Research on how Acupuncture treats Infertility

The most common question I hear in clinic is: “how does acupuncture work?”. Since acupuncture predates science by thousands of years and is based in Taoist theory involving concepts like “yin, yang, cold, heat, qi” etc.., it has been tricky to explain it from a conventional scientific paradigm. Luckily for all of us, some really smart researchers and clinicians have worked diligently doing study after study to understand the mechanism through which acupuncture works. In several studies, researchers watched areas of the brain light up on scans as needles were inserted into specific points on the body. Very cool! This confirmed that the points were carrying messages to the brain that then relayed back to the body to induce a response (i.e. increase blood flow). This blog is my quick rendition in regards to the treatment of infertility, followed by some interesting studies that have proven the clinical efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of various forms of infertility.

Acupuncture is thought to work via the central nervous system stimulating the release of hormones and neurotransmitters. The placement of needles into “acupoints” can trigger specific nerve fibers to carry electrical impulses back to the brain. This may in turn increases beta-endorphin concentrations that reduce the “fight or flight” response. This down regulation of the body can help the provide the environment for healing, redirecting blood flow to where it needs to go. Acupuncture also acts locally and systemically to reduce inflammation, increase circulation and assist the body in elimination of toxins. These functions in turn regulate hormonal imbalances, increase blood flow to the reproductive system, and decreases stressors in the body and mind that interfere with fertility.

Studies

  • Acupuncture & IVF
    • In 2002 Fertility and Sterility published the landmark IVF/acupuncture research by Dr Wolfgang Paulus and colleagues. The researchers studied 160 women undergoing IVF. 80 women received acupuncture before and after embryo transfer and the other 80 went through the standard IVF protocol. The authors maintain the ‘analysis shows that the pregnancy rate for the acupuncture group is considerably higher than for the control group (42.5% vs. 26.3%, P=.03).
    • A 2006 randomized Danish study by Westergaard involving 273 women undergoing IVF/ICSI demonstrated clinical pregnancy (39% vs. 26%) and ongoing pregnancy (36% vs. 22%) was significantly higher when acupuncture was performed before and after embryo transfer.
    • A study published in 2000 Medical Acupuncture, A Journal for Physicians stated that “women produced more follicles with acupuncture treatment… a useful adjunct to gonadotropin therapy to produce follicles in women undergoing IVF”.
  • Acupuncture for Anovulation
    • 2002 study done by the Institute of Acupuncture in Shanghai Medical University showed the effects of electro-acupuncture on anovulatory women. Professor of Neurobiology, Dr. Chen, found EA to be helpful in regulating dysfunction of the HPOA axis “normalizing the secretion of hormones such as GnRH, LH and E2”.
  • Acupuncture for Blood flow
    • Doctors in the OB/GYN and Physiology departments at the university in Gothenburg published a study on EA in regards to its effect on blood flow in the uterine arteries of infertile women. They found that blood flow was significantly increased by acupuncture’s effect on the sympathetic nervous system.

Christina Burns L.Ac OMD FABORM CPC

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