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Acupuncture and IVF: A Deep Dive into the Research

Updated: Jan 8

Are you exploring the role of fertility acupuncture in combination with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)? If so, let's journey together through the findings of recent research to understand the potential effectiveness of acupuncture in supporting the success of Western fertility treatments like IVF.


Undergoing IVF is a significant commitment emotionally and financially, and it's crucial to maximize your chances of success. Accordingly, many patients opt for integrative approaches, combining IVF with treatments such as reproductive (fertility) acupuncture or abdominal massage. Acupuncture, a time-honored practice rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has recently gained traction in fertility enhancement, owing to its ability to regulate hormone levels, increase blood flow to reproductive organs, reduce stress, and improve sperm health.


Let's now delve into the research to better understand the efficacy of acupuncture as a complementary therapy to IVF.


Regulating Hormones: Acupuncture's Role in Fertility


One key aspect of acupuncture's potential to enhance fertility is in the capacity for hormonal regulation. This complex interaction is believed to influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis - the cornerstone of reproductive hormone regulation. By potentially modulating the HPO axis, acupuncture can aid in balancing hormones like follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and estrogen, all crucial for fertility and healthy menstrual cycles.


By stimulating the autonomic nervous system, acupuncture may influence hormonal balance and encourage relaxation, reducing stress, which can, in turn, promote hormone regulation. Acupuncture has also been shown to boost the production of beta-endorphins, neurotransmitters that influence the release of hormones like cortisol and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Additionally, acupuncture's anti-inflammatory effects could help preserve hormonal balance, considering chronic inflammation often disrupts it. One study by Stener-Victorin et al. (2010) revealed that acupuncture positively influenced hormone levels in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition often associated with infertility.


Acupuncture and Blood Flow: Facilitating a Healthy Environment for Conception


Acupuncture may also contribute to fertility by promoting blood flow to reproductive organs, creating a conducive environment for egg implantation and nourishment. A study by Magarelli et al. (2008) found that women undergoing IVF with concurrent acupuncture treatments had increased uterine blood flow, leading to higher pregnancy rates.

Acupuncture can stimulate blood flow through numerous mechanisms, such as the release of certain chemicals and neurotransmitters, like nitric oxide, which cause blood vessels to dilate, thus increasing blood flow. It also modulates the autonomic nervous system, specifically the parasympathetic branch, responsible for the "rest and digest" response, which may improve blood flow to reproductive organs.


Certain acupoints are believed to correspond to specific organs or systems; stimulating these points may influence blood flow to related organs, potentially enhancing fertility. Some of these acupoints used in the treatments at Family Tree Acupuncture are located in the lower abdomen. The specific acupuncture points used are “Ren Conception Vessel’ three (CV3) and four (CV4), located below the belly button.


Stress Reduction and Sperm Health: The Multifaceted Benefits of Acupuncture


Chronic stress can detrimentally impact fertility through hormonal imbalances and other physiological changes. Research, including a study by Domar et al. (2011), has indicated that acupuncture can reduce stress levels, thereby enhancing the chances of conception. Moreover, acupuncture may improve sperm quality and quantity through hormonal regulation, improved blood flow to the testes, stress reduction, antioxidant effects, immune system modulation, and regulation of scrotal temperature.


The Paulus Protocol: A Focused Approach for IVF Patients


Our exploration of research wouldn't be complete without mentioning the Paulus protocol, a specialized acupuncture protocol designed for IVF patients. This protocol was named after the primary author, Wolfgang E. Paulus, offers a specific approach to acupuncture designed to complement in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. Paulus's groundbreaking study, "Influence of Acupuncture on the Pregnancy Rate in Patients Who Undergo Assisted Reproduction Therapy," was published in the journal "Fertility and Sterility".

In this study, 160 IVF patients were divided into two groups: one received acupuncture treatment 25 minutes before and after embryo transfer, while the other did not receive any acupuncture. The selected acupuncture points, based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles, were aimed at enhancing blood flow to the uterus, preventing uterine contractions, boosting energy levels, and promoting relaxation and stress relief. Key acupuncture points included Spleen eight (SP8), Spleen ten (SP10), Liver (LR3), Stomach twenty-nine (ST29), Ren Conception Vessel four (CV4), Ren Conception Vessel three (CV3), Du Governing Vessel twenty (GV20), and Pericardium six (PC6).

Here at the Family Tree Acupuncture clinic, we integrate the same acupuncture points into our treatments, aligning them with specific weeks of the ovulatory cycle to optimize blood flow to the uterus and ovaries. You'll find these points situated below the elbow, below the knee, and on the lower abdomen beneath the belly button.

The Paulus study reported compelling results: the group receiving acupuncture showed a significantly higher pregnancy rate compared to the non-acupuncture group (42.5% vs. 26.3%). These findings suggest that acupuncture could be a beneficial addition to IVF.

The Paulus Protocol has been referenced and applied in numerous subsequent studies exploring the integration of acupuncture with IVF. However, it's important to acknowledge that the scientific community's verdict on acupuncture's effectiveness in improving IVF outcomes remains divided. While some studies echo the results of the Paulus study, others report no significant difference in pregnancy rates. Therefore, it's crucial for individuals to consult with their healthcare provider to assess the potential benefits and risks of acupuncture in their specific situation.


In Conclusion: The Potential of Acupuncture in Fertility Enhancement


Researchers continue to explore the exact mechanisms of reproductive acupuncture and current evidence indicates that acupuncture positively influences fertility by impacting various aspects of reproductive health such as increased circulation and hormone balance. As a complementary therapy, it presents a supplemental health care option for couples navigating fertility challenges alongside conventional treatments.


Here at Family Tree Acupuncture & Wellness Clinic, we are committed to staying at the forefront of reproductive acupuncture research. By keeping up-to-date with the latest studies and developments, we strive to continually enhance our understanding and expertise. This enables us to provide the most effective fertility treatments for our patients. As we navigate this evolving field together, we remain dedicated to supporting and educating our patients every step of the way, enhancing their journey towards fertility and wellness.




Authors:


Kendall Ash McAnally

Gwyneth Bailey











References:

  1. Stener-Victorin, E., Jedel, E., & Mannerås, L. (2010). Acupuncture in polycystic ovary syndrome: current experimental and clinical evidence. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 20(3), 290-298.

  2. Paulus, W. E., Zhang, M., Strehler, E., El-Danasouri, I., & Sterzik, K. (2002). Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. Fertility and Sterility, 77(4), 721-724.

  3. OpenAI. (2021). GPT-4. Retrieved from https://openai.com/

  4. Magarelli, P. C., Cridennda, D. K., & Cohen, M. (2008). Changes in serum cortisol and prolactin associated with acupuncture during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer treatment. Fertility and Sterility, 92(6), 1870-1879.

  5. Domar, A. D., Rooney, K. L., Wiegand, B., Orav, E. J., Alper, M. M., Berger, B. M., & Nikolovski, J. (2011). Impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients. Fertility and Sterility, 95(7), 2269-2273.

  6. Cao, H., Pan, X., Li, H., & Liu, J. (2013). Acupuncture for treatment of male infertility: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Asian Journal of Andrology, 15(2), 141–147.


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