Improving Fertility Through Acupuncture: An Overview
How Acupuncture Can Improve Fertility
Conceiving a baby is the goal of many couples. Up to 15% of couples in the United States are considered infertile. Coaxing Mother Nature into blessing a couple with one or more offspring is often a multi-pronged approach. Beginning with basic medical examinations, counseling, and tips for conception, the road to parenthood can include expensive Western medical fertility treatments. Couples often turn to acupuncture for fertility, either on its own or to improve their odds with fertility treatments.
A Time-Tested Method
The acupuncture patient is not required to have any beliefs about whether the treatments will work. According to Chinese medical literature dating back two thousand years, acupuncture and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine - herbs) have been used to help infertile couples conceive. In modern times, the scientific method has been used to evaluate whether this works to improve the incidence of conception.
Acupuncture Improves IVF
A 2105 review5 of many IVF and acupuncture research studies finds that acupuncture is more effective if given both around the time of egg transfer and at the time of follicle development, or around the time of egg transfer and implantation.
An article in the journal Fertility and Sterility1 reported on a study of 160 infertile women who received In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Half the patients received acupuncture, and half did not. The women's eggs were harvested and fertilized in a laboratory. The resulting embryo was introduced into the womb. Success is considered having an embryo sac in the womb six weeks later.
The subjects were given acupuncture 25 minutes before introduction of the embryo and also 25 minutes afterwards. These women had success at the six-week mark at a rate of 42.5%. Only 26.3% of the control group, who had the IVF alone, had a clinical pregnancy from the treatments.
The researchers believe that the acupuncture treatments:
- Helped relax the patients. High stress levels are known to increase infertility.
- May have relaxed the uterus, resulting in fewer uterine contractions around the time of the IVF.
Learn more about IVF treatment.
Meta-Analysis of Acupuncture and Fertility
A 2003 'meta-analysis,' (a study of many studies)2 by physician-scientists at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility (CRMI) at New York's Weill Cornell Medical Center found many benefits to acupuncture for infertility. They summarized research and concluded that acupuncture for fertility had these benefits:
- Increased blood flow to the uterus. Read our article about increased blood flow for more information
- Increased endorphin production. This affects the release of a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is a decapeptide involved in regulating reproduction.
- The lowering of stress hormones that are responsible for infertility
- Impact on plasma levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estradiol (E2), and progesterone (P). These are all important fertility hormones.
- Normalization of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. These three endocrine glands are crucial to fertility.
- A positive effect for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome3. This hormonal imbalance is one of the leading causes of poor fertility4 It affects around 5% to 10% of women of typical child-bearing age (18-44).
Used by itself or in conjunction with medical fertility treatments, acupuncture for fertility is finding its place in the West. Stimulation of the meridian (energy) points using sterile, very tiny needles is relatively painless. Compared to the high costs associated with medical fertility treatments, it is also relatively inexpensive. Many couples elect to hedge their bets by choosing both fertility treatments and acupuncture.
Acupuncturists are licensed by the state in America. In the state of California, licensed acupuncturists (LAc) are skilled in acupuncture for many different conditions. Dr. Norberto Oropez, LAc, PhD, specializes in helping infertile couples using acupuncture and Oriental medicine. He runs an acupuncture clinic in Pasadena, CA, serving the Los Angeles, California area, including Arcadia, Burbank, Glendale, El Monte, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, South Pasadena, San Marino and surrounding areas.
1. Study: Influence of Acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo ART, Paulus etc. al,
Fertility & Sterility, Vol 77 April 2002
2. Robinson, Kathleen and Tracy Hickenbottom, Acupuncture has numerous potential fertility boosting benefits according to New York Weill Cornell physician-scientists, Cornell News, New York, April 2003.
3. Wikipedia: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
4. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Condition Information. National Institutes of Health, May, 2013.
5. Shen, C., Wu., M., Shu, D., Zhao, X., Gao, Y. (2015). The Role of Acupuncture in in vitro Fertilization: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation, 79:1-12.