How Can Acupuncture Help IVF Success Rates?
Despite your best efforts, building a family sometimes requires outside help. Maybe you are not ovulating or your partner’s sperm numbers are low. Whatever the reasons, you aren’t alone. Many other European women will seek fertility treatment during their reproductive years, and surveys suggest one-half add acupuncture to support their conventional treatments.
1. Acupuncture improves blood flow.
One of the first orders of business in supporting reproduction is to ensure your reproductive organs are receiving adequate nourishment. Stress and/or aging can lead to a decline in blood flow to the uterus and ovaries. Acupuncture can increase blood flow by slowing down the nervous system (central sympathetic nervous system) which then causes the blood vessels to dilate. When the vessels dilate, they release a flood of nutrient dense blood to the ovaries and uterus. Increased ovarian blood flow may help with response to fertility medications. Increased uterine blood flow ensures a thick uterine lining and sets up an ideal environment for implantation. Better response, better eggs, better lining.
2. Acupuncture reduces stress.
Couples undergoing fertility treatments experience immense amounts of stress. It is a common reason for stopping treatment altogether. Acupuncture can help reduce the stress. Research shows that when needles are placed in the skin, the body releases its own natural pain killers (endorphins). Endorphins are responsible for the relaxed feeling one gets after a session. It causes your muscles to relax, your breathing to slow, and your mind to calm. This blissful benefit from acupuncture was cited by IVF patients as helping them feel more relaxed during their fertility treatment, and as a result, also feel more “in control.”
The ultimate goal is to have a healthy mother and baby and to give yourself the best chance of success. The acupuncture and IVF research is a little confusing, even after consulting two of the larger analyses, from Mannheimer, and Cheong, respectively. In some studies, acupuncture performed on the day the embryo is placed back in the uterus improved pregnancy rates when compared to a control, while in other studies investigators saw no difference in pregnancy rates. How can we explain this? I think we are looking at the wrong “dose” of acupuncture. Just like the amount of gonadotropins is important to ensuring egg development, so is the dose of acupuncture.
If you are interested in adding acupuncture to your IVF cycle, ask your doctor for a referral. If your doctor doesn’t have a referral or you have your own, ask your acupuncturist about their level of training and experience in treating fertility patients. They should be able to describe their cases and successes with you, and if they have not established a relationship with your doctor, they should be willing to do so.
At your initial acupuncture consultation, you can expect a review of your medical history including your blood work and tests, gynecological history, review of your partner’s sperm analysis, an interview including a thorough review of systems, and physical exams that include observing the tongue and palpating the wrist pulses. Chinese medicine practitioners will evaluate you based on the system of Chinese medicine and a treatment plan will be made. You can start treatment anytime, but at a minimum, start acupuncture treatment during suppression for the best outcomes.