In Vitro Fertilization: Acupuncture and Fertility

Acupuncture and TCM for Treating Infertility and Enhancing IVF Success Rates

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1.7 percent of all infants born annually in the United States are conceived using assisted reproductive technology (ART) which includes in vitro fertilization (IVF). (1) 

CDC statistics also state that 12% of women in the U.S. aged 15-44 have used infertility services. (2)

How is Infertility Defined?

Infertility is diagnosed when a couple has participated in frequent, unprotected sexual intercourse for a year or longer and have still been unable to conceive a child.

What Causes Infertility?

There isn’t any single cause of infertility. Often, when infertility is the problem, there may be multiple causes, or no clearly identified cause at all. Fertility problems are not just related to women – in fact, female infertility is a factor in only a third of cases.  Male infertility plays a role in another third of cases – which leaves a third of cases where the cause is unclear or not found. (3) (4)

Impact of Lifestyle and Environment on Infertility – What the Research Says:

Lifestyle factors include things like exercise and eating habits. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Exercise and Infertility – The amount and type of exercise affects fertility in both men and women – too much exercise can reduce fertility, as can too little! (5) (6) 
  • Weight and Infertility – Obesity is linked to reduced fertility in both men and women (6). Being underweight is linked to infertility in women. 
  • Diet and Infertility – For men and women, higher fertility is associated with a Mediterranean-style diet, which includes high intake of vegetables, fish, and polyunsaturated oils; lower fertility is associated with diets high in saturated fats and sugar. (7)
  • Medications, Substance Use and Fertility – Certain medications can affect fertility in men and women; substance use (such as tobacco, marijuana, heavy drinking, heroin, cocaine) has been shown to reduce fertility in men and women. (7) Some research studies have investigated whether the length of time taking oral contraception affects fertility in women, but there are as yet no conclusive results.

The impact of environmental factors on fertility can be very difficult to measure, and the research is still sketchy when it comes to things like agricultural practices and quality of food; the number of medications available; exposure to plastics; or exposure to non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation (EMR).  However, animal studies suggest that certain persistent organic pollutants affect fertility, and there is a study now underway to measure the impact of that in humans. (7)

How to Treat Infertility?

As noted above, almost 2% of all infants born in the U.S. today are the result of some form of ART (including IVF), and evidence suggests the percentage of ART births will continue to rise worldwide. (8) 

IVF Is Costly

The average cost for one in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle is $12,000. Basic IVF can be as much as $15,000 or may be as low as $10,000. It’s rarely lower than that. These numbers do not include the cost of medications, which may be as low as $1,500 or as high as $3,000 per cycle. (9)

How Can Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Help?

The holistic approach of TCM means that the client’s nutrition, lifestyle, and environmental conditions will be considered. Chinese medicine is very nature based. Every element (Wood, fire, earth, metal, water) is taken into consideration. Every food has a temperature (hot/cold/neutral) and taste (sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, salty) that is a factor when offering dietary recommendations. TCM even takes into consideration the quality, freshness, and seasonality of the food in their clients’ diets.

 Anything that has the potential to disrupt the fundamental harmonies of nature is a cause for concern.  For example, many TCM practitioners observe that long-term use of hormone-based contraception is seen in many of the women they treat for infertility, and as such is also a cause for concern.   

Some Specific TCM Approaches to Infertility

  • Stress Reduction for Infertility — One of the most important ways that acupuncture helps couples suffering from fertility challenges is by helping to reduce the impact of stress. Acupuncture helps by calming the sympathetic nervous system (your fight/flight) and lowering cortisol levels (your stress hormones). (10)
  • Stress can play a large role in fertility problems, because excessive cortisol can alter hormone levels that are key to the reproductive cycle. Excessive cortisol in a female’s system can disrupt the entire female cycle, affecting ovulation, implantation, and menstruation. 
  • Qi Stagnation and Infertility — From the TCM perspective, free movement of qi and blood through the body is important for overall health. Qi stagnation (11) is often caused by – you guessed it! – stress. 
  • When qi (energy) does not move freely, pathology occurs. Symptoms of qi stagnation in women can include headaches, painful menstruation, breast tenderness, PMS symptoms, and irregular menstruation. Qi stagnation due to stress can also cause spasms in the uterus and fallopian tubes which may interfere with implantation of a fertilized egg. In men, qi stagnation due to stress can alter sperm count, sperm motility, and cause impotence.
  • Movement of qi and blood also helps to prevent cysts from forming on the ovary. Movement of qi and blood to the uterus ensures that the uterine lining is thick enough for an embryo to implant properly, and prevents fibroids, endometriosis, or polyps from forming. There have been several studies showing that acupuncture, especially with e-stim, increases the blood flow to these organ systems. (12)

Acupuncture and TCM Can Help Infertility in Both Women and Men

Whether you are still attempting naturally or have started looking into some form of Assisted Reproductive Technology, acupuncture can help. Studies show that acupuncture can help to increase fertility and improve success at conceiving in both cases. (13) (14)

Interested in learning more? Calandra Center for Health & Wellness offers complementary 15-minute phone or Skype consultations. Contact us at 312.796.3965, admin@calandraacupuncture.com

Calandra Center for Health & Wellness has locations in Chicago’s South Loop and Schaumburg. 

References

  1. Assisted Reproductive Technology Surveillance — United States, 2015
  2. CDC National Center for Health Statistics – Infertility
  3. Male Infertility (Mayo Clinic)
  4. Female Infertility (Mayo Clinic)
  5. A prospective cohort study of physical activity and time-to-pregnancy
  6. What lifestyle and environmental factors may be involved with infertility in females and males?
  7. The Influence of Diet on Fertility and the Implications for Public Health Nutrition in the United States
  8. Trends over 15 years in ART in Europe: an analysis of 6 million cycles
  9. How Much Does IVF Cost – Very Well Family
  10. Stressed Out? We Can Help! CCHW Blog
  11. Acupuncture and women’s health: an overview of the role of acupuncture and its clinical management in women’s reproductive health
  12. Liver Qi Stagnation – Very Well Health
  13. Acupuncture for infertility: is it an effective therapy?
  14. Prior to Conception: The Role of an Acupuncture Protocol in Improving Women’s Reproductive Functioning Assessed by a Pilot Pragmatic Randomised Controlled Trial