- Fertility Overview
- How can Chinese Medicine Help with Fertility?
- What Fertility Issues does Chinese Medicine Treat?
- How Does Stress Affect Fertility?
- FAQ: Acupuncture Treatment for Infertility
- How Does Chinese Medicine Work with IUI and IVF?
- Does Chinese Medicine Treat Male Fertility?
- Is There Anything Else I can do to Improve my Fertility?
- Should I continue Treatment if I get Pregnant?
- Recommended Reading & Links
- Patient Experiences
- Patient Experiences - IUI & IVF
In the United States, approximately 9 million people are currently having difficulty trying to conceive. There is a one in eight chance that either you or someone you know is affected by fertility problems.
For women under age 35, infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of actively trying. For women age 35 and over, infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after six months of actively trying. Infertility also includes the inability to carry pregnancies to term (recurrent miscarriages).
Even when there are no diagnosed fertility issues, pregnancy does not always occur easily. For women under age 30 with no fertility problems, the chance of becoming pregnant in one cycle is 20-30% - on average, women in their 20s become pregnant every 3-4 cycles. For couples in their 30s without fertility problems, the average time it takes to become pregnant is 5-6 cycles. For women over 40 with no fertility problems, the chance of becoming pregnant in one cycle is approximately 5%. When fertility problems are added to this equation, months of trying to conceive can turn into years of frustration.
And women are not the only ones suffering from fertility issues - infertility is a couple's issue. Recent research shows that 35-45% of all cases are due to female fertility problems, 15-35% are due to male fertility factors, 15-25% are a combination of male and female problems, and 10-20% of all cases are identified as unexplained.
How can Chinese Medicine Help with Fertility?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been used to treat fertility problems for over 3,000 years. TCM works to enhance fertility by restoring balance to the body and the internal systems responsible for regulating hormones. Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York have concluded that acupuncture:
- Increases blood flow to the uterus, thus thickening the uterine lining, which improves the chances of an ovum implanting on the uterine wall.
- Reduces anxiety, stress, and hormones secreted during stressful situations - such as cortisol - which significantly decreases fertility (see section on Stress below).
- Normalizes the systems that regulate ovulation, especially in women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
- Positively affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, which plays a major role in fertility.
- Regulates the menstrual cycles.
Several studies of Chinese herbal treatments to correct Luteal Phase Defect produced pregnancy rates from 33-56%, far greater than success rates achieved with Western medical treatments. In addition, studies show that acupuncture can improve the concentration, volume, and motility of sperm (see Male Fertility section below).
What Fertility Issues does Chinese Medicine Treat?
TCM can help with a wide range of fertility problems, including:
- Advanced Maternal Age
- Autoimmune conditions
- Cervical mucus issues
- Endocrine imbalances
- Elevated FSH
- Fallopian tube blockage (mild to moderate)
- Immunology factors
- Luteal Phase Defect
- Male factors
- Menstrual irregularities
- Ovarian cysts and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Ovulation factors (including annovulation)
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- Premature ovarian failure/poor ovarian reserve
- Recurrent miscarriages
- Thin uterine lining
- Thyroid problems
- Unexplained Infertility
How Does Stress Affect Fertility?
Our body's biochemical response to stress has a major effect on the reproductive system. Whether due to a major event or just the constant stressors of daily life, stress puts our body into "fight or flight" mode. This reaction to stress increases our levels of adrenaline, which inhibits our ability to use progesterone, one of the key hormones in reproduction. It increases levels of cortisol, which inhibits implantation of the fertilized egg. It also increases levels of prolactin, which inhibits fertility by decreasing or halting ovulation. Additionally, a hyper-stimulated nervous system sends blood away from the uterus and ovaries to the essential organs, thus lessening the overall function of our reproductive system.
In 2001, a study at the University of San Diego, California, examined the success rates of women undergoing Western fertility treatments. The study concluded the women with higher rates of stress were 93% less likely to become pregnant and achieve a live birth.
TCM is an effective way to reduce stress and rebalance the systems that stress affects. Acupuncture releases endorphins and serotonin, which have a calming effect on the body. These chemicals decrease the physical symptoms of stress by reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and relaxing the muscles. Acupuncture also improves blood circulation throughout the body, which oxygenates tissues and cycles out cortisol and other damaging chemicals. Most importantly, acupuncture has been shown to rebalance the sympathetic nervous system and the endocrine system, thereby regulating the reproductive hormones that stress negatively affects.
