NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Women who are trying to conceive may get a push in the right direction from acupuncture, according to a new report.
A review of medical literature regarding the benefits of acupuncture to women’s fertility reveals that the ancient technique can help reduce stress, increase blood flow to the reproductive organs and help normalize ovulation–all of which can help a woman conceive.
As such, women struggling to get pregnant may want to add acupuncture to their roster of fertility-boosting treatments, according to study author Dr. Raymond Chang of Cornell University and Meridian Medical in New York City, a private clinic that offers acupuncture treatment.
People trying to conceive will try a number of different techniques, Chang noted, and acupuncture “is certainly one good alternative that has been proven.”
An ancient therapy that arose in China more than 2,000 years ago, acupuncture involves inserting fine needles at specific points on the body. Traditional Chinese medicine theory holds that these points connect with energy pathways, or meridians, that run through the body, and acupuncture helps keep this natural energy flow running smoothly.
Many previous studies examined the benefits of acupuncture when added to other fertility treatments. For example, one report found that women who incorporate acupuncture into their in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment are more likely to become pregnant than those who use IVF alone.
IVF involves harvesting a woman’s eggs, which are then fertilized with a man’s sperm in the laboratory. The resulting embryos are transferred into the uterus.
Chang noted in an interview with Reuters Health that one previous study has also shown that women who used acupuncture without any other fertility treatments were just as likely to conceive in the same period of time as women who took a fertility drug. This finding indicates that acupuncture “can be done as a stand-alone treatment,” he said.
Chang and his team summarize recent studies on acupuncture and fertility in the December issue of Fertility and Sterility.
In terms of Western explanations for how acupuncture might affect fertility, investigators have discovered that acupuncture may exert an influence over the centers in the brain that affect ovulation, and can also work on the brain to reduce stress.
Stress and the brain play an important role in fertility, Change explained, because stress can prevent a woman from ovulating entirely, while a lack of stress often promotes fertility. This trend explains why women under extreme stress often stop menstruating, and why couples often conceive while on a cruise or other relaxing holiday.
Researchers have also discovered that acupuncture can boost blood flow to women’s reproductive organs, providing them with better nourishment. In addition, acupuncture appears to improve the lining of the uterus, the place where the embryo becomes embedded after conception. This lining is like “the soil in a garden,” Chang explained–if it is undernourished, the embryo won’t attach itself, and the pregnancy will not continue.
Chang noted that many patients are already adding acupuncture to other treatments to aid conception. “More and more, I think patients are doing it because they figure they might as well try everything,” he said.
Despite the current evidence, Chang said he believes additional research is needed to assess the benefits of acupuncture in fertility for women. He noted that he and his colleagues are planning a clinical trial to compare women undergoing IVF plus acupuncture to those using IVF alone in order to conceive, to determine whether the ancient treatment helps as an additional technique.