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Acupuncture for the Treatment of Infertility

Infertility affects roughly 10 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 44 in the United States. In my practice, I see many causes of infertility —including endometriosis, low ovarian reserve, luteal phase defects, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, to name a few  — and have had success using acupuncture to treat all of these examples. Acupuncture can be used either as a stand-alone treatment, or in conjunction with other medical interventions.

There have been many studies which have shown the effectiveness of acupuncture for fertility. For example, in a study of 225 women by researchers at the University of Witten/Herdecke in Dortmund, Germany, acupuncture was combined with conventional fertility treatments. This addition of acupuncture led to a pregnancy rate of 28.4 percent — compared to a pregnancy rate of 13.8 percent among the women who used conventional treatments alone.
   

Researchers also found that acupuncture combined with clomiphene (commonly known as clomid) was more effective than clomiphene plus supplementary hormonal pharmaceuticals for the treatment of infertility. The combination of acupuncture plus clomiphene produces significantly higher pregnancy rates for women with an ovulatory infertility than clomiphene plus estradiol cypionate and dydrogesterone. In addition, acupuncture mitigated many of the unpleasant side effects of clomiphene, offering a more effective fertility treatment with fewer adverse outcomes.
   

For some women, acupuncture alone is enough to help achieve pregnancy, and often great strides are made in just a few months in terms of cycle regulation and length, egg quality, progesterone levels, and uterine lining.
   

So, what exactly is done during an acupuncture treatment to achieve these results? During the first half of the menstrual cycle, fine needles are inserted in points throughout the body to stimulate blood flow to the ovaries. These needles are inserted into the hands, feet, and abdomen. During the second half of the cycle, the treatment shifts to help thicken the uterus lining and support progesterone, so that implantation can take place. Recently, a patient undergoing fertility monitoring reported an increase in her uterine lining from 8mm to 9.5mm after just one acupuncture treatment! During both phases of the cycle, a warming herb is applied to the abdomen. This herb is called moxibustion in Chinese Medicine, and is a herbal stick comprised of mugwort. I send each of my fertility patients home with their own moxa stick after their first or second acupuncture treatment. I ask them to use this herb nightly to warm their abdomen. Since I have incorporated this into my practice, I have noticed a dramatic increase in pregnancy success rates.
   

I usually recommend beginning with a treatment plan of regular acupuncture treatments for six months. During this time, I ask my patients to keep track of their basal body temperature and cervical mucus, so that we can identify positive changes in their cycle over this time. This also helps to give a better understanding of the diagnosis. Often, I will incorporate herbs that can be taken during the entire menstrual cycle, or during just one phase of the cycle, depending on what is needed.
   

Another beneficial component of acupuncture is that the highly relaxing nature of the treatments provides a great deal of stress relief to women. Any woman or couple who has dealt with infertility knows the enormous emotional toll that it takes. This places an extreme amount of stress on a woman’s body, which can further inhibit fertility. Ancient Chinese physicians make reference to a meridian called the “Bao Mai.” Unlike the 12 regular meridians, this channel ran deeper in the body and served as a connection between the heart and the uterus. They believed that if the heart was broken, the uterus would not function, and that if the uterus would not function, the heart would break. In order for pregnancy to happen both the heart and the uterus must be healed. Because of this, I include points to heal the heart and strengthen the Bao Mai in all of my fertility treatments so that women can process what they have experienced, and be ready for the next step in their journey.

Michelle Pawley is a board-certified acupuncturist with a graduate degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from The Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College, Berkeley. Her office is located at 1617 E. Oakland Avenue, Bloomington. For more information or to set up a consultation, call her at 309-445-1502, or visit her online at bnacupuncture.com.


 

 

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