How Does Chinese Medicine Work with IUI and IVF?
TCM is a wonderful and highly effective compliment to your Western fertility treatments. Acupuncture reduces the stress associated with assisted reproductive technologies (ART), and therefore reduces the negative effects that stress has on the hormones related to reproduction. Acupuncture also strengthens and supports your body so that your Western fertility treatments are more effective. Most impressive are recent studies showing that acupuncture can significantly increase the success rates of ART. This is very important, as the success rates for ART are not generally high. For example, national data indicates that IVF works 33% of the time for women age 30 and under, 29% of the time for women in their mid-30s, and 5-15% of the time for women age 40. On average, women go through three to seven cycles of ART before they either conceive or stop trying. A women's response to ART depends on the state of her endocrine health in the months preceding ART, when follicles are developing in the ovary - this is why it is important to start your TCM treatments in advance of your Western treatments, if possible.
The most well known study of acupuncture and ART was a German study published in the April 2002 issue of Fertility and Sterility. This study showed that using acupuncture on the same day as IVF embryo transfer, both before and after the transfer, increased the success rate to 42.5% - the success rate for the group not receiving acupuncture was 26.3%. A more recent study conducted in Denmark in 2006 evaluated the effect of acupuncture on patients undergoing IVF with ICSI. Acupuncture was performed on the same day as embryo transfer, both before and after the transfer. The group receiving acupuncture had significantly higher conception and ongoing pregnancy rates, at 39%, than the group which did not receive acupuncture, whose success rate was less than 20%.
In reality, however, acupuncture is not an easy "quick fix" for IVF as these studies would suggest. Acupuncture and Chinese herb effects are cumulative and treat the root causes of infertility, so a before/after transfer treatment is only a small part of the whole acupuncture protocol for IVF (please see Acupuncture Treatment for Infertility, for more information).
Description of Acupuncture Treatment for Infertility
Read about what you can expect and common questions about acupuncture treatment for infertility: when should I start, how long do I need to continue, do I need herbs, what about when I get pregnant - should I continue?
How Does Chinese Medicine Treat Male Fertility Issues?
Male factors account for approximately 40% of all fertility problems. Learn about acupuncture treatment for male infertility.
Is There Anything Else I can do to Improve my Fertility?
There are many things that you can do for yourself to improve your reproductive health. In fact, the more active role you take in improving your fertility, the better your chances are for achieving pregnancy. As part of your customized treatment plan, Cindi will recommend dietary and lifestyle changes that can have a significant impact on your fertility. If appropriate, she will also teach you self-care measures, such as moxabustion, abdominal massage, and breathing techniques. Making the recommended diet and lifestyle changes and doing these self-care measures at home will compliment your TCM treatments and help bring your body back to optimal reproductive health.
Should I Continue Treatment if I get Pregnant?
Fertility means more than achieving pregnancy - once pregnant, your body needs to be able to nurture and support a pregnancy for nine months. Acupuncture has been shown to increase the rate of ongoing pregnancies, especially for those undergoing ART. In addition, well-pregnancy care can help with the common complaints of pregnancy and ensure an easier labor and delivery. For more information on acupuncture during pregnancy, please see the Pregnancy page.
- Is Your Body Baby-Friendly? , by Allan Beer, M.D.
- Natural Solutions to Infertility , by Marilyn Glenville
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler
- The Infertility Cure, by Randine Lewis
- The Tao of Fertility, by Daoshing Ni
- Acufinder.com: Infertility articles
- Babyhopes: Conception & Pregnancy articles
- Fertilityfriend.com: BBT Charting
- Fertility Plus: Articles on Trying to Conceive
- IHR: Infertility Resources
- RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association
- The American Fertility Association
- San Jose Area IVF Clinics
- Alan E. Beer Center for Reproductive Immunology & Genetics
- The Turek Clinic: Specializing in Men's Reproductive Health
- Yoga for Optimal Fertility (DVD)
- Circle+Bloom: Audio Meditations for Fertility
- Pre-Seed Lubricant