Traditional Chinese Medicine IVF And Infertility A Closer Look


With so much in the news about acupuncture and IVF, its of no surprise that many women are curious about how this may help them. Many of you will be aware of the recent research into TCM infertility and IVF, which found that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can boost fertility and outcome of IVF.

A TCM doctor takes a detailed history following which different acupuncture points are used depending on where you are in your IVF / natural cycle. Putting the building blocks in place before your IVF schedule is also key; getting the cycle into balance is important to the success of the IVF treatment. Issues such as PMS, fibroids, PCOS, and painful periods are all signs of imbalance in TCM which need addressing in preparation for the cycle.

How Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine can help IVF

Lets take a closer look at how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help at specific stages in the IVF schedule:

Down Regulation
Acupuncture used at this stage can help ameliorate side effects of IVF drugs such as irritability, moodiness, and headaches. The risk of abdominal pain and swelling is reduced, and the risk of ovarian hyper-stimulation can also be moderated.

IVF techniques are particularly good at getting the egg and the sperm together. In cases where there is a tubal blockage or the sperm is unable to reach its destination, IVF creates a solution. ICSI can be employed if the sperm are unable to fertilise the egg. Using Chinese medicine to improve sperm counts takes several months but, even in the short term, sperm vitality can be influenced. Acupuncture and moxa treatment applied just before the sperm donation is to be made for an IVF procedure help not only ‘performance’ and ‘stage fright’ but also might help galvanise the sperm for their task in the Petri dish. Over a long period of time (1 year or more) herbs and acupuncture can usually help very compromised sperm.

Good embryos
The early development of the embryo depends on the function of the quality of the sperm and egg, how they come together, and the compatibility of the genetic material. Chinese medicine is used to improve quality of gametes via enhanced ovary function. When the ovaries are functioning well they are responsive to stimulation by FSH and the oestrogen levels will be high. High oestrogen levels prime the endometrium development, stimulate more follicles and possibly contribute to better quality eggs.

Good tubes
Well functioning tubes are necessary in natural conception, but not for IVF. Chinese medicine aims to improve the elasticity, the secretions and the internal environment of the fallopian tubes, but for absolute obstructions micro surgery is required or IVF can be employed to by pass the tubes altogether. Acupuncture is thought to be useful in facilitating movement in the tubes and preventing spasm of the fine muscles in the walls of the tubes.

Good uterine lining
Studies during IVF have shown that pre ovulatory endometrium thickness and ultrasound appearance is predictive of embryo implantation results. Anything less than 9-mm sagittal thickness, is associated with about a 5-fold reduction in live birth rate per embryo transfer. Women with poor development have a history (thus far) unexplained IVF failure or early recurrent miscarriage. Using Chinese medicine increases the thickness and the quality of the lining of the uterus. It does this by promoting corpus luteal function in producing high levels of progesterone and increasing blood flow to the uterus. Patients who have taken Chinese herbs before and after egg pick up often report unusually high progesterone readings.

If the embryo is a strong one, and the stage and extent of development the endometrium is good, it is expected to produce a successful implantation. At this stage, bar ensuring the embryos are transferred at the right time – IVF has little more influence. However acupuncture and Chinese medicine can influence blood flow to the uterine lining the hope of encouraging implantation, as can aspirin, which is now prescribed as part of many IVF protocols. If all the steps above leading up to this point has been successful – then Chinese medicine can still be of benefit.

Viable pregnancy
Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture is sometimes used in the early stages of preganacy if there are any signs that the women’s body is weakening and a miscarriage threatens. Morning sickness, sciatica, and pelvic pain can be treated during preganacy, as can problems with sleep and digestion. At the later stages, Chinese medicine is used if the babies’ growth is not optimal, and even later again acupuncture will be sought if the baby is long overdue.

About The Author

Jo George:
MBAc; BSc (Hons) Acupuncture; Dip. Clin. Acu (China); Two Post Graduate Dips Chinese Herbal Medicine; IIHHT; Dip TTM (Thailand); Member of The British Acupuncture Council; Friend of the Association of Reflexologists, Member of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine. Certified Practitioner in the art of Neuro-linguistic Programming (ITS).

Jo has over 12 yrs experience in the health field, and specialises in gynaecology & IVF. She uses a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine using evidence based approach for those trying naturally and those going down the assisted fertility route.

Article Submitted By
Jo George, Life Medicine Clinic
Acupuncture & Chinese herbal medicine

Date Published


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