Acupuncture, Chinese medicine and fertility
Acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular with couples trying to conceive, either naturally or through IVF. We prefer clients to come for treatment in advance of attempting conception or IVF, ideally at least 3 months before. This is especially important for treating male factor problems as it takes several months for the sperm to mature. Also by seeing a client well in advance we can try to assist in preparing the body for IVF and for pregnancy.
Acupuncture appears to have widespread actions in the body and some effects take time to build. Acupuncture generally helps relieve stress, which in itself can have a profound effect on the menstrual cycle and thus fertility. Clients often find acupuncture calming and many enjoy better sleep.
Acupuncture affects the hormone regulating centres in the brain, helping regulate the menstrual cycle. It has also shown beneficial effects in PCOS (Stener-Victorin 2000, Jedel et al 2011), a common cause of fertility problems.
Studies have suggested that acupuncture may help male subfertility (Pei et al 2005, Stener-Victorin 2010) Again it should be started at least three months before IVF to try to optimise semen parameters.
Studies have shown effects on blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, (Stener-Victorin et al 1996, Ho et al 2009) possibly inferring improved endometrial blood flow and increased endometrial thickness (Villahermosa et al, 2013) Acupuncture point stimulation is also thought to help endometrial receptivity so helping implantation (Shuai et al 2015) as well as enhancing egg production and quality (Jin et al 2009, Chen 2009).
The study by Paulus et al in 2002 into the use of acupuncture before and after embryo transfer stimulated a lot of interest in the therapy and several further studies followed (Stener-Victorin and Humaidan 2006). A recent review by Shen et al in 2014 only found evidence benefit when follicular phase treatment was combined with treatment around embryo transfer.
As it is difficult to incorporate a suitable control group within acupuncture studies and given the nature of the intervention, the treatment approach cannot be wholly supported by scientific research. Particularly within IVF, analysis of trials can be challenging (Carr 2014). Additionally, study protocols often do not resemble acupuncture practice in the clinical setting.
In our clinic we use Chinese medicine diagnosis and plan treatment accordingly. Once we make our diagnosis we discuss with the client how we think we can help them. We may discuss herbal medicine in certain situations e.g. in the treatment of endometriosis and some types of male subfertility. We may incorporate moxibustion and we often use massage as part of the treatment. Diet and lifestyle are discussed, in accordance with the principles of Chinese medicine.
As practitioners of Chinese medicine we continue to offer ongoing support through pregnancy for those who wish to continue with treatment.
The Chinese Medicine Clinic at H & Wei Chinese Medicine, 76 Bell Street, Dundee, DD1 1HF
© The Chinese Medicine Clinic. All rights reserved