Acupuncture Fertility: The Power of Hope and Healing
One type of traditional Chinese medicine is acupuncture where needles are introduced into the body through the skin to certain points. Acupuncture has been successfully applied to various diseases such as infertility for many millennia. Today, couples looking forward to boosting their fertility levels by use of IVF have turned to acupuncture. In this article, we’ll explore the evidence behind using acupuncture for fertility and pregnancy outcomes.
How Acupuncture May Improve Fertility
Researchers have identified several ways acupuncture may have beneficial effects on fertility:
- Increasing blood flow to the uterus and ovaries – This provides improved oxygen and nutrient delivery to reproductive organs.
- Reducing stress and balancing hormones – Acupuncture helps regulate the HPA axis involved in the stress response and sex hormone control.
- Minimizing uterine contractions – Acupuncture relaxation effects may help prevent uterine contractions that can expel embryos.
- Decreasing inflammation – Acupuncture exhibits anti-inflammatory properties that create a more hospitable environment.
- Improving IVF outcomes – Acupuncture before and after embryo transfer has been shown to increase IVF success rates in some studies.
While the exact mechanisms are still being investigated, acupuncture appears to induce beneficial effects on reproductive function through both local and systemic responses in the body.
Acupuncture for Ovarian Function
Acupuncture seems to exert positive effects on ovarian function by improving blood flow and hormone regulation. This enhances follicle and oocyte (egg) development and maturation.
A single study revealed that acupuncture boosted uterine blood flow by 25% in women struggling with infertility. This improved circulation contributes to a more abundant blood supply, essential for nurturing a developing fetus. Increased ovarian blood flow also benefits egg development and ovulation.
Additionally, acupuncture has been shown to modulate hormones including FSH, estradiol, and progesterone to improve ovarian response and egg quality. Through these circulatory and hormonal mechanisms, acupuncture applied in the follicular and periovulatory phases may support optimal ovarian function.
Acupuncture Fertility for Male Factor Infertility
Acupuncture shows promise for addressing some types of male factor infertility as well. Studies indicate acupuncture may improve sperm quality parameters such as sperm count, morphology, and motility. Acupuncture also seems to decrease sperm DNA fragmentation.
For men with impaired sperm production and function, twice-weekly acupuncture improved total normal sperm counts after 5 weeks in one study. Acupuncture also increased total motile sperm counts. The effects appear to be related to reduced inflammation, increased blood flow, and modulated hormone levels.
Acupuncture Fertility for Luteal Phase Defect
Luteal phase defect occurs when the luteal phase, or time between ovulation and menstruation, is too short. This leads to lower progesterone levels that may be insufficient to establish and maintain a pregnancy.
Progesterone makes the endometrium more receptive for implantation, supporting the growing embryo. Acupuncture is believed to prolong as well as regularise the luteal phase by affecting progesterone levels and other reproductive hormones.
In a recent analysis of research, acupuncture increased mid-luteal phase progesterone levels and progesterone-to-estrogen ratios in women undergoing IVF cycles. This beneficial hormone effect may promote better luteal phase function.
Acupuncture Fertility to Reduce IVF Stress
IVF treatment is emotionally, physically, and financially demanding for couples. This strain can adversely impact fertility and pregnancy rates. Acupuncture is profoundly relaxing and appears to reduce anxiety and perceived stress levels in women undergoing IVF procedures.
Lowering stress could help improve fertility and IVF outcomes indirectly. High cortisol negatively affects female reproduction, so acupuncture’s stress-relieving effects may increase the chances of conception and live birth. For couples doing IVF, acupuncture also provides non-pharmaceutical relief from procedure-related discomfort.
Acupuncture Fertility Administration Protocols
For natural cycles, acupuncture is often performed weekly or biweekly in the months prior to conception. During IVF cycles, typical acupuncture protocols include:
- Acupuncture before controlled ovarian hyperstimulation to optimize egg production
- Acupuncture before and after embryo transfer to increase implantation and pregnancy
- Weekly acupuncture sessions for luteal phase support until confirmation of pregnancy
For best results, seek a licensed acupuncturist trained in fertility-specific protocols. Alongside IVF, individualized acupuncture treatment aims to increase ovarian response, improve embryo quality, reduce stress, and support early pregnancy.
Acupuncture Fertility Outcomes
Thus far, research on the effects of acupuncture on fertility and IVF success has shown mixed results. Some studies demonstrate a clear benefit, while others show no difference between using acupuncture or sham acupuncture. However, two large meta-analyses in 2018 found acupuncture does appear to increase live birth rates and ongoing pregnancy rates in IVF patients.
For natural conception, limited research demonstrates improved ovulation, hormonal profile, and pregnancy rates with acupuncture. Overall, acupuncture shows promise in enhancing fertility, particularly when paired with IVF. While not proven, it is likely safe and presents minimal downsides when performed by a qualified practitioner. For many couples, acupuncture reduces stress and provides a sense of control during difficult fertility journeys.
FAQ’s Acupuncture Fertility
1. Does acupuncture increase IVF success rates?
Answer: Some studies, but not all, have found improved live birth and pregnancy rates with acupuncture before and after embryo transfer during IVF. A larger analysis indicates acupuncture may provide a modest benefit for IVF outcomes.
2. How often should you get acupuncture for fertility?
Answer: For natural cycles, 1-2 sessions per week for several months prior to trying to conceive. For IVF cycles, 1 session prior to ovarian stimulation, 1-2 sessions around egg retrieval, and 1-2 sessions before and after embryo transfer.
3. When should you start acupuncture fertility treatment?
Answer: Most experts recommend starting acupuncture 3-6 months before attempting to conceive naturally or initiating IVF treatment. This allows it to exert effects on menstrual cycle quality and hormone balance in advance.
4. Are there any risks to using acupuncture fertility?
Answer: When performed correctly by an experienced practitioner, acupuncture is generally very safe. Minor side effects might include bleeding or bruising at needle sites, lightheadedness, or temporary pain.
5. Does insurance cover acupuncture for infertility?
Answer: Most insurance plans do not cover acupuncture treatments. However, some states mandate infertility benefits that include acupuncture. Check your specific insurance coverage for fertility services.
Research increasingly demonstrates acupuncture can positively impact fertility in both natural and assisted reproduction cycles. Acupuncture modulates reproductive hormones, blood flow, stress levels, and other physiological parameters that affect fertility outcomes. When combined with IVF protocols, acupuncture may aid embryo transfer and early implantation to boost pregnancy success rates. Though not universally proven, acupuncture remains a safe complement to fertility treatments. For many couples struggling with infertility, acupuncture provides a sense of empowered wellbeing during the emotionally challenging process.