Fertility Research Delivers Healthy Results
Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been practiced for thousands of years. Amazingly, the
first written gynecological records date back to the Shang dynasty (1500 BC-
1000 BC), but here in the U.S. and other Western countries, people are just
beginning to understand and appreciate the effectiveness of Traditional Chinese
It isn’t easy to compare Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western medicine
because there are profound differences that underlie the basic notions of your
health, body and treatment. Western medicine often takes a more mechanistic view
of people - your body may be treated as if it is a collection of machine parts
rather than one whole, integrated system. Alternatively, Traditional Chinese
Medicine sees individuals as personal ecosystems, with each part depending on,
and influencing, all the other parts. This “whole body” approach means that
treatment addresses the complete systems of your body rather than just attending
to your symptoms. As a result of such a treatment strategy, most patients
experience an improvement in their specific condition and also a better overall
sense of health and well being.
TCM and Fertility: The Research
Let’s define infertility. The American Fertility Society defines infertility as
occurring when “a couple has 1 year of regular intercourse without contraception
and has been unable to conceive.”
There are many factors that may make your conception difficult to achieve and,
even after conception, you may face problems bringing your pregnancy to term,
which causes frustration, upset and increased stress. However, research using
acupuncture to enhance fertility is providing reason for new optimism in the
struggle with this old problem.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be used alone or in conjunction with
Western medicine. A 2002 German study that received a lot of attention found
significantly higher conception rates (42.5% vs. 26.3%) when acupuncture was
used with IVF. More recently, two studies published in May 2006, showed that
acupuncture can improve IVF success rates. First, in Germany, 225 women
undergoing in vitro fertilization participated in a study. Of these, 116
patients received luteal phase (the phase after ovulation) acupuncture according
to the principles of TCM and 109 people received a standard protocol of
acupuncture. The treatment group using TCM principles had a significantly higher
clinical pregnancy rate than the placebo group (33.6% vs. 15.6% respectively).
Second, a Denmark study published at the same time examined the effect of
acupuncture received on the day of embryo transfer vs. no acupuncture, and they
also found a significant increase in pregnancy rates (39% vs. 26%). The
researchers concluded that acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer improved
the outcome of IVF. A third study published at the same time found the results
too small to be considered clinically significant but these researchers also
concluded that acupuncture was safe for women undergoing IVF.
Other research is showing acupuncture’s effectiveness with men. A study
published in 2005 demonstrated that sperm motility and quality improved after
the men received treatment with acupuncture.
As further proof that TCM has gained acceptance and success, in September, 2005,
the University of Maryland received $400,000 from The National Center for
Complementary & Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institute of
Health, to research the benefits of Acupuncture combined with IVF.
In Vancouver on May 18, 2007, Dr. Paul Magarelli, an infertility physician at
the Reproductive Medicine & Fertility Center, and Diane Cridennda, an
acupuncturist at East Winds, both centers in Colorado Springs, Colorado,
presented their research results which were published in Infertility and
Sterility in April, 2007. This is one of several studies the two have completed.
In the protocol, they used a minimum of 9 acupuncture treatments within 2 months
before the embryo transfer. Since this was a research study, each patient
received the same treatment. No modification in points was allowed. From a
clinical TCM/acupuncture perspective, the treatment protocols were very limited
compared to individulized treatment of each patient.
What were their results? Lorne Brown, Doctor of TCM, founder and clinical
director of Acubalance Wellness Centre, the first TCM clinic in British Columbia
dedicated to reproductive wellness, analyzed the data Dr. Magarelli presented
and has posted the following conclusions on his website:
Acupuncture does not cause harm to fertility or negatively interfere with an IVF
Acupuncture can statistically improve the live birth rate from IVF to between
Acupuncture reduces the number of ectopic pregnancies in an IVF setting.
The acupuncture protocol (minimum of 9 treatments using set points) did not
affect egg quality BUT it did improve the host. Therefore, it seemed to improve
factors affecting implantation rather the egg quality itself.
