes will not respond to acupuncture. Acupuncture is often combined with herbal remedies to treat elevated follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), repeated pregnancy loss, unexplained (idiopathic) infertility, luteal phase defect, hyperprolactinemia (when not caused by a prolactinoma), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) with annovulatory cycles and male factor including men affected with sperm-DNA-fragmentation.
Does acupuncture for infertility work?
Several studies have found that women who get acupuncture treatments — whether to treat conditions that can interfere with getting pregnant (such as polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS) or to increase the chances of a successful IVF — have a higher rate of pregnancy and births. Some fertility doctors recommend acupuncture for their patients to help lower overall stress levels, because stress hormones can lower fertility hormones like progesterone. “I’ve referred patients to acupuncturists to do acupuncture in conjunction with a number of fertility treatments,” says Kathleen M. Brennan, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist with the UCLA Fertility and Reproductive Health Center in Los Angeles.
So how does it work? Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves the placing of thin, stainless steel needles at certain spots on the body. From a Chinese medicine standpoint, the needles stimulate the body’s meridians — channels of energy — along certain points. Depending on where the needles go, a person may feel calmer, sleepy, or more energized, or may experience subtle physical changes, like a drop or rise in certain hormones or increased blood flow to certain areas of the body, like the pelvis. “Acupuncture is thought to shift the body into a repair mode where it’s better able to heal itself, as well as calming the nervous system,” says Lara Rosenthal, a licensed acupuncturist who works with patients at the New York University Langone Medical Center Fertility Center in New York City. Does it hurt? “It feels a little like getting your eyebrow plucked, just for a few seconds, then you won’t feel anything,” Rosenthal says. And there are virtually no negative side effects, aside from occasional mild bruising.