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An Integrative Approach to Reproductive Health and Fertility

Acupuncture is the insertion of ultra-thin, sterile needles into specific acupuncture points on the body which reside on channels or meridians; these are pathways in both the exterior and interior of the body. These points, when needled, can regulate the way in which the body functions. Acupuncture helps by addressing problems that affect fertility such as an under-functioning thyroid (hypothyroidism) or over-functioning thyroid (hyperthyroidism).

Can Acupuncture Be Used To Treat Infertility?

Acupuncture combined with herbal medicine has been used for centuries to treat some but not all causes of infertility. Acupuncture and herbs will not work to address tubal adhesions which can occur as a result of pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis. However, in this situation, an individual could still  benefit  from  acupuncture  and  herbs

because of the potential effect of improved ovarian and follicular function. Additionally, acupuncture can increase blood flow to the endometrium, helping to facilitate a thick, rich lining. Acupuncture is also used to treat stress and anxiety which many patients undergoing fertility treatment experience. Elevated levels of anxiety and stress can be a major contributing factor to a patient's fertility difficulties. Being able to holistically lower a patient's stress/anxiety levels can in turn also lower the chance of miscarriage and promote a happy and healthy pregnancy for both mother and baby.

When Should Acupuncture Treatment Begin?

Acupuncture is similar to physical therapy in that it is a process-oriented method of medical intervention. It is better to do more than less. Patients are commonly treated for three to four months before progressing to insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF), or donor-egg transfer. This pacing of treatment seems to have a therapeutic effect.

In a study by Stener-Victorin from the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fertility Centre, Scandinavia and University of Gothenburg, women are encouraged to receive acupuncture treatments pre and post embryo transfer.

Clinical observations from the Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness suggest that the most effective fertility treatments involve a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and traditional medicine. However, conception occasionally occurs when acupuncture and herbal medicines are used without traditional medical interventions.

What Are The Risks Of Using Acupuncture for Fertility?

There are minimal risks in using acupuncture for fertility treatment. The risk of miscarriage may increase if incorrect acupuncture points are used during pregnancy. This is one reason why those choosing to include acupuncture in their treatment regimen should only be treated by an acupuncturist who specializes in treating fertility disorders. Acupuncture is generally safe regardless of the patient's medical history.

Who Are Your Typical Patients?

Acupuncture can be used to treat any type of fertility disorder including spasmed tubes. Spasmed tubes are often de-spasmed with acupuncture, though blocked tubes will not respond to acupuncture.   Acupuncture   is   often

combined with herbal remedies to treat elevated follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), repeated pregnancy loss, unexplained (idiopathic) infertility, luteal phase defect, hyperprolactinemia (when not caused by a prolactinoma), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) with annovulatory cycles and male factor including men affected with sperm-DNA-fragmentation.

When Should I Stop Acupuncture Treatment?

Typically most miscarriages occur within the first 3 months of pregnancy. Consequently, treatment of patients may often last through week twelve to help prevent miscarriage.

Acupuncture is a treatment that can also be beneficial to continue during pregnancy to treat nausea from early pregnancy (morning sickness), back pain, hip pain, and fatigue.

A German study published in 2002 in the journal Fertility and Sterility, led by Dr. Wolfgang Paulus at the University of Ulm, found that 42% of women receiving acupuncture just before and after an assisted-reproductive therapy, such as IVF, became pregnant; that compared with 26% of patients who got pregnant with assisted-reproductive treatments but who received no acupuncture therapy.

Later that year, Dr. Raymond Chang and colleagues at Cornell University's medical school in New York published a paper in the same journal, describing several ways acupuncture might actually improve a woman's chances of conceiving: relaxation, regulating reproductive hormones and improving the lining of the uterus, where the embryo needs to be implanted before it can develop. Because of the reports, published in a prestigious journal, "some doctors started to say, let's try it out," said Dr. Paul C.   Magarelli, a fertility specialist in Colorado Springs, Colo.

— Elena Conis, Los Angeles Times

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A 2008 study found about a 10% increase from IVF when acupuncture was added to the treatment, which is similar to what Deming Huang has seen as a   licensed acupuncturist at the Stanford Integrative Medicine Clinic. Huang has worked with more than 1,000 patients in 11 years at the Stanford clinic and said he has observed about a 7% increase in conception when acupuncture is used with IVF or intrauterine insemination, which involves placing sperm inside a woman’s uterus to facilitate fertilization. But Huang said he has seen patients benefit from acupuncture even without IVF, and his oldest patient to conceive naturally with acupuncture was 47. He said acupuncture was most helpful when someone was having difficulty having  children but didn’t know what the problem was, and “the needles are also able to reduce the risk of miscarriage.”

— Sandeep Ravindran, Mercury News

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A recent review of current medical literature carried out by researchers

in Taiwan noted that traditional Chinese medicine could regulate the   gonadotropin-releasing hormone to induce ovulation and improve the uterus blood flow and menstrual changes of endometrium. In addition, it also has impacts on patients with infertility resulting from polycystic ovarian syndrome, anxiety, stress and immunological disorders. Their review concludes Integrating the principles and knowledge from well characterized approaches and quality control of both traditional Chinese Medicine and Western medical approaches should become a trend in

    existing clinical practice and serve as a better methodology for treating infertility.

— Diane K.Cridennda, L.Ac. FABORM, Member Board of Directors, Current Opinion in Obstetrics & Gynecology

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