How Does Acupuncture Affect Infertility?
Many studies have shown promising data that acupuncture affects the menstrual cycle by having a neuroendocrine affect on the body. This means that the different combinations of acupuncture points play a role in the release of the hormones responsible for regulating our cycle. Specifically the research has shown that different protocols of acupuncture treatment can:
- Balance reproductive hormones by increasing the body's
endorphin levels which eliminates the interference of stress hormones
such as cortisol
So far, scientists conclude that one of the obvious ways acupuncture treats infertility is by reducing stress. (http://www.chiro.org/) When we are under intense, long-term stressful situations, the human body produces a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is released in the brain altering the brain's neurochemical balance which disrupts the pituitary gland and thereby changes the level of sex hormones in the body. Because of the delicate balance between the hypothalamus, pituitary and reproductive organs/glands, this is why stress is able to prevent a woman from ovulating entirely. Stress can also cause spasms in the fallopian tubes and the uterus which can disrupt implantation. Acupuncture counters the effects of stress and cortisol by causing the brain to release endorphins. Endorphins exert a powerful calming effect on the entire body and this also explains why acupuncture is so relaxing.
- Increase blood flow to the reproductive organs to promote
follicle production and egg & endometrial health
Special acupuncture point combinations and techniques have been shown to increase blood flow to the reproductive organs. Healthy blood that is supported by a healthy diet will provide the ovaries and uterus with more nourishment. The increase in healthy blood flow can increase follicle and egg health and also encourage the lining of the uterus to make a more hospitable environment for an embryo to implant and grow. Using specific acupuncture treatments to increase blood flow to the ovaries in addition to gonadotropin therapy is thought to be responsible for an increase in number of follicles and more importantly the quality of the eggs and subsequent embryos. This is especially true for women who have a poor prognosis either because of age or previously failed cycles.
- Strengthen the immune system to prevent immunological
complications and decrease inflammation
Strengthening the immune system can play a very important role in conception. The endorphins that are released by the brain during acupuncture can raise the amount of white blood cells, T-cells and antibodies in the body thereby increasing the body's level of immunity. This becomes important when there are immunological causes for fertility or failed implantation issues. An overactive immune system can also cause unwanted inflammation in the reproductive organs. This is particularly true for women with endometriosis. There are many benefits to using acupuncture as well as diet therapy and supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids which can effectively reduce an inflammatory immune response.
- Enhance the effectiveness of IVF medications and reduce side
When couples begin with good quality eggs, sperm and endometrial lining - the chances of an assisted reproductive therapy working are increased dramatically. Aside from how age affects egg quality, there is a lot to be said for how diet, lifestyle factors and overall health play an important role in the body's ability to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy. When a couple prepares ahead of time by maximizing on their inherent fertility, they can proceed with assisted reproductive therapies with the assurance that they have the best chances to succeed. IVF medications can do much more with eggs that are already being nourished with nutrient-rich blood in a hormonally balanced environment and lead you toward healthy embryos. Acupuncture can also help reduce the side effects some women experience from the medications and the stress of the IVF experience. By promoting balance, women tend not to feel such dramatic emotional swings when doing acupuncture. It also addresses the feelings of discomfort in the abdomen, constipation, hot flashes and headaches women can get during the cycle.
- Improve sperm count, motility and morphology
In men, the effects of acupuncture on infertility symptoms may be part of a systemic affect on the whole body. As the acupuncture promotes positive health, a significant improvement in the number and quality of sperm is a natural part of this positive health change. Two studies, one published in the medical journal, Archives of Andrology, in Sept.-Oct. 1997 and the other published in Andrologia in January 2000, documented research on infertile males suffering from low sperm quality. The study showed a significant improvement in total functional sperm, the percentage of sperm viability, and the total motile spermatozoa per ejaculate. These results were obtained by taking sperm samples from the men before and after one month of acupuncture treatment.
More Published Research
Influence of Acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproductive therapy.
Fertility & Sterility, Vol.77, No.4, April 2002.
This study found that in a group of 160 women - 80 who were treated with acupuncture before and after the embryo transfer phase of IVF had a 15.8% increase in success rate with implantation of the embryo. This is based on the theory that acupuncture relaxes the Central Nervous System and keeps the uterus from contracting during and after the procedure. This significant effect of acupuncture was re-confirmed in 2006 as Fertility & Sterility published two similar studies that showed a 13% and 18% implantation success rate in the acupuncture groups over the control.
Reduction of blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertility women with electro-acupuncture.
Human Reproduction, Vol.11, No.6, 1996.
This study established that local acupuncture with electro-stimulation could normalize the blood flow to the reproductive organs, particularly useful in older women, 'poor responders' and women with thin endometrial lining. Treatments were given twice a week for 4 weeks leading up to an IVF cycle and tests revealed that the uterine artery blood flow increased dramatically within this time and led to a thicker endometrial lining in the women. A similar study showed this treatment increased the number of follicles significantly in women who had been labeled 'poor responders.' Acupuncture treatment for infertile women undergoing intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Dr. Sandra L. Emmons, Dr. Phillip Patton, Medical Acupuncture, A Journal for Physicians by Physicians Spring/Summer 2000 Vol.12,No.3
Poor Prognosis: A Cure?
Fertility & Sterility, Vol. 81, Supplement 3, April 2004.
This study combined the first two protocols mentioned here and administered acupuncture to women who were considered poor prognosis- high FSH, low uterine blood flow, etc. The women who received acupuncture were found to then have pregnancy rates equal to that of the good prognosis patients and then they went on to show that the acupuncture group had a higher live birth rate than the good prognosis patients.
Effect of acupuncture on sperm parameters of males suffering from subfertility related to low sperm quality.
Siterman S, Eltes F, Wolfson V, Zabludovsky N, Vartoov B. Institute of Chinese Medicine, Tel Aviv, Israel. Archives of Andrology, 1997 Sep-Oct;39(2):155-61
This study reported that after 5 weeks of treatment twice/week, men with considerable sperm impairment had increased their fertility significantly. Improvements were seen in total functional sperm, percentage of viability, total motile spermatozoa and integrity of the axonema. This study confirms that acupuncture can significantly improve sperm motility.
Quantitative evaluation of spermatozoa ultrastructure after acupuncture treatment for idiopathic male infertility.
Jian Pei, Ph.D., Erwin Strehler, M.D., Ulrich Noss, M.D., Markus Abt, Ph.D., Paola Piomboni, Ph.D., Baccio Baccetti, Ph.D., and Karl Sterzik, M.D. Fertility & Sterility 2005;84:141-7.
This study showed that subfertile men who received acupuncture treatments twice/week for 5 weeks had the following results:
- · Median percentage and number of healthy sperm in the total ejaculate increased with significant improvements in acrosome and nuclear position and shapes.
- · Progressively motile sperm increased from a mean percentage of 44.5% to 50% due to the improvement of axonemal pattern, axonemal shape and accessory fibers.
The significance of this study is that it demonstrates the effects of acupuncture treatment on sperm by pinpointing the molecular changes that take place. Previous studies by the same group showed that acupuncture improves sperm quality, fertilization rate and pregnancy rate in ART.