Dealing with infertility can be frustrating, financially draining, and in some cases, can lead to feelings of hopelessness. The problem of infertility is far from rare, however; according to an often-cited research study, fully 10-15% of couples in the US have difficulty conceiving. Fortunately, medical breakthroughs including new medications, and high technology treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination, have helped many couples overcome fertility problems. But what’s new in the arena of infertility treatment may surprise you: Medical research has demonstrated that acupuncture is clinically effective in boosting fertility.
Numerous studies have shown that pregnancy success rates increase when acupuncture is provided in conjunction with IVF (a process where the woman’s eggs are removed, fertilized with the man’s sperm, and then the healthy embryos are then implanted in the woman’s uterus). Overall, the research is very strong: In general, a woman may be up to 65% more likely to become pregnant if she is receives acupuncture combined with IVF treatments, as compared to receiving IVF treatments alone.
Of course, men also can have infertility issues, and although there are fewer studies examining male infertility and acupuncture, the existing research suggests that acupuncture also plays a positive role in improving male fertility. Finally, and just as important, the research indicates that there are no adverse side effects associated with using acupuncture to treat infertility.
So, how does this procedure, which has been used for thousands of years to alleviate pain and boost the body’s immune system, help to improve fertility in women? This is how:
Acupuncture increases uterine and ovarian blood flow. Acupuncture increases oxygenated blood flow and thickens the uterine lining, increasing the chance of conceiving.
- Acupuncture modulates the body’s neuroendocrine system. The neuroendocrine system is the combination of the nervous and the endocrine systems.
- Acupuncture stimulates the brain to release hormones that then stimulate the ovaries, adrenals and other organs involved in reproduction.
- Acupuncture decreases the body’s stress response. Stress can contribute to infertility, and acupuncture mitigates the body’s stress response.
To date, most of the research on acupuncture and infertility has examined the effect of acupuncture when administered at or near the time of the IVF embryo transfer. As noted above, however, acupuncture elicits several beneficial physiological responses in the body, so it can be an effective, low-cost, and safe treatment not only for women undergoing IVF, but for anyone wishing to get pregnant.
Keep in mind that each couple’s infertility situation is unique. In women, medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) can affect ovulation and thereby undermine their ability to conceive. Also, lifestyle factors such as smoking, excess alcohol use, stress, poor diet, excessive athletic training, and maintaining an unhealthy weight can create obstacles to getting pregnant.
Finally, age also plays a prominent role in fertility. As the years pass, a woman’s ovaries gradually become less able to release eggs, and the eggs produced are fewer and less robust. This said, it is still very possible to have a healthy baby (or babies!) at an older age. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20% of women have their first child after age 35!
If you are under 35, and have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a year or more, talk with your physician to determine what fertility treatments would be most effective for you. If you are over 35 and interested in getting pregnant, fertility experts recommend not waiting more than 6 months before seeking professional, medical assistance. Your doctor should administer fertility tests to determine the root of the problem. Identifying the cause of infertility will help determine the best course of action.
Most importantly, don’t lose hope. At the Kaplan Center, we can provide you with a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan, paying special attention to any chronic medical issues you may have, measuring your intracellular magnesium and vitamin-D levels, assessing your hormone balance, and helping you manage any situational stress you may be experiencing. We will partner with you to create a treatment plan that includes acupuncture, and we will be happy to coordinate your care with your fertility specialist or aid you in choosing a specialist.
All rights reserved by Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine.