ACUPUNCTURE FOR FERTILITY & PREGNANCY
Research fact sheets from the British Acupuncture Council highlight the plausible mechanisms of how acupuncture may benefit fertility:
- By regulating fertility hormones – stress and other factors can cause hormonal imbalances that can negatively impact fertility. Acupuncture has been shown to positively affect hormone levels.
- By increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs – stress also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which causes constriction of ovarian arteries. Acupuncture inhibits this sympathetic activity, improving blood flow to the ovaries, enhancing the environment in which ovarian follicles develop. It also increases blood flow to the uterus improving the thickness of the endometrial lining and increasing the chances of embryo implantation.
- By counteracting the effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility. By reducing sympathetic nerve activity and balancing hormone levels, acupuncture has been shown to reduce the number of ovarian cysts, stimulate ovulation, enhance blastocyst implantation and regulate the menstrual cycle in women with PCOS
- The difficulties couples encounter when facing fertility problems can lead to stress, which may further decrease chances of conception.
Studies have also demonstrated significantly better pregnancy rates for acupuncture than medication (Yang 2005, Chen 2007, Song 2008)*. A report published in the Journal Fertility and Sterility (2002) found the pregnancy rate in the group receiving acupuncture was 42.5%, compared to the group which did not receive the therapy, where the rate was 26.3%**.
Regulating the menstrual cycle
Regulating and maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle is vital to a woman’s fertility when wanting to conceive either naturally or with the help of ART.
Menstrual irregularities commonly seen at the clinic include:
- Amenorrhoea (absence of periods)
- Dysmenorrhoea (painful periods)
- Menorrhagia (excessive menstrual bleeding)
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Irregular cycles
- Long or short cycles
To optimise fertility, Acupuncture aims to achieve the following:
- regulate the menstrual cycle and promote regular ovulation
- regulate the hormones to produce a larger number of follicles
- improve the functions of ovaries to produce better quality eggs
- increase the thickness of the uterine lining so to encourage successful implantation.
Research into acupuncture for male fertility as highlighted in Research fact sheets from the BAcC, have shown positive effects on sperm count, morphology and mobility. It may help in the treatment of male infertility by:
- lowering scrotal temperature;
- enhancing local microcirculation, by increasing the diameter and blood flow velocity of peripheral arterioles;
- reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors
- by improving sperm maturation, increasing testosterone levels, and reducing liquid peroxidation of sperm.
Acupuncture and IVF
Research has shown that acupuncture increases the success rates for women having in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) by almost 50%. Studies show that acupuncture reduces stress and increases blood flow to the reproductive organs, which improves the success rate of IVF and IUI.
A 2004 study conducted by the Reproductive Medicine and Fertility Center in Colorado found that 51% of women who underwent both IVF and acupuncture treatment at the same time became pregnant, while only 36% of those who only underwent IVF did. The latter group also had higher rates of miscarriage and stillbirth (20%) compared to those women who had received acupuncture (8%).
Pre and Post embryo transfer
Acupuncture treatment around the time of embryo transfer has been shown to increase pregnancy rates. Research by Manheimer et al. of 7 trials with 1366 participants and a Cochrane review in 2008 concluded that acupuncture administered at the time of embryo transfer increases live birth rates.
Most clinical trials to date suggest that acupuncture may be useful in the embryo transfer stage of in vitro fertilisation, and results in an increased pregnancy rate and a greater number of live births.
Acupuncture for pregnancy
Pregnancy ‘ailments’ commonly seen at the clinic include:
- Nausea and vomiting (Morning Sickness)
- Musculoskeletal conditions
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Anxiety and depression
- Breech and Posterior positions
Acupuncture in preparation for labour as a prebirth treatment
Prebirth acupuncture Is a series of treatments from weeks 36-40 to help prepare women to have the most efficient labour possible. Research has shown that the duration of labour is reduced in those women receiving prebirth acupuncture. Feedback also suggests that midwives report a reduced rate of medical intervention.
The prebirth visits also provide an ideal opportunity to discuss the use of acupressure points in labour for pain relief, address any other underlying presenting problems and offer lifestyle and dietary advice and support.
Acupuncture for turning breech babies
Moxibustion (a heat source to stimulate acupuncture point) is held near the little toe on each foot for 20 minutes each side daily for a 10 day treatment cycle. Optimum time for administering this treatment is at 34 weeks but can be effective also as late as 38 weeks. After initial treatment, moxibustion can be administered by the woman or her partner in the comfort of their own home.
A comprehensive analysis of acupuncture from the Second National Symposium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion for breech position discovered that 81% of foetuses turned into normal (cephalic) presentation after moxibustion compared to 49% of the babies in the control group not receiving moxibustion.
‘Mother warming’ is a useful one-off treatment given around day 4 or 5 post birth. Moxa is used to warm the mothers’ abdomen to nourish and restore energy and aid recovery.
Then 10-14 days following birth acupuncture, moxibustion and dietary therapy can then be utilised as a tonification treatment, to facilitate the body in building reserves and physical resources in the mother.
* Song FJ. Zheng SL. Ma DZ. (2008) ‘Clinical observation on acupuncture for treatment of infertility of ovulatory disturbance.’ [Chinese] Zhongguo Zhenjiu. 28(1):21-3, Jan.
** Wolfgang E Paulus, M.D. (2002) ‘Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy’ Journal of Fertility and Sterility