Can acupuncture play a role in IVF treatment, infertility and pregnancy?

Moving from an ancient Oriental practice to science-supported modern mainstream medicine, acupuncture offers a range of health benefits for women, particularly around fertility and pregnancy.

Acupuncture has been around for over 2000 years. A non-invasive gentle therapy, it has a wide range of benefits with minimal side effects. It’s been used to help treat everything from chronic pain, migraines and sports injuries to female infertility.

Originating in China, the therapy was created on the belief that our bodies have energy channels called ‘meridians’. These energy channels could become imbalanced due to diet, stress or environmental factors. The imbalances would then manifest as a range of physical and mental illnesses. To balance your Qi (‘chi’), small sterile needles were strategically inserted into energy points, relieving blockages and allowing qi to flow freely.

Modern science has thoroughly tested acupuncture and for a range of ailments has found that in many instances it can be as effective as conventional medicine. In some cases, the outcomes for acupuncture have been better than modern medicine, particularly when used in conjunction with other therapies or lifestyle changes.

How does acupuncture work?

It’s theorised that the needles trigger release of our body’s natural painkillers and endorphins. These combine to change the way that the body interprets pain signals, offering relief from pain, stress and anxiety. It normalises blood flow, causing vasodilation or vasoconstriction as required.

Acupuncture and infertility

Infertility can be caused by a range of hereditary and environmental factors. PCOS, endometriosis, chronic illness, pelvic inflammatory disease and previous infections or internal scarring can all decrease the likelihood of a successful conception. The stress caused by non-conception further decreases the likelihood of falling pregnant. An old Chinese proverb states that the person who has never tasted bitter does not know what is sweet. This is especially true for those suffering from infertility, when you finally hold your baby that you have wanted for so long.

He who has never tasted bitter does not know what is sweet’. – Chinese proverb

Combined with positive lifestyle changes, acupuncture assists in conception. Studies have shown that acupuncture increases uterine blood flow. It dilates blood vessels which allow blood to flow smoothly, reducing swelling and inflammation which goes on to increase implantation rates[1]. The increased blood flow helps to restore regular ovulation, decreasing androgen levels and better regulating ovarian blood flow.

IVF and acupuncture

A 2002 German study showed that patients undergoing IVF were more likely to get pregnant if they were also receiving acupuncture treatments. 42.5% of patients conceived, in comparison to only 26.3% of the control group.

The increased blood flow in the ovaries and uterus are the reason for this. This combined with less stress and cortisol increases the likelihood of the uterus producing the triple-line pattern endometrial lining which increases uterine receptivity.

If you are undergoing IVF, speak to your local acupuncture clinic about   planning a series of treatment to increase your chances of conception. IVF is an expensive, stressful and challenging process. Using acupuncture as a complementary therapy can increase your chances of success. The patient-practitioner relationship is just as important as the needle placement, so choose your provider wisely.

Pregnancy and acupuncture

An expectant mother carefully carries her precious baby, providing a safe and nurturing environment that is essential for growing a healthy baby. Pregnancy can be challenging for many and acupuncture is a safe way of managing problems and optimising the mother’s health.

Morning sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum can be debilitating and exhausting. Acupuncture offers relief in controlling nausea and vomiting. Another common side effect from pregnancy is back and neck pain. The weight of your baby pushes down and forward on the pelvis which can create a range of alignment and pain problems.

Stress and depression are common before, during and post- pregnancy. Stress and depression are a factor in infertility, contributing a 29% reduction in conception chances. While pregnant, high stress and depression leads to increased cortisol which results in a lower birth weight. In order to help minimise the effects of stress and depression, acupuncture can be used to manage and offer relief from stress, lowering cortisol and creating a healthier environment for conception, pregnancy, and the post-birth period.

As Angelique from Acupuncture Health in Auckland says, “it may seem like a contradiction, but lying on a bed with needles is actually deeply relaxing!”

About Angelique Kingsley-Smith

Angelique Kingsley-Smith is the head of Acupuncture Health – offering Chinese acupuncture to residents of Grey Lynn, Auckland and beyond. She has a Bachelor of Health Science with a degree in Chinese Medicine and a Diploma in Nursing (NZRN), is a member of the NZ Register of Acupuncturists and an ACC provider. Angelique believes that acupuncture is a way of life – it doesn’t work miracles or cure illness through mystical means, but rather helps people tap into mind, body and emotion.

References:
[1] The use of transvaginal color flow imaging after in vitro fertilization to identify optimum uterine conditions before embryo transfer. Fertility and Sterility Vol. 57, no. February 1992 Steer, C.S, Campbell S., Tan S. L., Crayford T., Mills, C., Mason, B. A., Collins W. P.

[2] Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy Fertility & Sterility Journal April 2002 Volume 77, Issue 4 Paulus W. E., Zhang, M., Strehler E., El-Danasouri, I., Sterzik, K.