Acupuncture, Fertility and IVF Treatment

Acupuncture / Fertility / IVF Treatment

In my clinic, I have noticed a dramatic growth in demand for acupuncture andChinese Medicine for the treatment of fertility. Some of this increased demand is undoubtedly due to burgeoning media attention, but it is mostly because of the proven effectiveness of oriental medicine at treating a wide spectrum of fertility issues.

I personally find delivering successful fertility treatment through acupuncture extremely rewarding because of the obvious joy that it brings. It is however different from treating conditions such as back pain, asthma, sinus trouble and migraine etc. in that with these conditions it is fairly straightforward to determine whether or not symptoms have improved. With fertility treatment, only true success is determined when the couple have conceived and as you can imagine this involves many factors.

We therefore need to look at overall signs of health improvement which will indicate that fertility treatment is progressing effectively. We look for such indicators as improved sleep quality, regulation of the menstrual cycle, improved digestion, easing of menstrual related symptoms, increased energy and reduced stress.

The first written evidence of acupuncture’s use in the treatment of fertility dates back over two thousand years to 3AD. Zhang Zhong-jing, a famous physician from the Han Dynasty, discussed infertility and a variety of women’s diseases conditions in his text Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essentials of the Golden Cabinet).

In more recent times, Western science has established the following proven benefits that acupuncture offers to reproductive health:

  • Regulates the menstrual cycle.
  • Invigorates sperm, enhancing both sperm count and motility.
  • Strengthens the immune system and enhances general health.
  • Reduce stress, control anxiety, enhance sleep and increase energy level.
  • Balances endocrine system, regulates hormones and improves egg quality.
  • Increases blood flow to the uterus, improving endometrial lining (implantation).Improves blood flow to the ovaries, increasing ovarian response – more follicles and better egg production.
  • Lessens the side effects associated with hormonal treatment.
  • Protects against miscarriage, improving live birth rate..
  • Increase the chance of pregnancy for women undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

Those who suffer from functional infertility make excellent candidates for acupuncture and herbal medicinal treatment. Fertility issues associated withhormonal problems, immune disorders, irregular menstruation, amenorrhoea and age related issues all fall within the category of functional infertility.

Stress has been proven to dramatically decrease fertility for both men and women and consequently acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can dramatically increase fertility by reducing stress if this is a prevailing factor.

Oriental Medicine has the phrase “Cultivate the soil before you plant the seed.” This is a cornerstone to Chinese Medicine’s approach to fertility treatment. The optimum time to treat someone is prior to their conception; in other words, both parents should be brought to optimum health prior to conceiving. Chinese Medicine holds the view that this period will determine the health of the sperm and the egg and that optimising both parents health prior to conception delivers maxim constitutional health to the new born child. For the mother-to-be, treatment also occurs during the pregnancy for this same reason.

When delivering fertility treatment it is therefore optimal to see and treat both parties. When treating the female we focus on the menstrual cycle and aim for cycle regulation and to alleviate any associated pain or discomfort. I would also look to improve overall health, insuring that sleep is of a high quality, digestion and elimination is strong and regular and that there is an overall sense of increased wellbeing. This is achieved by a combination of acupuncture,herbal medicine, as well as dietaryexercise and lifestyle advice.

It is most favourable to treat weekly for at least 3 months to properly regulate the menstrual cycle, balance hormone activity and to optimise egg quality. As women’s follicles are recruited over a 3 to 5 month time period before ovulation ongoing treatment allows adequate time during the preconception phase to “nurture nature”. After this 3-month phase I would generally continue treatment twice monthly unless conception has already taken place, in which case we then move into a different phase of treatment.

It is however surprising how many of my clients become pregnant very soon after commencing treatment. I believe that in many of these cases stress had been a significant factor. The process of trying to conceive is in itself very stressful for many couples and the patient’s active involvement in the whole treatment process delivers a greater sense of control, which had previously seemed unattainable. This increased sense of control, combined with powerful acupuncture and herbal medicine is often enough to swiftly bring about a successful conception.

Acupuncture and IVF
A recent German study, published in April 2002 found that just 2 acupuncture treatments on the day of embryo transfer increased the chances of becoming pregnant through IVF by a staggering 62%.

Researchers at the Christian-Lauritzen-Institute in Ulm, Germany included 160 patients undergoing IVF for the study. The patients were all required to have good quality embryos and were evenly and randomly divided into two study groups according to similar age and diagnosis characteristics.

When the patients were examined using ultrasound six weeks after IVF procedures 42% of the patients who had received acupuncture had become pregnant which compared to 26% within the control group. It is worth noting that this staggering result is based only on two acupuncture treatments having been received. It is reasonable to assume that even greater results would have been achieved if acupuncture treatment was continuously received during the entire IVF process. To my mind, this research means that acupuncture should be considered as an absolute standard treatment for anyone receiving IVF treatment.

Perhaps it’s apt to finish this article with an Irish Fertility Blessing

“Until we meet – May all Your Troubles be Little Ones”

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