Acupuncture to Boost Fertility
An estimated 10 percent of American couples are unable to get pregnant on their own after trying to conceive for a year. Many of these couples turn to infertility drugs, hormone therapies, or in vitro fertilization (IVF). A growing number of couples are seeking alternative therapies to boost fertility, including acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine that aims to restore and maintain health by keeping the body in a balanced state. Acupuncturists believe disease occurs when the body is imbalanced and the flow of vital energy, called “qi” (pronounced chi), is blocked. Acupuncture uses the insertion of thin, sterile needles into specific points on the body to unblock qi and restore balance to the body. Acupuncture has been used to treat infertility in China for thousands of years and is gaining popularity in America.
Some studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in helping couples with infertility problems conceive naturally, while others have shown it to have little or no benefit. However, acupuncture has little risk and is much less expensive than medical infertility treatments, so it may be beneficial to try it before seeking medical help. Acupuncture helps a patient relax, reduce stress, sleep better, and increase positive thinking, which can help increase fertility. Acupuncturists believe that specific treatments administered before ovulation can help promote timely ovulation and improve the quality of the egg. Acupuncture may also help regulate and balance hormones, which can address a number of problems that affect female fertility, such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and possibly even endometriosis and uterine fibroids. Acupuncture is believed to increase blood flow to the uterus, prevent uterine contractions, and help regulate estrogen and progesterone levels to thicken the uterine lining, all of which increase the chances of successful implantation.
There have been fewer studies on the effect of acupuncture on male fertility, but some evidence suggests that acupuncture can improve sperm production and quality. A study published in Fertility and Sterility in 2005 compared the semen samples from 28 men diagnosed with unexplained infertility – half had received acupuncture twice a week for 5 weeks and half had not. The results showed that the group receiving treatment had higher sperm motility levels, healthier sperm, and a higher number of sperm per ejaculate.
Clinical studies conducted by reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Paul Magarelli from 2004 – 2005 have shown that using acupuncture in conjunction with IVF had a 15 percent higher success rate than IVF alone. Most acupuncturists suggest beginning treatments one to four months before the IVF procedure to increase the chances of successful implantation. Acupuncture can also help relieve mild side effects from the fertility medication used with IVF, such as nausea and headache. It can also reduce the symptoms of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, a more serious side effect of some fertility drugs. When the ovaries are overstimulated, a woman can experience extreme swelling and abdominal distention. It can also prevent eggs from maturing properly, which can lead to miscarriage or the improper development of the fetus. Acupuncture can help reduce these symptoms and possibly prevent ovarian hyperstimulation during IVF. Continued use of acupuncture from conception to 8 to 12 weeks of pregnancy can also help prevent miscarriage after a successful conception, either naturally or through IVF.
Although more research must be conducted into the use of acupuncture to treat infertility, growing evidence suggests that acupuncture can help couples conceive naturally or with IVF. It is important to find a licensed acupuncturist and to keep all of your doctors informed about any alternative medical treatments you are receiving. To find a licensed acupuncturist near you, visit http://www.nccaom.org.