What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a complementary medical practice whereby certain points of a subject’s body are stimulated, most commonly with a needle penetrating the skin, to alleviate pain or to help treat a number of health conditions.
Can Acupuncture help with fertility?
Acupuncture (which fits into a broader treatment approach known as Traditional Chinese medicine or TCM) has a proven record of improving fertility, both in China over many hundreds of years and more recently in the west. Medical studies have provided evidence that acupuncture can enhance physiological processes relating to reproduction and fertility and improve IVF success rates (by 42.5% according to Fertility and Sterility, a peer-reviewed journal). For the 3 million Australians experiencing infertility each year, acupuncture may be just what the doctor ordered.
How does Acupuncture work for fertility?
“Acupuncture helps to balance the endocrine system and increase blood flow to the reproductive organs, nourishing follicles and creating a healthy endometrium” says Renee Boyd, Chinese Medicine Practitioner and fertility acupuncturist at Darling Street Health, Balmain. “Acupuncture can also reduce inflammatory responses, critical for those with PCOS and endometriosis, while generally alleviating levels of stress in the body.”
For many of us living and working in the modern world with busy lifestyles, challenging deadlines and high-pressure jobs, stress is a part of life. Difficulties in conceiving can heighten stress levels, and like a cruel vicious cycle, negatively impact on your reproductive health. According to Boyd, there is a delicate balance between the hypothalamus, pituitary and reproductive glands. “Elevated stress chemicals and hormones, such as cortisol, can alter hormone levels and disrupt the pituitary balance that is key to the reproductive cycle. This can contribute to ovulatory dysfunction and suppression, reduced sperm count and sperm motility in men and lowered libido in both men and women.”
“Some researchers have suggested stress may also cause spasms of the fallopian tubes and the uterine muscles, interfering with fertilisation and implantation of the embryo. High levels of cortisol have also been linked to increased markers of inflammatory processes, which may further affect implantation”.
It seems that IVF success rates have also been impacted by stress. Studies have shown that women with elevated levels of adrenalin have less success with IVF and significantly lower implantation rates. Whilst stress alone won’t be the only cause of a failed IVF cycle, it seems reasonable that lowering stress levels would only be beneficial when trying to conceive.
Acupuncture is excellent at reducing stress and the negative impacts on your health. As explained by Boyd, “research shows acupuncture has the ability to raise endorphin levels and reduce adrenalin and cortisol levels. This allows the body and mind to relax and slows down the nervous system. A session of acupuncture leaves you feeling calm and relaxed, which helps to balance the endocrine system and reproductive hormones, and allows the body to be in a reproductive-friendly state”. Furthermore, “calming the nervous system dilates blood vessels to the ovaries and uterus which may help improve egg quality by improving delivery of nutrition and oxygen to the follicles (or fertility medications in some case), and assist in creating a thick, nourished uterine lining, an ideal environment for implantation.”
Changing your body chemistry can take time, especially if you are prone to being a workaholic, so Boyd suggests a series of treatments when trying to conceive or during an IVF cycle. “The ultimate goal of a fertility treatment from a Chinese Medicine perspective is a to have a healthy baby and healthy mother and Chinese Medicine can help not only with conception but by providing valuable support through this important stage in a woman’s life, both emotionally and physically.”
If acupuncture sounds like something you would like to try, seek a qualified acupuncturist, ideally one with experience in fertility and reproductive medicine. Your GP or fertility specialist may be able to recommend a suitable practitioner. In Australia, look for an acupuncturist who is registered with AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) and a reputable national professional association such as the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA).
Renee Boyd BHSc (TCM) is a highly qualified and experienced acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine herbalist, specialising in women’s health, natural fertility and pregnancy support. She is an accredited member of AACMA and a registered member of the Chinese Medicine Board.Tags: fertility, tcm, ttc