The mechanism by which acupuncture improves implantation and live birth rates
results from acupuncture’s ability to regulate the body’s hormone levels
(particularly prolactin and cortisol) to mimic these hormone levels in a natural
Why Does TCM
Why? “Acupuncture provides better circulation and better blood flow to the
womb,” said Dr. Raymond Chang, director of New York's Meridian Medical Group,
who has been incorporating acupuncture into fertility treatments for the past
decade. "It will give a better chance for the eggs to be nourished and therefore
carried." Acupuncture seems to help some women because it improves circulation
to your ovaries and to your uterus. It aids ovarian stimulation, improves the
thickness of uterine lining, and therefore can help with implantation.
Acupuncture is relaxing, which helps to lower your cortisol levels and increase
progesterone output, important factors in decreasing your chance of having a
works with an eye on the numbers. The main goal is to increase the quantity of
eggs or sperm, thereby increasing your chances of a viable pregnancy. In
contrast, Traditional Chinese Medicine is holistic and cumulative. It will
likely include suggestions about diet and lifestyle as well as acupuncture. TCM
is very personalized. Your practitioner will needle specific points and may
suggest specific herbs, all depending on your body and your situation. When your
body is healthy and balanced, you increase your chances of getting pregnant and
producing a healthy child. The goal of acupuncture is to return your body to a
state of health. The effects take time; the results get better over time. Even
if your Western doctor does not understand the benefits of acupuncture, most
physicians now agree that it does not cause harm.
"Nourish the Soil before Planting the Seed”
Plan ahead. The ideal time to begin preparing your body for a baby is three
months before conception or an IVF cycle. This is the time to begin acupuncture
treatments, but many couples wait until they are actively trying to conceive. In
my practice, I recommend twice weekly treatments until we get a positive
pregnancy test and once a week for the first trimester to reduce the risk of
Of course, making good nutritional choices is always important for both mother
and child. Specific suggestions can be found in one of my previous articles, “The
ABCs of Fertility: Acupuncture, Babies, Chinese Medicine” which can be read
You can also
help your body’s readiness by attending to the following suggestions:
Reduce or cut out coffee from your diet. A joint US/Swedish study of 562 women
found that 1-3 cups of coffee increased miscarriage rate by 30% and more than 5
cups increased it by 40%. Also, in another study conducted during the first
trimester of pregnancy, women who had a high caffeine intake showed an increased
risk of repeated miscarriage.
Stress has been linked to irregularities in ovulation and
abnormal sperm development. When you can lower your levels of physiological
stress, you have increased your chances of conception.
Treatment in Chinese medicine always aims to improve your sleeping pattern. Lack
of sleep has long been recognized as influencing fertility. It leads to
physiological disruptions including the inhibition of growth hormones.
Women who drink alcohol may delay conception because it is poorly metabolized
and can lead to a disturbance of the estrogen/ progesterone balance. During IVF,
men and women are both advised to avoid alcohol because, in women, it can lead
to reduced egg production and, in men, it may reduce the number of healthy
Being too thin or too heavy can have an impact on how quickly you
conceive. Excessive thinness is known to interfere with menstrual periods. Now,
it is also believed that if both partners are overweight or obese, conception
will take longer.
Smokers have an increased rate of repeated miscarriage. Women smokers have been
shown to have lower levels of estrogen which may delay conception. Smoking is
also thought to influence tubal factor infertility, and can cause early
menopause. In men, smoking may damage sperm. When men stop smoking, their sperm
count increases quickly.
By following the
Chinese medicine approach to balancing your body, mind and spirit, you will not
only boost your fertility but you will feel more energized, sleep better and
experience a greater sense of wellbeing.
In summary, Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have a long history of benefiting
fertility in many ways. Benefits of TCM include:
Improvements in your uterine lining
Increased blood flow to your uterus
Regulation of your hormones
Reduction of your stress associated with fertility problems
Improved function of your ovaries
Increased conception with or without ART
Increased live birth rates
Lower rates of ectopic pregnancies
And for men...
Jennifer Dubowsky, L.Ac. M.S.O.M., Dipl.Ac
About the Author
Jennifer earned her Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine from Southwest
Acupuncture College, an accredited 4 year Master’s program in Boulder, Colorado.
She received her Diplomate from the NCCAOM, the National Certification
Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and completed an internship at
the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital in Beijing, China. Jennifer has been in
practice since 2001. She has a passion for her work and has researched and
written articles on Chinese medicine. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in
Kinesiology from the University of Illinois.
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