Acupuncture and IVF – Research
Acupuncture is proving to be truly complementary to the modern western conventional treatments offered for fertility. Not only has research proved its ability to enhance the effectiveness but it also helps the body to deal with the side effects of the drugs and relieve some of the stress and anxiety which is inevitable with this type of treatment.
Researchers at the University of Southampton and Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton, UK, have found that women undergoing acupuncture at the same time as IVF increased their chances of having a baby from one in five to one in three.
The research, published on the Cochrane Library’s online database, involved looking at 13 studies comprising 2,000 women worldwide, who underwent acupuncture at the same time as a course of IVF.
Every year 33,000 women undergo IVF, when an embryo that has been fertilised in a laboratory is transferred into the womb. Acupuncture, the practice of inserting fine needles into specific points on the body corresponding to qi (Chee) energy channels, was found to significantly increase a woman’s chance of successful embryo implantation if it was undergone around the same time as the embryo transfer.
Recent research has shown that Acupuncture increases the success rates of IVF and IVI by almost 30 – 50%. Studies show that Acupuncture decreases stress and increases blood flow to the uterus/fallopian tubes and ovaries. It can increase the thickness of the womb lining overnight by almost 4-6 inches. It also deceases cramping in the womb after IVF treatment thereby decreasing expulsion of the embryo. It is known to assist the implantation of the embryo.
Ideally best results are seen if Acupuncture commences 2-3 months prior to IVF/IVI. During this time the menstrual cycle is balanced, the uterus is nourished and the quality of the eggs is increased. However, if time is of the essence then starting Acupuncture sessions as soon as possible will have a positive effects on the outcome of your treatment. Generally your Acupuncturist would see you weekly throughout the IVF process and then before/after egg collection and embryo transfer. Treatment can then be continued weekly for a while to maintain the infertility of the pregnancy.
How acupuncture can help
Most clinical trials to date suggest that acupuncture may be useful in the embryo transfer stage of in vitro fertilisation, and results in an increased pregnancy rate and a greater number of live births (Cheong 2008, Manheimer 2008, Kong 2009, Chen 2009, Smith 2006, Westergaard 2006), though there have been exceptions (Domar 2009) (see Table overleaf). In one recent large trial the pregnancy rate in the acupuncture group was lower than that of the control (So 2009), thus affecting the results of subsequent reviews (Cheong 2010). This trial used an inappropriately active control treatment, a sort of acupressure, thus casting doubt on the validity of the findings.
Acupuncture may help in the treatment of infertility by:
- regulating fertility hormones – stress and other factors can disrupt the function of the hypothalamic pituitary-ovarian axis (HPOA). Acupuncture promotes the release of beta-endorphin in the brain, which regulates gonadatrophin releasing hormone from the hypothalamus, follicle stimulating hormone from the pituitary gland, and oestrogen and progesterone levels from the ovary (Anderson 2007).
- increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs (Ho 2009, Anderson 2007), which can improve the thickness of the endometrial lining, so increasing the chances of embryo implantation.
- increasing egg production (Jin 2009) and improving oocyte quality (Chen 2009), which could increase the chance of fertilisation.
- enhancing luteal function (Huang 2009)
- regulating follicle stimulation hormone-receptor expression (Jin 2009).
- normalising cortisol and prolactin levels on IVF medication days (Magarelli 2008); reducing stress (Anderson 2007)
- promoting embryo implantation (Liu 2008).
- (Source British Acupuncture Council)
High FSH – Acupuncture thoughts.
High FSH levels according to TCM indicates a deficiency in Ki Yin E, which is normally needed to make good, fertile eggs. As in western medicine, fertility decreases with age, in TCM the Ki Yin and energetics of the Ki decreases with age. Acupuncture nourishes and supports the Ki Yin and thus decreases raised FSH levels. FSH levels can also be related to factors such as movement of blood in the uterus or the emotional state of a person – in these circumstances acupuncture can stabilise FSH levels.
A baseline FSH blood test on day 3 of the menstrual cycle gives an overall indication of the ‘ovarian reserve’ which is the capacity of the ovary to provide eggs that are capable of fertilisation resulting in a healthy pregnancy. Increased FSH generally represents a reduced egg supply and may also reflect a decrease in egg quality. Generally FSH levels are expected to be below 10 miu/ml levels of 10-15 miu/ml are considered borderline.