In the quest to get pregnant and bring home a healthy baby, many infertility patients are eager to explore every option that might help. Complimentary treatments and therapies such as massage, nutritional counselling and supplements, chiropractic adjustments and elements of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are often suggested as additions to conventional medical and surgical fertility treatments like IVF. Acupuncture in particular is often recommended. But does it work and should you try it?
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 3500 years. The classical Chinese philosophy behind the treatment is centered around the concept of Qi (pronounced “chi”) which is energy flowing through the body in river-like channels called meridians. Qi is understood to nourish the tissues of the body when it is flowing correctly, but blockages at particular points in the body can cause disruption and stagnation, resulting in physical, mental, and emotional ill health, including problems with fertility. The basic purpose of acupuncture is to clear these blockages. By the insertion of tiny needles in strategic points along the meridians, the energy flow can be freed and balanced, and health can be restored.
How does acupuncture work, and how could it help me get pregnant?
Described in terms of Western medicine, there are several ways that acupuncture may boost the effectiveness of fertility treatment and help you conceive:
- Stress relief/emotional and physical well being
Acupuncture seems to be an effective way of prompting the body to release beneficial endorphins. Infertility is a profoundly stressful experience for many patients, and stress takes a huge physiological toll on your body at a time when you can least afford it. Acupuncture treatment can help you into a state of true relaxation, giving your body the break that it needs.
- Improved blood flow, particularly to the reproductive system and uterus
Acupuncture applied to traditional points for female infertility can increase the blood supply to the uterus, which can help thicken the uterine lining, also known as the endometrial lining. This lining is where the fertilized egg implants, which is a crucial moment in an establishing pregnancy. A healthy and receptive endometrial lining is extremely important and could explain why acupuncture is associated with improved pregnancy rates. Acupuncture applied to traditional points for male infertility may play a role in sperm production by improving blood flow and reducing inflammation in the pelvic cavity and testicles.
- Hormone regulation
Acupuncture may also stimulate the brain in ways that help it to regulate problems with the body’s neuroendocrine system, correcting the flow of hormones which stimulate the adrenal glands, ovaries, and other organs and systems involved in reproduction. This could explain one of the ways acupuncture may work to relieve the symptoms of PCOS, a very common cause of female infertility, and how it can help to improve sperm count and quality for some men.
Is acupuncture safe?
When performed by a certified therapist following proper safety standards and procedures, acupuncture is safe. Even nervous patients find that with a careful, gentle therapist the process is almost painless. The needles used are of a very fine gauge, which means they are so thin that they barely sting when inserted. Some patients report a faint ache in the area around the needle at certain sites or a slight tingling sensation..
It is important to remember that nothing is guaranteed in fertility treatment, and there are no magic cures. Acupuncture may not have much effect on some types of infertility such as blocked fallopian tubes or other physical and structural issues, which is why it is so important to get a full and accurate diagnosis at the beginning of your fertility journey. Adjunct acupuncture therapy, however, is very low risk, and has a lot of evidence of efficacy. Ask your doctor about adding an acupuncturist to your fertility team, and make an appointment with our acupuncturist, Breta Kotkin, at Oasis Wellness in Scarborough, Maine. (207)883-5549.