You may have heard that acupuncture can increase overall fertility and the success rate of IUI and IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). How exactly does it help? Research has shown that there are several factors.
1) Increased blood flow to the uterus- this can result in thicker endometrial (uterine) lining as well as a higher quality lining. Although there is some debate about exact numbers, usually if the lining is less than 6mm it is considered “too thin”. Lining just before ovulation should be about 8-13 mm thick- and will continue to get thicker up until your period begins. Quantity isn’t the only important factor- the quality is also vital. Research has shown that healthy endometrial linings have three distinct layers; without these three layers there can be problems with implantation. If conception does not take place, the “trilaminar” (three layered) appearance” usually disappears 48 hours after ovulation.
2) Reduction in prolactin and cortisol- if elevated, these stress hormones can interfere with your normal “healthy” hormones’ proper functioning.
3) Decrease in smooth muscle contractions following embryo transfer or around the time of potential implantation- small contractions in the uterine musculature could make implantation less likely. This is the same line of reasoning fertility specialists (RE’s) use when deciding whether to give their patients a low dose of Valium prior to transfer- many times a relaxed mind= relaxed body. Additionally, spasms of the fallopian tubes can cause the embryo to make its way into the tube, resulting in an ectopic pregnancy. Acupuncture can both increase the chance of implantation and decrease the chance of ectopic pregnancies (which is more likely in IVF cycles).
4) Impact FSH, LH, and Estradiol and Progesterone levels- studies have shown that FSH can be lowered and other hormones are brought closer to normal range after a course of acupuncture.
5) Increase endorphin production, thereby modulating the release of GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone)- endorphins are a compound produced by the pituitary gland which act as natural pain relievers as well as produce a feeling of well- being. Research has shown that they have an effect on GnRH- the hormone responsible for production of FSH and LH.
Clinically, I find that my patients undergoing IVF cycles experience less anxiety and stress overall as well as notice that unpleasant side effects of medications are decreased. In addition, if women are able to take herbs for 1-3 months prior to an IVF cycle, I have seen more eggs retrieved and thicker endometrium. I do not recommend my patients take Chinese Herbs during an IVF cycle.
If you are trying to conceive naturally, acupuncture can help in many ways- regulating cycles, lengthening a short luteal phase, increasing thickness and quality of uterine lining and increasing cervical fluid. I also see myself as a fertility coach- helping my patients to answer questions such as: “When are my peak fertile days?” and “At what point, if at all, should I seek help from a specialist?” I feel that diet and lifestyle modifications to improve fertility naturally are also very important, and will always counsel my patients on these topics. And let’s not forget about the second half of the equation: the sperm! It’s equally important for men to get as healthy as possible to improve chances of a healthy pregnancy. Women are always more likely to seek treatment, but I encourage both partners to do everything possible to improve their chances.
If you are interested in learning more about fertility acupuncture or acupuncture in conjunction with an IVF or IUI cycle, please contact me at susan (at) nychi-acupuncture.com for more information.