Can acupuncture help infertility?

Helping fertility with acupuncture

Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of conditions. We commonly know acupuncture can help with pain relief, blood pressure and irritable bowel syndrome, however acupuncture is increasingly being used to help with infertility.

Women wishing to fall pregnant but struggling to conceive are turning to acupuncture, alongside IVF or donor-egg transfer, to aid fertility. Before understanding how acupuncture can help with conception, it’s important to understand what infertility is and the possible causes.

What is infertility?

Infertility is a biological inability to contribute to conception despite regular unprotected sex. This can affect both men and women and a couple is usually deemed infertile if they can’t conceive after two years. Infertility in women can be caused by ovulation problems (ovarian failure, polycystic ovary syndrome, thyroid, cancer), a damaged womb or fallopian tubes (pelvic or cervical surgery, endometriosis, benign tumours) or side-effects from certain medications or drugs.

In men, infertility is caused by abnormal semen (low sperm count, sperm mobility, abnormal sperm shape), damaged testicles (from infection, cancer or surgery), ejaculation disorders or side-effects from medicines/drugs.

There are also contributory factors that can affect both sexes including obesity or being underweight, STIs (Chlamydia damages the fallopian tubes and causes swelling in the scrotum), smoking, and exposure to chemicals, pesticides or solvents. Stress is also a major factor in fertility reducing libido and affecting the man’s sperm production and woman’s ovulation. Acupuncture can be used to treat any fertility disorder and is extremely beneficial to stress relief.

How does acupuncture work on fertility?

Acupuncture uses ultra-fine needles that are inserted into the skin. These needles stimulate sensory nerves, physical functions and the release of chemicals and substances around the body. Acupuncture has been found to affect hormone release, circulation and digestion.

For infertility problems, acupuncture regulates the body’s systems, provides hormone stability and increases blood flow to the reproductive organs. These functions together increase a woman’s ovarian and follicular function and increase a man’s sperm production. Acupuncture also increases blood flow to the woman’s uterus making it thicker and richer and providing an optimum environment for the formation of the embryo.

Acupuncture is sometimes combined with herbal medicine when treating infertility. Herbal medicines used for infertility include Cuscuta, Liquorice, Psoralea fruit, Wild Yam and Eucommia. There is evidence of acupuncture and herbal medicine alone increasing fertility and leading to conception, however acupuncture is generally used as a complementary therapy alongside conventional infertility treatment.

When to start using acupuncture

Three to four months before insemination by in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or donor-egg transfer is the common time for acupuncture to begin and the optimum time for its therapeutic effects. The acupuncturist will avoid particular points on the body that are deemed unsafe after insemination or transfer of the egg. These points are around the abdomen and pelvis. When the woman falls pregnant, the acupuncture needles should not be placed in specific points on the gallbladder, stomach, large intestine, spleen and bladder.

On deciding to use acupuncture as a treatment for infertility, you should ensure your acupuncturist has undergone thorough training and is accredited with a relevant governing body. It is also important to choose an acupuncturist who specialises in fertility disorders. Acupuncture carries minimal risk to miscarriage as long as the incorrect points on the body are avoided.

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