Some of the best health results from the combination of Eastern and Western medicine. Fertility is no exception, and when combined with the Western idea of in vitro fertilization (IVF), Oriental acupuncture can increase chances of pregnancy. Some studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can affect the levels of pituitary and ovarian hormones, which can increase chances of pregnancy. Also, electro-acupuncture (the application of a pulsating electrical current to acupuncture needles as a means of stimulating one's "qi," or life force) has been shown to improve blood flow in the uterine arteries of infertile women.
Acupuncture is widely known for its ability to induce relaxation. Infertility can be extremely grueling; it often leads to stress and other intense emotions. This can be a vicious cycle for some women, stress can inhibit pregnancy; when the body is relaxed, it functions better. The feeling of well-being provided by acupuncture can serve to relax the muscles of the uterus. If the uterus is in a relaxed state at the time of the IVF embryo transfer, it is less likely to produce contractions that could push the transferred embryo away from fertilization. Acupuncture also improves blood circulation to the ovaries, which will boost the health of the eggs, as well as the uterus, which will increase the lining and make it strong enough to carry eggs full term.
By providing better circulation and blood flow to the womb, acupuncture will give the eggs a better chance to be nourished and supported throughout the pregnancy. The best results can be achieved from acupuncture when it is practiced regularly. Rather than a quick fix, it should be viewed as a lifestyle change, like eating healthy, or regular exercise. Studies indicate that receiving acupuncture treatments about 30 minutes before and after in vitro fertilization can increase the chances that the embryo will be successfully implanted, and can also reduce the risk of miscarriage.
Studies published in the British Medical Journal in 2007 tested 1,366 women in four Western countries. Some of these women were given traditional acupuncture before and after in vitro fertilization, and for comparison, others were given sham acupuncture or no acupuncture. The women who received acupuncture before and after IVF had a 65 percent increase in pregnancies than the control group, and the rates of live births were nearly twice as high than the women given sham or no acupuncture.
IVF drugs and the in vitro procedure itself are thought to be more effective if acupuncture is done once a week in the two months prior to the beginning of IVF treatment, as well as continued regularly at least once a week during IVF treatment. A German study, published in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility tested 160 women, giving 80 of them acupuncture with their IVF treatments. The results were significant: "The analysis shows that the pregnancy rate for the acupuncture group is considerably higher than for the control group (42.5% vs. 26.3%)."
Another benefit of acupuncture is that it is affordable, and is gaining increasing coverage by health insurance plans. In vitro fertilization can cost up to 20,000 dollars, and is often not covered by insurance. Prices in acupuncture range, but are usually between 30 and 150 dollars. Using these two practices in conjunction may be women's best fertility option to date. It is exciting to be able to reap the benefits of two worlds, both ancient and innovative.
Fertility and Sterility. Vol. 77, NO. 4, April 2002.
Hitti, Miranda, Acupuncture for In Vitro Fertilization? Medicinenet.com
University of Maryland Researchers Find Benefit of Acupuncture for In Vitro Fertilization, British Medical Journal. University of Maryland Medical Center