Fertility is becoming a concern for many people, with complications becoming common for women and men. We are seeing a concurrent rise in endometriosis, polycystic ovaries and other women’s health issues as well as lower sperm counts and lowered quality and motility of said sperm (Morassutto et al., 2016, Ganie and Kalra, 2011, Levine et al., 2017).
With less natural and more unhealthy lifestyles as well as couples trying for children later in life we are quickly approaching a fertility crisis.
Happily, there are plenty of strategies that can be employed to increase one’s fertility. Some of the most important changes that should be made are exercising regularly, reducing stress with meditation or other practices, and eating a plant-based, organic, fresh, local diet. Essentially, the standard advice for all issues that are a part of modern life. However, these are especially important whilst trying to conceive and bring a healthy and resilient new life into this challenging world.
Some of the most important areas to address are:
- imbalances in hormones – by exercising and avoiding external sources of oestrogen (xenoestrogens) which are present in chemically grown food and plastic and petrol-based bathroom and kitchen products.
- Increasing one’s health and wellbeing will improve fertility as well as quality of eggs and sperm and thus the available nutrients for the foetus.
- Exercising regularly and eating real food will also be useful to balance your weight as excess weight tends to imbalance the hormonal system, generally in favour of oestrogen which can cause all kinds of challenges for conception.
There are now also technological advances that make it possible to conceive even if there are health issues or other issues with conception. Such facilitated pregnancy techniques can be very useful for a variety of conditions and situations. However, as you are probably aware, they are not guaranteed to be effective. Therefore, the more chance you can give yourself, through diet and lifestyle improvements, the better.
The role of Acupuncture and Chinese medicine
Other techniques can also be employed to improve your chances, and this is where acupuncture and Chinese medicine comes in. These days more research is going into the benefits of acupuncture and Chinese medicine for fertility. One of the best research pieces, from 2015, compared 1,231 IVF patients and split them into groups of purely IVF cycles, IVF with one acupuncture session before and after implantation, and IVF with full traditional Chinese medicine building up to the IVF cycle, including individualised acupuncture and herbs where necessary. The researchers discovered that full traditional Chinese medicine with IVF was significantly more likely to increase the conception and, more importantly, live birth rate. This is something that has been echoed in acupuncture clinics across the globe, albeit anecdotally.
Bio-mechanisms of acupuncture in fertility
Other studies point to some of the mechanisms behind these improvements.
- Uterine blood ﬂow was improved with eight acupuncture sessions (Stener-Victorin et al., 1996).
- Nine acupuncture sessions plus embryo transfer day acupuncture were correlated with an increase in serum cortisol and prolactin and improved IVF outcomes in prospective clinical trial (Magarelli et al., 2009).
- Fourteen sessions of acupuncture signiﬁcantly reduced androgens and improved menstrual frequency over physical exercise or no treatment in women with polycystic ovary syndrome in an RCT (Jedel et al., 2011).
- Ovulation was induced in another RCT with 24 visits over 3 months in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (Johansson et al., 2013)
- Acupuncture boosted oestrogen, FSH and LH as well as increasing endometrial thickness (Zhong et al., 2017)
- Conception rate was increased from 30.4% with IVF alone to 52.5% when combined with acupuncture in patients with ovulatory dysfunction.
The more research that goes into acupuncture for fertility the more we are seeing that it can improve outcomes by affecting a variety of symptoms. As well as benefitting the reproductive system, acupuncture also benefits fertility treatment by calming and relaxing those undergoing treatment, reducing stress, anxiety and related symptoms. Indeed, in some areas it is used by up to 92% of women undergoing IVF treatment (Aelion et al., 2009).
Aelion, A., Barbieri, E., Shastri, S., Grill, E., Chung, P., Rosenwaks, Z., 2009. The use of complementary medical therapies (CMT) in infertility patients. Fertil. Steril. 92, S33–S34.
Ganie, A. M., Kalra, S., 2011, Polycystic ovary syndrome – A metabolic malady, the mother of all lifestyle disorders in women – Can Indian health budget tackle it in future? Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 15, (4), 239-241
Jedel, E., Labrie, F., Oden, A., Holm, G., Nilsson, L., Janson, P.O., Lind,A.K., Ohlsson, C., Stener-Victorin, E., 2011.Impact of electro-acupuncture and physical exercise on hyperandrogenism and oligo/amenorrhea in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Am. J. Physiol. Endocrinol. Metab. 300, E37–E45.
Johansson,J.,Redman,L.,Veldhuis,P.P.,Sazonova,A.,Labrie,F., Holm, G., Johannsson, G., Stener-Victorin, E., 2013. Acupuncture for ovulation induction in polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Am. J. Physiol. Endocrinol. Metab. 304, E934–E943.
Levine H., Jorgensen N., Martino-Andrade A., Mendiola J., Weksler-Derri D., Mindlis I., Pinotti R., Swan S. H., 2017. Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update. 23, (6), 646–659,
Magarelli, P.C., Cridennda, D.K., Cohen, M., 2009. Changesinserum cortisol and prolactin associated with acupuncture during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer treatment. Fertil. Steril. 92, 1870– 1879.
Morassutto, C., Monasta, L., Ricci, G., Barbone, F., Ronfani, L., 2016, Incidence and estimated prevalence of endometriosis and adenomyosis in Northeast Italy: A data linkage study. PLoS One. 11, (4)
Sheng YH, Liu HZ, Jiang CY, et al. Observation of clinical efficacy of acupuncture with medication in treating ovulatory dysfunction infertility 59 cases [J]. Hebei TCM, 2015(8): 1216-1217.
Stener-Victorin,E.,Waldenstrom,U.,Andersson,S.A.,Wikland,M., 1996. Reduction of blood ﬂow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertile women with electro-acupuncture. Hum. Reprod. 11, 1314–1317.
Zhong WH, Chen QP. Curative Efficacy of Feizhen Acupuncture Combined with Ovulation. Stimulants in Treatment of Anovulatory Infertility and its effects on Sex Hormone and Endometrium [J]. Hebei Medicine, 2017, 23(10): 1715-1718.