Acupuncture Support for Assisted Fertility
At Harmony Point Acupuncture in Gainesville, Florida, we use clinical research-based protocols to increase the success rate of assisted fertility procedures, including IVF and IUI. We work closely with physicians at assisted fertility clinics, including UFHealth / Shands at Spring Hill. Acupuncture treatments greatly improve the overall health of both men and women, increasing fertility and the potential for pregnancy whether a couple is seeking assisted fertility or not.
Our patient, Michele Thomas, who became pregnant using acupuncture in conjunction with IVF, commented on the reasonable price of acupuncture treatments when compared to the overall expense of IVF or IUI. She notes,
“It’s all a numbers game and anything you can do to tip the odds in your favor is a plus.”
Modern Research of an Ancient PracticeAcupuncture has traditionally been used to address a wide variety of health issues including fertility for both men and women. Modern scientific research suggests that the physiological response to acupuncture involves opioid receptors in the central nervous system. It has been postulated that these neuropeptides affect the menstrual cycle and ovulation.1
Acupuncture has also been shown to reduce activity of the sympathetic nervous system thereby inducing a more relaxed physiological state that may alter uterine blood flow towards optimal fertility.(1, 2)
Acupuncture is based on a 3000 year-old system of Chinese medicine the practice of which continues in modern China and has spread to many parts of the world. An acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of very thin needles into key points on the body. These points lie on meridian pathways that direct the flow of “qi” or energy.
Acupuncture and Assisted FertilityPractitioners have begun to use acupuncture in combination with modern methods of assisted fertility. In April of 2002 a German study was published on 160 patients undergoing IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatments. All 80 patients in the acupuncture group received treatments with the same two sets of acupuncture points. One set was administered immediately before the IVF transfer and a second set was administered immediately after this procedure.
The 80 patients treated with acupuncture had a pregnancy rate of 42.5% while only 26.3% of the women in the control group became pregnant. Thus, these two acupuncture treatments increased the IVF pregnancy rate by 16.2%.3 When this Paulus study was repeated by another group in 2006, IVF pregnancy rates were increased by 13%.(4)
Since 2006 more clinical trials of IVF and acupuncture have been conducted. A review and meta-analysis of a large number of acupuncture/IVF studies was published in March of 2012.5 This review of the literature indicates that acupuncture performed at the time of embryo transfer, as well as during the period of ovarian hyperstimulation, has a positive effect on pregnancy rates.
In addition to the research on women a small study indicates improved sperm quality for male patients receiving acupuncture in the context of IVF for their partner.(6)
IUI and IVFFor those patients undergoing IVF or IUI (intrauterine insemination) we perform the two exact protocol treatments from the Paulus and Westergaard studies.3, 4 Each woman receives the first treatment in our office the evening before the IVF transfer or intrauterine insemination (IUI). The woman then returns to our office the next day where the second acupuncture treatment is administered immediately following the IVF or IUI procedure.
Some patients choose to come to us only for these protocol treatments. However, we strongly encourage both the man and the woman in all couples undergoing assisted fertility to receive individualized acupuncture treatment for several months before the final procedure. Acupuncture can help optimize vitality, relieve stress and address side effects of the hormonal medications used in assisted fertility. Unlike the treatments taken from the protocol studies, longer-term treatments involve points chosen according to each patient’s specific differential Chinese medical diagnosis.
Acupuncture for FertilityWhile acupuncture works well in combination with modern assisted fertility methods, we also treat couples who choose to conceive without the assistance of advanced technology. Acupuncture is in all cases an excellent method of preparing for pregnancy, childbirth and the transition into parenting.
Frequently Asked Questions1. When should I begin acupuncture treatment?
You can begin to receive acupuncture at any stage in the assisted fertility process. We encourage all patients to come in as early as they are able. Acupuncture can help relieve the many sources of stress for those dealing with fertility issues. The sooner you begin treatment, the longer we have to use Chinese medicine diagnostics to address your particular situation.
2. What should I expect from my first treatment
We will do an extensive intake of your health history and your current status of fertility workups/treatments. We will look at your tongue, feel your pulse on both wrists, and make a specific Chinese medical diagnosis for your case. Acupuncture points will then be chosen for that particular diagnosis. Needles will be inserted and left for 20 minutes. You may feel slight discomfort from some of the needle insertions. However, once the needles are in place most patients become very relaxed and often fall asleep.
3. How often should I receive treatment?
For women undergoing IVF we would like to see them for the two Paulus/Westergaard3, 4 protocol treatments the night before the embryo transfer and immediately after the transfer the next morning. We also encourage women receiving IUI to come in for this same treatment before and after the IUI procedure if possible. Ideally we would like to see all patients once a week for individual treatments during the assisted fertility workup, while IVF and IUI’s are ongoing, and, for female patients, during pregnancy. However, we realize that maintaining this schedule is not always possible and we will see patients however often they are able to come.
4. Should my male partner be treated?
We encourage male partners to receive treatment along with their female partners. Even if analysis of sperm quality does not reveal abnormalities, we can apply the principles of Chinese medicine to optimize the health of the male partner.
5. How do I deal with scheduling the protocol treatments around the time of IVF/IUI when IVF and IUI treatment times can change at the last minute?
Give us a call as soon as you have an estimated date for your IVF or IUI treatment. We can accommodate most dates including holidays and weekends. Tell us as soon as you hear that your IVF or IUI time has been changed. In most cases we can adjust our schedule.
6. If I have not begun assisted fertility treatment could I still benefit from acupuncture?
Yes, we can address your overall health, including fertility, with Chinese medicine.
7. Is acupuncture treatment only for fertility? What if I have other health issues?
Chinese acupuncture diagnosis is based on an holistic assessment of all symptoms affecting your physical and emotional health. All of these issues will be included in your treatment. For example, if you suffer from migraines, low back pain, anxiety or respiratory allergies we will use Chinese medicine to address those ailments along with fertility treatment.
8. If I have a cold or the flu or an upset stomach should I still come for acupuncture?
Yes! We can use acupuncture points to address these infectious ailments and put you on the road to a faster recovery.
Research References1 Chang et al., Fertility and Sterility 2002, Vol. 78, p. 1149.
2 Ng et al., Fertility and Sterility 2008, Vol. 90, p. 1.
3 Paulus et al., Fertility and Sterility 2002, Vol. 77, p. 721.
4 Westergaard et al., Fertility and Sterility 2006, Vol. 85, p. 1341.
5 Zheng et al., Fertility and Sterility 2012, Vol. 97, p. 599.
6 Zhang et al., J. Huazhong Univ. Sci. Technolog. Med. Sci. 2002, Vol. 22, p. 228.
Links and Resources
Baby Hopes: Acupuncture and its effect on getting pregnant
British Medical Journal, February 2008, Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis
Seven trials with 1366 women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) were included in the meta-analyses. There was little clinical heterogeneity. Trials with sham acupuncture and no adjuvant treatment as controls were pooled for the primary analysis. Complementing the embryo transfer process with acupuncture was associated with significant and clinically relevant improvements in clinical pregnancy.(BMJ, doi:10.1136/bmj.39471.430451.BE, published 7 February 2008)