happy Young pregnant woman relaxing at a park

Fertility

For How Long Will I Undergo Treatment?

Because it takes 90-150 days to influence change in a woman’s menstrual cycle, treatment is typically 3-6 months, 1-2 weekly visits. However, treatment terms inevitably vary patient to patient. The treatments follow the cycle of menstruation, at every hormonal shift (see graph below), acupuncture should be administered so as to best regulate hormonal levels.
Anatomy of Ovulation. Retrieved May 2007
http://www.early-pregnancy-tests.com/ovulationcycle.htmlLength of treatment and success varies for each individual and depends on the underlying fertility issue, among other factors.

Three to six months or more can seem like a very long time when you are trying to get pregnant. However, studies show that at least three months of preparation with TCM is optimal for a healthy pregnancy and baby. In TCM, every cycle with treatment strengthens your body and brings it closer to optimal reproductive health, a healthy pregnancy, and a healthy baby.

How Does The Medical Community View TCM’s Affect On Fertility?

Acupuncture’s approval rating in the western medical community is rising. However, as with any complement or alternate to allopathic medicine, it is bound to meet some resistance. A most typical opinion is that, regardless, acupuncture is a harmless and cost effective treatment. And if the leaders of the healthcare community are abreast of the latest research, they would be hard-pressed to deny the clearly promising and positive effects Chinese Medicine has on fertility.

A landmark study of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and acupuncture was published in 2002 in Fertility and Sterility. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1933901.stm

The German study concluded that acupuncture had a significant influence on IVF success. In a trial of 160 women, receiving acupuncture before and after implantation nearly doubled a woman’s chance of success (see below).

Acupuncture Control
Germany 2002 Study Results
IVF Success Rate 42.5% 26.3%

Most recently, a 2006 Danish study evaluated the effect of acupuncture on patients undergoing IVF with ICSI. Acupuncture was performed on the same day as embryo transfer, both before and after the transfer. Results (as seen below) were similarly encouraging.

Acupuncture Control
Denmark 2006 Study Results
IVF with
ICSI Success Rate
39% 26%

Several studies of Chinese herbal treatments to correct Luteal Phase Defect produced pregnancy rates from 33-56%, far greater than success rates achieved with Western medical treatments (approximately 15%). In addition, studies show that acupuncture can improve the concentration, volume, and motility of sperm (see Male Fertility section below).

In using Chinese herbs, studies revealed success rates ranged from about 50% up to more than 90% over 3-6 months (the same duration typical of western treatments). Included in these statistics are cases of infertility involving obstruction of the fallopian tubes, amenorrhea, absent ovulation, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, low sperm count, nonliquification of semen, and other causes.

How Can Chinese Medicine Help With Fertility?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been used to treat fertility problems for over 5,000 years. Infertility is not uncommon in China, but success rates are higher, as the option for TCM treatment is utilized more frequently. Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York have concluded that acupuncture:

  • Increases blood flow to the uterus, thus thickening the uterine lining, which improves the chances of an ovum implanting on the uterine wall.
  • Reduces anxiety, stress, and hormones secreted during stressful situations – such as cortisol – which significantly decreases fertility (see section on Stress below).
  • Normalizes the systems that regulate ovulation, especially in women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
  • Positively affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, which plays a major role in fertility.
  • Regulates the menstrual cycles.

Additionally, acupuncture has been proven effective in:

  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Lessening the side effects of drugs used in IVF or other western productive techniques
  • Preventing the uterus from contracting
  • Improving sperm motility and volume
  • Decreasing the chances of miscarriage
When Do I Start Treatment?

Whether you are in the middle of conventional fertility treatments or have yet to begin them, your likelihood of success increases as soon as you begin TCM treatment. Many couples today are employing the assisted reproductive therapies (ART) of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) or Intra Uterine Injections (IUI). A common and effective practice of TCM today is to have an acupuncture treatment immediately before and immediately after IVF or IUI. Studies have shown this practice to increase the number of resulting pregnancies by nearly 50% (see Medical Community’s View of TCM ) as compared to IVF treatments that did not employ acupuncture.

ART is very expensive and emotionally draining. By contrast, TCM alone is a fraction of the cost and generally promotes good emotional health. Given that stress alone can be a significant roadblock to getting you pregnant, I recommend that couples try TCM for several months before even trying assisted reproductive therapies.

If you have already begun ART treatments, you should begin your course of TCM therapies right away. This will ensure the significant emotional and financial investment you’ve made in your IVF therapy is given the best possible landscape for success.

Fertility Diagnoses Treated With TCM
  • Advanced Maternal Age
  • Amenorrhea
  • Anovulation
  • Elevated FSH Levels
  • Hormonal Imbalances
  • Immunologic Infertility
  • Luteal Phase Defect
  • Male Factor Infertility
  • Ovarian cysts, Polycystic Ovaries
  • Recurrent Miscarriage
  • Tubal Blockage (mild)
  • Unexplained Infertility
  • Uterine Fibroids

 

Does Stress Affect Fertility?

Yes. Our body’s biochemical response to stress has a major effect on the reproductive system. Stress increases our levels of adrenaline, which inhibits our ability to use progesterone, one of the key hormones in reproduction. It increases levels of cortisol, which inhibits implantation of the fertilized egg. It also increases levels of prolactin, which inhibits fertility by decreasing or halting ovulation. Additionally, a hyper-stimulated nervous system sends blood away from the uterus and ovaries to the essential organs, thus lessening the overall function of our reproductive system.

In 2001, a study at the University of San Diego, California, examined the success rates of women undergoing IVF. The study concluded the women with higher rates of stress and depression were 93% less likely to become pregnant and achieve a live birth. Another study in 2001 published in Fertility and Sterility concluded that stress increases T-cell production which, in turn, deters implantation in IVF patients.

TCM is an effective way to reduce stress and rebalance the systems that stress affects. Acupuncture releases endorphins and serotonin, which have a calming effect on the body. These chemicals decrease the physical symptoms of stress by reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and relaxing the muscles. Acupuncture also improves blood circulation throughout the body, which oxygenates tissues and cycles out cortisol and other damaging chemicals. Most importantly, acupuncture has been shown to rebalance the sympathetic nervous system and the endocrine system, thereby regulating the reproductive hormones that stress negatively affects.