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Can Acupuncture Treat Infertility?

by Alexa Gilmore, LAc, MAcOM

In short, a resounding yes!

Statistics show that one in five couples over the age of 30 have difficulty conceiving after one year of trying. Many of these couples turn to acupuncture and Chinese medicine for a safe, effective and natural solution to having a baby.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine has a long history when it comes to enhancing reproductive health and fertility for both men and women.  In fact, evidence that acupuncture and herbal medicine have been used to aid fertility can be found in early medical literature dating back to 3 AD.  Fast forward to modern times, and the practitioner of Chinese medicine has almost two thousand years of refined theory to draw from in the use of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and diet and lifestyle recommendations to support people in all aspects of their reproductive health.  Modern research has begun to catch on, and studies confirm what we already knew: that acupuncture is capable of significantly enhancing fertility.  Research[i] has found that acupuncture can:

In women
-increase blood supply to the uterus and ovaries
-improve the function of the ovaries to produce better quality eggs
-increase the thickness of the uterine lining for improved implantation
-regulate the hormones directly involved in follicle development and implantation

In men
-increase sperm motility and reduce the presence of abnormal sperm

In IVF/IUI treatments
-increase pregnancy rates when used prior to and post embryo transfer
-decrease side effects of drugs used in IVF and IUI treatments
-improve semen to create better quality and quantity of embryos

In general
-relax patients and decrease stress levels
-decrease the chances of miscarriage, improve live-birth rates
-strengthen the  immune system
-improve overall health and well-being

Acupuncture, Fertility, and a Well-Regulated Menstrual Cycle

For a woman with few symptoms or health complaints, acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be an opportunity to prepare for conception by optimizing her health.  Regular treatments will alleviate stress, fine-tune and balance her body, and support her reproductive health through the different phases her menstrual cycle—the shedding of the uterine lining, building it back up, ovulation, and preparing for implantation.  We prepare the body for the very important job of growing a human!  For those women with specific health problems, we can provide more focused treatment.  Depending on the case, acupuncture and herbs may be used as a primary treatment or in conjunction with western fertility treatments.

Where do we start?  A healthy conception and pregnancy begins with a healthy menstrual cycle.  We want to see evidence that your hormones are well-regulated.  This means a regular 28-30 day cycle with good quality fertile mucus, pain-free ovulation, no pre-menstrual symptoms, and a pain-free period with bleeding that is neither too heavy nor too scanty and that resolves in an efficient manner (3-5 days).

Heavy bleeding, lengthy bleeding, frequent bleeding, no bleeding, mid-cycle bleeding, skipped cycles, long cycles, short cycles, painful ovulation, painful menstrual cramps, pre-menstrual bloat, breast tenderness, pre-menstrual mood changes—all of these menstrual symptoms tell us that your hormones are not optimally balanced.  The most common western treatment for these symptoms is the birth control pill.  The pill will often “resolve” symptoms and produce a cycle that appears to be “regulated,” but birth control pills superimpose an artificial hormonal infrastructure on top of your own.  Thus, the “regulation” is at the expense of your body’s own natural rhythms and often doesn’t actually resolve the underlying issue.   In any case, obviously, birth control pills are not an option for those women seeking to become pregnant.  Fortunately, all of these symptoms can be effectively mitigated or resolved with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine; your first step toward a happy, healthy conception and pregnancy.

Acupuncture, Fertility, and Happy, Healthy Sperm

It is estimated that 25% of infertility is directly due to the male partner, and the male likely is a contributing factor in another 15-25% of cases. Acupuncture may be utilized for men just as it is for women: as a way to optimize health in a generally healthy male, or as a more focused, directed treatment plan for a male with broader health concerns or known issues with his sperm count. 

Normal sperm count values are currently given as the following:
-greater than 20 million sperm per ml
-greater than 50% of sperm moving vigorously (motility)
-greater than 14% with no deformities (morphology)

However, a population study looking at men’s fertility found that those men who were most successful in fathering a child had, instead, greater than 48 million sperm per ml; a motility of more than 63%; and a normal morphology of 12%.[ii]   The implication here, is that even those men whose counts fall within normal range may want to consider ways in which they can improve the quality and quantity of their sperm.  Research suggests acupuncture as an effective intervention.

Acupuncture and IVF or IUI

The efficacy of acupuncture in improving outcomes for both IVF (In vitro fertilization) and IUI (Intrauterine insemination) is well-established.  Studies have shown that acupuncture used at the time of implantation results in significantly higher rates of viable pregnancies, decreases miscarriages, and increases live births.  A sampling of research includes the following:

A study of 160 women undergoing IVF found a 42.5% success rate in the acupuncture group compared to 26.3% success rate in the group that did not receive acupuncture.[iii] 

In a study of 114 women, half of the women received acupuncture prior to and following embryo transfer.  The acupuncture group had a 51% pregnancy rate and a 0.8% miscarriage rate.  The control group had a 36% pregnancy rate and a 20% miscarriage rate.  The acupuncture group also had a live birth rate 23% higher than the control group.[iv]

Treatment Plans

Fertility treatment approaches and time-frames can vary from person to person, but are usually scheduled for at least three consecutive cycles (twelve weeks).  Treatment may include acupuncture, customized herbal therapy, stress reduction, and dietary counseling.  If you or someone you love it struggling with infertility or any troublesome reproductive health issue, consider acupuncture and Chinese medicine as a proven, powerful, and effective treatment option



[i] Abstracts on the most recent research can be found here: http://www.acupunctureivf.com.au/pages/research_and_reviews.php
[ii] New England Journal of Medicine 345(19): 1388-1393
[iii] Fertility and Sterility 74(4): 721-72
[iv] American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Oct 2004