Fiona regularly works with couples who are trying to conceive, including those going through IVF.
For most couples with fertility issues, trying to conceive can be monumentally stressful, and if nothing else, many couples find Acupuncture to be a healthy way to feel a bit calmer.
However there are also some scientific reasons that Acupuncture might help you on your journey to parenthood...
How can Acupuncture Help?
We know that stress can disrupt the function of the hypothalamic pituitary-ovarian axis (HPOA), causing hormonal imbalances that can negatively impact fertility. Acupuncture has been shown to affect hormone levels by promoting the release of beta-endorphin in the brain, which affects the release of gonadotrophin releasing hormone by the hypothalamus, follicle stimulating hormone from the pituitary gland, and oestrogen and progesterone levels from the ovary (Ng 2008, Huang 2008, Lim 2010, Stener-Victorin 2010).
Acupuncture has also been shown to increase blood flow to the reproductive organs. Stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which causes constriction of ovarian arteries. Acupuncture inhibits this sympathetic activity, improving blood flow to the ovaries (Stener-Victorin 2006, Lim 2010), enhancing the environment in which ovarian follicles develop. It also increases blood flow to the uterus (Stener-Victorin 1996, Huang 2008), improving the thickness of the endometrial lining, increasing the chances of embryo implantation.
Acupuncture can also help to counteract the effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome, (one of the leading causes of fertility issues); it has been shown to reduce the number of ovarian cysts, stimulate ovulation, enhance blastocyst implantation and regulate the menstrual cycle in women with PCOS (Stener-Victorin 2000, 2008, 2009, Zhang 2009). It may also help to control secondary effects such as obesity and anorexia (Lim 2010).
Acupuncture is commonly used during IVF cycles to help symptoms caused my the medication, and to increase good flow to the uterus & encourage a good lining. It is commonly used prior to embryo transfer, and some studies show that this gives you a slight advantage. (See “Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy” by Wolfgang E. Paulus MD, Christian-Lauritzen- Institut, Ulm, Germany 2001).
For most men, sperm health is VERY changeable.
If you've been diagnosed with poor numbers, morphology, or motility, in my experience most of these things can be greatly improved with a good diet, cutting out chemicals (including fake sweeteners), minimising alcohol, and getting enough sleep.
Some clinical trials suggest that acupuncture improves sperm motility (Dieterle 2009), increases sperm count (Siterman 2009, Siterman 2001), improves sperm quality (Pei 2005; Gurfinkel 2003) and has a beneficial effect on psychogenic erectile dysfunction (Engelhardt 2003). The research results are promising but still at a preliminary stage in terms of numbers and quality of studies.
Acupuncture may help in the treatment of male infertility (Stener-Victorin 2010), by:
lowering scrotal temperature (Siterman 2009);
enhancing local microcirculation, by increasing the diameter and blood flow velocity of peripheral arterioles (Komori 2009);
reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Zijlstra 2003)
by improving sperm maturation in the epididymis, increasing testosterone levels, and reducing liquid peroxidation of sperm (Crimmel 2001)