Acupuncture is becoming more and more popular amongst patients having fertility treatment. It is most commonly used for its general benefits to patients and is also used more specifically for patients having IVF, where treatments shortly before and after embryo transfer are desired.
Traditional acupuncture is a well-known form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which has been used in China and other eastern cultures for over 2000 years to restore, promote and maintain good health. In the UK acupuncture now features prominently in mainstream medicine and its benefits are widely acknowledged worldwide. It works on the principles that fine needles inserted into the body can remove blockages that have occurred, and can thus restore the individual to full health and vitality. From a biomedical viewpoint, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system, influencing the production of the body’s hormones and neurotransmitters. The resulting changes activate the body’s self-regulating homeostatic systems, stimulating its natural healing abilities and promoting physical and emotional wellbeing (BAC Fact Sheet, 2011).
Many couples are increasingly turning to traditional acupuncture to help with conception, and this includes the treatment of both men and women. In women, studies show that acupuncture can regulate the menstrual cycle and promote ovulation by controlling hormonal imbalances, increasing ovarian and uterine blood flow and endometrial thickness and reducing stress levels, thus helping to increase the chance of conception (Zheng et al, 2012). In men, traditional acupuncture treatment has been shown to influence the quality and quantity of male sperm, improving motility and sperm count (Pei et al, 2005).
Studies have also shown that acupuncture can counteract the effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which 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 (Zhang 2009). It may also help to control secondary effects such as obesity and anorexia (Lim 2010).
If couples do choose to have assisted conception, many seek out acupuncture as a supportive treatment alongside assisted reproductive technology such as IVF and ICSI. Wolfgang Paulus conducted a randomised control trial in 2002 in which the pregnancy rate for those patients receiving acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer was 34 out of 80 patients (42.5%) whereas pregnancy rates in the patients receiving no acupuncture was 21 out of 80 patients (26.3%)
Individuals may find it beneficial to receive acupuncture up to 3 months prior to undergoing IVF treatment, to bring the body back into alignment and to assist with stress reduction. It is also recommended that patients use acupuncture before and after embryo transfer to assist with implantation.
Please find some information below from Melanie Hackwell, who is a local therapist based in Balham.
If you are looking to undergo acupuncture treatment, you may have a few questions about what is involved so I am hoping this will help you to answer these questions:
What is Acupuncture?
Chinese Medicine theory is based on the healthy functioning of the body being governed by the flow of “Qi” (or energy) through a system of channels (or meridians) under the skin. When this flow of qi becomes blocked, illness occurs. When acupuncture is performed, fine needles are inserted at various points along the channels and the body’s balance can be restored and the illness is resolved.
What to Expect
The practitioner will conduct a detailed case history of the patient using Chinese Medicine theory, in order to gain background into how the illness arose, what patterns are evident, looking at the tongue and take the pulse, and make a diagnosis. Based on that diagnosis, they will put a set of acupuncture points together to use to assist with restoring health and balance to the patient. They may also use a herb called moxa to warm a certain area of the patient’s body and will also make various lifestyle and diet suggestions.
Does it Hurt?
When done correctly it does not hurt but the patient may feel a sensation such as a dull ache.
There may occasionally be some bruising in certain areas, or the patient may feel tired after treatment (especially with the first treatment). This does not last long and the patient normally feels refreshed the day or two days after treatment.
How Many Sessions Will I Need?
This is a question that is very difficult to answer until a detailed case history is conducted and the practitioner sees how the patient responds. I generally tell patients that I need about 3 months to clear any underlying issues that I can see.
I only practice acupuncture for Fertility and Women’s Health. I have been practicing this speciality for 10 years and hold a BSc in Acupuncture, as well as receiving clinical training in China, and extensive post graduate training in Fertility. I am currently working on my Advanced Level Diploma in Fertility Acupuncture. I am a member of the British Acupuncture Council and the Acupuncture Fertility Network.
One of the most important aspects to be aware of is that I was once sitting where you are today. I am fully versed with the pain and intense emotions that go along with trying to conceive. A large amount of empathy is given to my patients which I feel is essential in the healing process.
What to expect when you have a treatment with me?
Like all acupuncturists, I will conduct a detailed case history. However, with Fertility Acupuncture I will also delve into the immune system in great detail along with any previous illnesses one may have experienced, as well as vaginal microbiome history.
Increasingly, due to various environmental factors, I am seeing more and more men requiring treatment and I have post graduate experience in male factor fertility.
I will also give you an honest opinion of how long I feel treatment will be required. I do however ask that you give me time to tackle the underlying issues that I see on a daily basis. In order to have the best results, I will need to see you regularly for a period of months. I will often have people approach me a week before starting fertility treatment. While I am happy to help and the acupuncture will provide relief from the stress that a patient is under, more time is required to clear the underlying issues that I see so often in clinic and to work on egg quality and/or semen production.
I am delighted to have a chat with anyone who needs more information or just so we get to know one another. I feel it is so important to build a close relationship to my patients so they trust in the support and advice that I give them.
Contact Melanie here on her website directly to make an appointment or to find out more.
British Acupuncture Council Fact Sheet, 2011
Paulus, W. (2002) ‘Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy’ Fertility and Sterility , 77(4) Amsterdam: Elsevier Science
Pei, J., Strehler, E., Noss, U., Abt, M., Piomboni, P., Baccetti, B., Sterzik, K., (2005) ‘Quantitative evaluation of spermatozoa ultra structure after acupuncture treatment for idiopathic male infertility’ Fertility and Sterility 84(1) [Online] Available at: http://www.allisoncrawford.com/AcupunctureAndSpermQuality.pdf
Zhang WY, Huang GY, Liu J. [Influences of acupuncture on infertility of rats with polycystic ovarian syndrome] [in Chinese] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2009 Nov;29(11):997-1000.
Zheng, C.H., Huang, G.Y., Zhang M.M., Wang, W. (2012) ‘Effects of acupuncture on pregnancy rates in women undergoing in vitro fertilization: a systematic review and meta-analysis’ Fertility and Sterility 97(3) Philadelphia: Elsevier Publishing
Lim CE, Wong WS. Current evidence of acupuncture on polycystic ovarian syndrome.Gynecol Endocrinol. 2010 Mar 16.
Stener-Victorin E, Wu X. Effects and mechanisms of acupuncture in the reproductive system. Auton Neurosci. 2010 Mar 27. [Epub ahead of print]