Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in Chinese Medicine to treat a variety of medical conditions, including infertility. The insertion of thin needles at specific points in the body, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), helps to improve patterns of energy flow, or Qi (pronounced Chee). This improved energy flow is theorized to improve medical conditions that are felt to have their origins in disruption of optimal energy flow. From the western medical perspective, acupuncture may have several defined mechanisms for its action, including increase in endorphins and other brain hormones, which can help to improve ovulation as well as to decrease stress and pain. Acupuncture may have also peripheral effects in the body, with blood vessel dilation and decreased resistance to blood flow, leading to improved blood flow to the ovaries and uterine endometrial lining.
Acupuncture and Ovulation
Several research studies have demonstrated the effective of acupuncture in the treatment of ovulation Acupuncture can favorably influence reproductive hormones, including GnRH, FSH, LH, Estradiol and Progesterone. One study from the University of Heidelberg in Germany showed improved ovulation in 45 women with ovulatory infertility. Electroacupuncture was used by another group for ovulation induction in 24 women with irregular periods and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), with ovulation rates improved from 15 to 66% after three months of treatment.
Acupuncture and In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
Several research studies have demonstrated improved success when acupuncture is used in conjunction with IVF. In one randomized study by Paulus 7 , 160 women were treated with IVF alone or IVF with acupuncture at the time of embryo transfer. The clinical pregnancy rate of was 42. 5 % in the acupuncture group vs. 26.3% in the non-acupuncture group. In the study by Westergaard 8 , significantly improved success was shown when acupuncture was performed on the day of embryo transfer. In this study, among 182 women undergoing IVF, those who had acupuncture had clinical and ongoing pregnancy rates of 39% and 36%, vs. 26% and 22%, respectively, compared to those who did not receive acupuncture. A meta- analysis, or combined research study that pools several studies to increase the numbers of subjects , also demonstrated improved IVF outcome when 23 studies, or a total of 5807 subjects, were reviewed.
Acupuncture and Stress
Given the emotional roller coaster that is infertility, any intervention that can help alleviate the stress factor in infertility can be beneficial for improved outcomes. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce physical and emotional stress as well as for the treatment of anxiety and depression.
Acupuncture should be considered as a complementary approach to aid in the treatment of infertility. Through the incorporation of acupuncture into patient treatment, a comprehensive, East Meets West and Mind-Body approach can be utilized to improve outcomes and optimize the journey to success.