Over the last three centuries, Western medicine has become successful at “knowing the body” through empirical discoveries and technological breakthroughs. But not all things have been entirely concluded through the prism of science and logic. Western medicine still sometimes has trouble identifying all the causes for some conditions, as in the case of unexplained infertility. This is where alternative practices like acupuncture can be especially helpful when Western medicine runs out of answers. Acupuncture for fertility has helped a number of couples get pregnant despite years of trying and failing to have a baby. Although Western medicine cannot explain exactly how it works, research shows that acupuncture and fertility have a beneficial relationship, especially when it comes to artificial reproductive technologies (ART) like in vitro fertilization (IVF).
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a practice from Chinese medicine where thin, sterilized needles are painlessly inserted into certain points in the body. There are over 2,000 acupuncture points all over the body, each located along various meridians (pathways) where the body’s Chi (natural life energy) flows. The philosophy behind Chinese medicine is that illnesses, disorders, and poor health are caused by an obstruction of Chi. Practices like acupuncture can remove these obstructions to regulate a number of bodily, emotional, and mental functions to ultimately restore good health.
The beauty behind acupuncture and Chinese medicine is that practitioners view the person as a whole organism made up of a complex web of mind, body, and spiritual relations. Instead of isolating a problematic uterus or ovaries and treating its symptoms, acupuncture provides a holistic treatment. It identifies the problem and corrects the relations between the problematic organs, the meridians, and the rest of the body. Acupuncture focuses on the person’s unique needs and symptoms and treats these with highly individualized treatments. Perhaps this is why acupuncture has been very successful in treating a wide range of male and female fertility issues, especially when combined with Western medicine’s more familiar approaches.
Acupuncture for male and female fertility
In women, acupuncture can improve fertility by restoring balance to key sex hormones and assisting in the maturation of eggs. Even though the production and regulation of hormones like estrogen and progesterone are regulated by the pituitary gland, the slim acupuncture needles are inserted in points located far from the brain. This is because the meridians affecting hormone production pass through other areas in the body. Together with pharmaceutical drugs or Chinese herbs, acupuncture improves egg maturation and ovulation during the ovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle, and provides the hormone balance needed during the luteal phase. Even more serious conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and luteal phase defects can be treated by acupuncture.
Aside from maintaining hormonal balance, acupuncture increases the blood flow to the uterus and aids in the formation of the uterine lining or endometrium. If progesterone levels are not enough to sustain the endometrium, acupuncture can prevent miscarriage by increasing progesterone production and maintaining the integrity of the uterine lining. Acupuncture can also treat endometriosis by removing the impediments blocking the blood flow to the uterus. A case study on a 32-year old woman showed that acupuncture treated her endometriosis, normalized her menstrual cycle, and decreased the intensity of menstrual cramps. Two months later, she finished her acupuncture treatments and got pregnant without the help of ART.
The effects of acupuncture on men are not as well-documented, but there are treatments designed to boost sperm production and health. In 1992, a study in Molecular Andrology showed that an acupuncture treatment was able to improve sperm motility, density, and vitality after 12 weeks. A more recent study showed similar results; however, it seems that acupuncture cannot treat a few common sperm pathologies such as programmed cell death. Despite its limitations, acupuncture was found to improve overall sperm quality and numbers, leading to increased male fertility.
Acupuncture and ART
If you choose to use conventional ART to get pregnant, fertility experts recommend a course of acupuncture treatment to increase your chances of conceiving. Acupuncture’s ability to facilitate ovulation, egg maturation, and hormone balance can increase the success rates of ART procedures, particularly IVF. But that’s not the only way acupuncture can help. This ancient practice’s positive effect on mood, anxiety, and emotional equilibrium also contribute to the success of ART. For women who take fertility drugs at the start of ART treatment, acupuncture can be used to cleanse the body of pharmaceutical toxins, thus reducing the medications’ detrimental side effects and improving the odds of the procedure’s success.