Getting pregnant can sometimes require a little extra assistance. For people experiencing fertility issues, Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), like IVF, can be used to help couples have a baby.
Acupuncture and IVF: Everything You Need To Know
Getting pregnant can sometimes require a little extra assistance. For people experiencing fertility issues, Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), like IVF, can be used to help couples have a baby. While IVF alone has a relatively high success rate, you might be wondering if there is anything you can do to boost your chances of success with the procedure.
In order to increase their chances, some people turn to treatments outside the realm of Western reproductive medicine, like acupuncture, throughout the IVF process. While there is still research to be done to determine the exact outcomes of acupuncture on IVF, there is some evidence to indicate that acupuncture can be helpful for patients trying to conceive.
So, what exactly is acupuncture and how does it affect IVF?
Acupuncture is a therapeutic treatment used in Chinese medicine that dates back thousands of years, but has gained popularity in the West in the past 40 years due to an increase in scientific studies proving its efficiency.
Today, over 10 million people undergo acupuncture every year in the US alone.
The procedure is often used to treat pain, stress management, and overall health by inserting tiny needles into your body at different strategic points. In doing so, the energy and blood flow in your body is rebalanced.
What to expect in a typical acupuncture session
Typically, practitioners will first ask you questions about your lifestyle, diet, if you experience any pain in your body, and what your sleep and exercise routines look like. They will then examine physical parts of your body, like the shape and color of your tongue, and the strength, and rhythm of your pulse.
They will then determine where on your body they will insert the needles. Usually, between 5 and 20 points will be chosen depending on the person. You will then lie down on a bed and the needles will be inserted.
This might sound scary, but the needles are so small that there is usually minimal discomfort. Acupuncture clinics and practitioners are also usually very calming and the session should feel relaxing.
The needles will remain in your body for between 10 and 30 minutes, and will then be removed by the practitioner. After a session, you should drink a lot of water and take it easy for the rest of the day.
Acupuncture and IVF
It might be clear why people use acupuncture to help with pain or stress but how can it help with IVF success?
For one thing, IVF can be a stressful process, not just physically but mentally. In fact, research shows that 30% of couples stop IVF treatment before becoming pregnant because of the negative psychological effects.
There is also evidence to show that even for couples that do not stop IVF prematurely, emotional stress significantly lowers the chances of success because of the negative effects it has on ovarian function and implantation.
As mentioned above, acupuncture is often used to reduce stress. This is because when the needles are inserted into the strategic points, your body will experience natural endorphin release. This is because acupuncture helps to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of the nervous system.
While additional research is necessary to show exact numbers, existing studies found that the longer someone undergoes acupuncture treatments, the better the results.
Enhanced blood flow
In addition to stress reduction, a regulated nervous system also increases blood flow. When this happens, nutrients-filled blood makes its way to the uterus and ovaries.
One Swedish study found that after 8 acupuncture sessions, women’s uterine blood flow increased dramatically and stayed that way for weeks afterward.
When there is increased blood flow to the uterus, the lining of the uterus will become thicker. The thicker the uterine lining, the better environment it becomes for egg implantation, which is crucial for success with IVF.
Balancing reproductive hormones
Chances are if your hormones are imbalanced, you are more likely to experience issues with fertility. In a number of studies, acupuncture was found to improve the production of fertility-related hormones, like estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin in women.
Imbalanced hormones can also lead to irregular menstrual cycles and anovulation, which is when women do not ovulate and ovulation is necessary for pregnancy. Data shows that acupuncture has also been used in these cases to help women achieve regulated menstrual functioning.
For women with preexisting conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), infrequent ovulation can lead to fertility issues, especially when going through IVF. Acupuncture over an extended period of time has also helped these women achieve more regular ovulation cycles.
Being well-rested is not only important for overall health and feeling good, but for increasing the chances of successful IVF cycles. In fact, women with insomnia have a 400% higher chance of experiencing fertility issues.
Thankfully, acupuncture has also been used to improve sleep quality in everyone, including those that suffer from insomnia. Acupuncture increases chemicals in the body, like amino-y acids, that are responsible for calming the nervous system and reducing insomnia leading to longer-lasting and higher-quality sleep.
Acupuncture for men’s fertility
For couples undergoing fertility treatments, the man’s fertility loss as a result of semen quality is equally as important for achieving a successful outcome. Acupuncture has not only been found to benefit women’s fertility when using IVF but men’s as well.
One study found that for men diagnosed with low sperm activity or quality, acupuncture could be used to help in these areas. Another study included men who had previously been unsuccessful when trying IVF with their partners. After 8 weeks of acupuncture treatments, there was an increase in sperm count and quality, along with higher fertilization rates at their next IVF cycle.
When to start acupuncture
Because additional research is necessary to produce more precise data, there is no one clear answer to this question. However, existing studies are able to guide us in the right direction.
One study looked at women over a five-year period and compared those that did IVF alone and those that did IVF and acupuncture at the same time. These women did between 13 to 15 sessions of acupuncture throughout their IVF cycles.
The results found that the women who incorporated acupuncture into their lives during IVF were 60% more likely to have a baby than those who just did IVF.
The majority of acupuncture research points to the fact that the longer the period of time that you do acupuncture, the better the results. Meaning, that starting acupuncture before starting IVF cycles may yield even better results.
In fact, women that did acupuncture only on the day of embryo transfer in IVF, saw little to no increase in pregnancy rates, which further backs up this theory. For this reason, it is recommended to start acupuncture between 30 and 90 days before any fertility treatments begin.
Acupuncture is becoming more and more popular as a complementary treatment for IVF. Around 30% of women in Australia report undergoing acupuncture before starting IVF, and almost half during IVF.
The number of clinical research related to the efficiency of acupuncture has significantly grown in the past few years, giving people a reason to believe the hype. That being said, there is still much more research to be done in order to fully understand the effects of acupuncture on IVF.
Many clinical trials in acupuncture are ignored because there are no quantitative evaluation methods established to measure clear data points. Some in the medical field believe that positive results post-acupuncture can be chalked up to the placebo effect.
At this stage, there is not enough scientific evidence to prove one way or another. However, the trials that have been carried out do not show any harmful side effects as a result of acupuncture. It might be worth a try to see if acupuncture is a good addition to your IVF journey.