How Acupuncture Enhances Fertility – A Look at Current Research
“Can acupuncture really help make me more fertile and, if so, how does it work?”
This is a question patients ask me all the time and I understand why. It seems so improbable that tiny hair-like needles could have such a profound effect. At The YinOva Center most of our patients find out about us because they were referred by a friend or by their doctor. They have heard stories about how acupuncture has helped other people to conceive a baby. However it’s good to have more than anecdotal evidence about why something works and fortunately these days there is a growing body of clinical data that begins to explain acupuncture’s effect on the reproductive system.
Acupuncture can help women to to ovulate.
Some of the women I treat are not able to get pregnant because they are not ovulating. There can be lots of reasons why someone isn’t ovulating and I always advise these women to have a western medical workup but often all they need is regular acupuncture and sometimes a specially tailored herbal formula.
It turns out that acupuncture can have a powerful effect on the ovaries. Dr. Jin Yu of Shanghai Medical University in China was able to get rabbits to ovulate with acupuncture alone. Apparently rabbits do not ovulate until they become sexually active (who knew!), but Dr. Yu was able to take non-ovulating rabbits and affect them using just a few acupuncture needles so that their reproductive systems woke up. Dr. Yu is a well-known fertility expert in China and a professor of Gynecology. Her book, which is probably a bit too technical for most people’s taste, is available at amazon.com.
Her follow-up study which involved inducing ovulation in women with electro-acupuncture is here.
In another study patients with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome were helped to ovulate. You can read the study here
Acupuncture can increase blood flow in the pelvic region improving the blood supply to the reproductive organs, improving the quality of the uterine lining and nourishing the developing follicle. Acupuncture seems to relax the blood vessels in the pelvis leading to increased blood flow, which in turn leads to eggs that are better nourished and a thicker endometrial lining. Dr. Susan Emmons, a Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Oregon Health Sciences University was able to use acupuncture to increase the number of follicles in women undergoing IVF. Her research is available here.
Another study looked at how acupuncture can increase blood flow in the uterine arteries.
Acupuncture can influence the hormones that positively affect fertility — A literature review by Dr. Raymond Chang and well-respected reproductive endocrinologists Dr. Zev Rosenwax and Dr. Pak Chung concluded that there was compelling evidence that acupuncture increases levels of hormones in the brain that enhance fertility. You can read it here.
It also seems that acupuncture has a normalizing effect on reproductive hormones as explained in this study here, which discusses the effect of acupuncture on the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian Axis and concludes that acupuncture can regulate abnormal HPOA function.
Acupuncture can reduce the effects of stress on the body and lower stress related hormones that can impede fertility. The same study we talked about above also examined previous studies on the effect of acupuncture on depression and stress related illnesses. It concluded that acupuncture is a viable option to relieve stress in women that are undergoing fertility treatment. This is particularly important because it is known that stress plays a very important role in failure to conceive. A study that was published in Fertility and Sterility in 2001 looked at the state of mind of women going through IVF. It concluded that the women who were most stressed and worried about the procedure were likely to have 20% fewer eggs available for retrieval and a fertilization rate that was 19% less than more optimistic women. You can read an abstract of the article here.
Acupuncture dramatically improves pregnancy rates in women undergoing IVF — A study in Germany that was published here in the USA divided 180 women who were having IVF into two groups of 80 women. One group had IVF with acupuncture and one group had IVF without acupuncture. The group that had acupuncture had a pregnancy rate of 42.5% versus the group that had no acupuncture that had a pregnancy rate of 26.3%. That’s almost a 50% better outcome in the acupuncture group. You can read the study here
Acupuncture can increase fertile cervical mucus — In order to conceive naturally it is important to have enough egg white cervical mucus at ovulation. This provides sperm with a medium that they can swim in. Patients often tell me that they notice an increase in the amount of fertile cervical mucus at ovulation after starting a course of acupuncture treatment.
Although many aspects of Chinese Medicine remain mysterious there is no doubting its value in helping women get pregnant. Chinese women have known this for many generations but as an acupuncturist I am delighted that researchers are beginning to study this phenomenon and uncover such positive results.
You can read more about our work enhancing fertility at The YinOva Center and download some useful files here