Even though I was diagnosed with poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) when I was just 21, the reality of infertility never really hit me until my husband and I were ready to start a family nearly a decade later. After more tests than I care to remember, four failed attempts at inter-uterine insemination, and one early miscarriage, we found ourselves in the office of a fertility specialist considering in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Six months and two failed IVF transfers later, we were back in that same office discussing options for the transfer of two embryos we had been lucky enough to freeze after my first IVF cycle. We had already unsuccessfully transferred four top-graded embryos. We were exhausted, physically, emotionally, and financially. We decided to take a few months off to regroup before trying again, and in the meantime, our doctor suggested IVF acupuncture.
In Chinese medicine, the practice of using of acupuncture to treat infertility dates back to the 11AD. Infertility has many different causes, many of which are treatable with acupuncture. By helping to restore the proper balance of reproductive hormones, acupuncture can be used to treat conditions such as recurrent miscarriage, PCOS, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, luteal phase defect, and hyperprolactimenia, just to name a few. Women trying to conceive after the age of 40 can benefit greatly from acupuncture as well, since it has been shown to improve vitality and overall health, including reproductive health.
Other causes of infertility cannot be treated with acupuncture alone. For example, if your tubes are blocked or you have tubal adhesions caused by pelvic inflammatory disease, acupuncture cannot resolve these issues and IVF is indicated. Whatever the reason why a patient decides to pursue IVF, acupuncture is still beneficial.
Acupuncture Before Embryo Transfer
Acupuncture works by stimulating the body´s meridians or energy channels. Western doctors believe that acupuncture works by stimulating the central nervous system. Whatever the mechanism, IVF acupuncture increases blood flow to reproductive organs in addition to helping balance reproductive hormones. During the ovarian stimulation phase of IVF, increased blood flow to the reproductive organs is thought to help promote follicular growth and improve egg quality. Increased local blood flow to the may also promote the thickening of the endometrium. Ultrasound studies have also shown that IVF acupuncture increases uterine blood flow, thereby improving implantation potential.
In addition to the physiological benefits of IVF acupuncture, women who undergo acupuncture during IVF also benefit from relaxation and stress-relief. Going through fertility treatments is not an easy journey. It is a journey fraught with worries over finances, cycles of hope and disappointment and powerful hormonal medications. Acupuncture is an effective tool for treating anxiety. It raises endorphin levels and lowers stress hormones. Patients going who undergo acupuncture while doing fertility treatments have been shown to manage their stress levels better.
Though research is still preliminary, it suggests that undergoing acupuncture during IVF increases conception rates. Whether due to increased blood flow to the reproductive organs, achieving a better balance of reproductive hormones, relieving stress, or a combination of these factors, acupuncture is a powerful tool that can contribute to the success of IVF treatments.