For a woman trying to get pregnant, there no experience more devastating than seeing a minus sign where you’d hoped there would be a plus. The causes of infertility are widespread, spanning from disease to genetics to lifestyle. While there are treatment options available in the form of Western medicine, fertility acupuncture is a great stand-alone or supplemental treatment to increase your chances of bringing a healthy bundle of joy into the world.
Two of the most popular treatments for infertility are in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI). With IVF, the egg and sperm are combined outside the body and fertilized eggs are transplanted back into a woman’s uterus. IUI involves injecting sperm into a woman to increase the likelihood that it reaches the egg. Though both techniques are pioneered by Western medicine, research has shown that pairing these treatments with Traditional Chinese Medicine, specifically with acupuncture and herbal supplements, can increase chances of conception.
Acupuncture, the practice of placing thin needles in the skin, has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Today, a typical session involves an acupuncturist strategically placing needles along energy lines, called meridians, which correspond to the functioning of specific organs in the body. The placing of these needles works to unblock the flow of energy along these lines, increase blood flow, improve all bodily functions (cellular and metabolic), and reduce stress.
One thing that many causes of infertility have in common is an imbalance in hormones. The endocrine system, which is responsible for producing and regulating hormones, includes the ovaries, thyroid, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and pancreas. Each of these glands plays a part in the delicate balance of fertility, dictating when eggs are released from the ovaries, when the uterine lining is thick enough to support implantation of an egg, and when the uterine lining is shed if no fertilization or implantation has occurred. If hormone levels are imbalanced, it may significantly impede a woman’s chance of getting pregnant.
Fertility acupuncture is most commonly used to optimize the functioning of the glands in the endocrine system, guiding a woman’s hormones into balance and increasing ovarian and follicular function. At Denver Holistic Medicine, Dr. Simone Sturm, holistic fertility specialist, uses acupuncture as one of her tools to treat numerous causes of infertility, including a weak luteal phase, unexplained (idiopathic) infertility, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
It is recommended that women receiving IVF or IUI also receive acupuncture regularly for at least three to four months prior to treatment. Depending on the cause of infertility, it may be beneficial for a woman to receive acupuncture for a longer period of time before treatment. Several studies have shown that receiving acupuncture on the day of IVF or IUI has led to the most success. One of the main positive effects of acupuncture when trying to conceive might simply stem from its stress-relieving effect — and that’s not insignificant.
When stressed, our body produces more of the stress hormone, cortisol. The research behind the damaging effects of long-term stress is plentiful: prolonged periods of stress are widely recognized to decrease effectiveness of the immune system and contribute to the prevalence of disease. Increased production of cortisol can also throw off the balance of our other hormones, which can be especially detrimental when trying to conceive. Some speculate that increased levels of cortisol can inhibit the success of treatments like IVF and IUI. Even if increased cortisol production does not impede pregnancy, there is nothing harmful about being a bit more relaxed!
Regardless, it is recommended that acupuncture is continued after the completion of IVF or IUI treatment. The risk of miscarriage is highest during the first trimester, so acupuncture is recommended weekly throughout that time frame to decrease the chance of losing the pregnancy.
The risks of receiving acupuncture before and during pregnancy are essentially non-existent — as long as the practitioner is experienced, board certified, and specializes in infertility treatment. Dr. Sturm checks each of those boxes.
Alongside acupuncture treatment, Dr. Sturm almost always prescribes herbal supplements to infertility patients. The most successful track, research shows, combines all three practices: fertility acupuncture, herbal medicine, and Western medicine. According to a study from Tel Aviv University, 65.5% of women who combined IUI with Chinese medicine treatments were able to conceive, while just 39.4% of women who received no herbal or acupuncture treatment got pregnant.
Acupuncture can also be used to treat less common causes of infertility, such as spasms of the fallopian tubes and uterus. These spasms can interfere with movement and implantation of a fertilized egg, inhibiting pregnancy. Acupuncture for these patients would be centered around relaxing the uterus, stopping the problem at its root .
For other women, the uterus can fail to produce a thick enough uterine lining for an egg to implant. Acupuncture can help increase blood flow to the endometrium, encouraging a thick, healthy lining and creating a more optimal environment for implantation.
Although women are typically seen as the cause of infertility, it’s important for a couple trying to conceive that both the male and female are tested. The causes of infertility are 50% female-related and 50% male-related. When there are problems on both sides, it can often snowball into an even bigger issue, so it’s crucial that both partners get tested. DHM treats both women and men for infertility, and acupuncture is a viable treatment option for men as well: it can increase sperm count, increase motility of sperm, and decrease cellular damage caused by an unhealthy lifestyle.
Dr. Sturm knows that seeking treatment outside the realm of Western medicine can feel scary and uncertain, but she wants to communicate to women that receiving both fertility acupuncture and herbal supplementation while pregnant is perfectly safe. Most of the doubt surrounding these treatments is grounded in fear and a lack of knowledge. With extensive experience treating women before, during, and after pregnancy, Dr. Sturm can confidently guide you towards the pregnancy you’ve always wanted.
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