A large number of my patients, male and female, come for acupuncture to assist some aspect of their reproductive health. There has been increasing interest over the last few years in the role that acupuncture may be able to play:-
* in helping individulas and couples achieve a natural conception
* in complementing assisted reproduction treatments and
* in generally supporting those currently having fertility issues.
I aim to offer advice, guidance, and encouragement, using acupuncture and my other therapies,to those who would like to increase their chances of a natural conception and pregnancy and to offer care and supportive treatments to those undergoing assisted reproduction treatments (IVF etc.).
HOW CAN ACUPUNCTURE AFFECT PREGNANCY RATES FOR IVF/ICSI PROCEDURES?
There have been several trials comparing the rates of conception using acupuncture and the vast majority show that acupuncture increased the rates of pregnancy. However, often these trials are unable to use a large number of participants and so, from an orthodox scientific method point of view, the jury is still out. However, the tide does seem to be turning in acupuncture's favour in the medical community where, in my experience, there is an increasing willingness to embrace complementary therapies, particularly in the fertility clinics.
Randomised trials in China have demonstrated significantly better pregnancy rates for acupuncture than medication (Yang 2005, Chen 2007, Song 2008), but these studies may not be of a high quality. In the West, clinical trials on acupuncture for natural fertility (i.e. not as an adjunct to assisted conception) are almost non-existent, though there is a small amount of positive evidence (Gerhard 1992, Stener-Victorin 2000, 2008, 2010).
Research has established plausible mechanisms to explain how acupuncture may benefit fertility:
regulating fertility hormones - stress and other factors can disrupt the function of the hypothalamic pituitary-ovarian axis (HPOA), causing hormonal imbalances that can negatively impact fertility. Acupuncture has been shown to affect hormone levels by promoting the release of beta-endorphin in the brain, which affects the release of gonadotrophin releasing hormone by the hypothalamus, follicle stimulating hormone from the pituitary gland, and oestrogen and progesterone levels from the ovary (Ng 2008, Huang 2008, Lim 2010, Stener-Victorin 2010). Further details of these processes are emerging, for example mRNA expression of hormones, growth factors and other neuropeptides (He 2009)
increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs - stress also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which causes constriction of ovarian arteries. Acupuncture inhibits this sympathetic activity, improving blood flow to the ovaries (Stener-Victorin 2006, Lim 2010), enhancing the environment in which ovarian follicles develop. It also increases blood flow to the uterus (Stener-Victorin 1996, Huang 2008), improving the thickness of the endometrial lining and increasing the chances of embryo implantation.
counteracting the effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) - PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility. By reducing sympathetic nerve activity and balancing hormone levels, acupuncture has been shown to reduce the number of ovarian cysts, stimulate ovulation, enhance blastocyst implantation and regulate the menstrual cycle in women with PCOS (Stener-Victorin 2000, 2008, 2009, Zhang 2009). It may also help to control secondary effects such as obesity and anorexia (Lim 2010). (Source: BAcC Factsheet on Female Fertility. Last modified on Wednesday, 04 February 2015)