More than 10 percent of U.S. couples experience infertility to some extent. That’s millions of people with fertility problems – a number that sounds extremely high until you consider all the ways that fertility can be disrupted. Medical conditions, hormonal issues, excess stress, weight issues, lifestyle choices, age – all have a bearing on fertility.
If fertility issues are present, they can cause serious distress, to the point where couples may consider alternative options for improving their pregnancy chances. One of the most popular alternatives in this area is acupuncture. This proven practice dates back thousands of years and has been used to treat an impressive variety of conditions. This includes conditions that may influence fertility.
Acupuncture May Help with Medical Conditions That Can Reduce Fertility
There are a handful of medical conditions associated with reduced fertility. Some of them may be improved with acupuncture, and include:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS is a common reason behind infertility, affecting about 10 percent of women who are of childbearing age. Hormone issues are at the root of most PCOS cases, as many women with PCOS have elevated levels of male hormones like androgen. PCOS may also be the result of long-term inflammation or insulin resistance.
In women with PCOS, the ovaries either do not develop eggs properly or do not release them on time. Other symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstruation, acne, and excess facial hair. While PCOS isn’t preventable, it is treatable.
- Uterine fibroids – Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths that develop in uterus tissue and, in some patients, may not present with symptoms. In many women, though, fibroids cause heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain. There isn’t always a clear cause behind fibroids, but they are more likely to appear in women who have a family history of fibroids, or experienced puberty early.
In some instances, uterine fibroids can interfere with uterine function and, therefore, fertility. There are treatment options available, but medication may come with uncomfortable adverse effects.
- Erectile dysfunction – Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a male-only fertility issue that may have physical or psychological causes. While ED isn’t a direct cause of infertility itself, it can reduce the likelihood of successful intercourse and reduce its frequency. There are treatment options for ED, too, including alternatives like acupuncture.
Acupuncture May Also Restore Balance in Blood Flow and in Hormonal Function
Acupuncture can support fertility health in several ways, so the mechanism of action in each case may be slightly different. With erectile dysfunction, the cause may be psychological. With PCOS, the cause is typically hormonal. With uterine fibroids, blood flow may be the root cause.
Acupuncture’s efficacy is partly due to its beneficial, whole-body effects. For example, several studies suggest that treatment can restore proper hormonal levels in patients, including estrogen and progesterone – two hormones closely linked to fertility. Better hormone balance can also help with menstrual problems, which is why acupuncture is a popular adjunct therapy for women experiencing related symptoms like hot flashes. And, of course, restoring this balance can help conditions like PCOS.
In addition to hormone balance, acupuncture treatment is associated with improved blood flow into reproductive organs. Our blood carries with it a swarm of beneficial biochemical compounds that can help the body regulate itself, so improving blood flow to organs is important. Acupuncture can stimulate the body to do just that.
Stress Can Be Intense For People With Fertility Problems, But Acupuncture Can Reduce Stress
Women diagnosed with infertility often experience stress levels similar to those experienced in women with cancer or HIV. Anxiety only makes conception more difficult to achieve, so managing stress is an immediate priority for infertility patients.
Some of the strongest evidence backing acupuncture as therapy is the evidence linking it to stress reduction. There may be a few explanations behind why acupuncture is effective against anxiety. For one, acupuncture facilitates a low-stress routine, as it’s a low-stress, relaxed form of therapy. It’s delivered in a dim, quiet room by an acupuncturist who seeks to maintain a calm setting.
Acupuncture is known to stimulate the nervous system, as well. There is evidence that inserted needles can modulate nervous activity locally and in distant areas – and researchers are also interested in how acupuncture affects the vagus nerve and gut-brain axis. Regulating nervous activity in these areas could provide an array of benefits, including reduced stress.
Acupuncture Can Offset the Adverse Effects Caused by Fertility Medication
A multimodal approach to treatment is standard with infertility. Physician teams have developed wide-ranging treatment regimens for fertility issues, including the use of medication.
Medication can play a major role in supporting fertility, specifically as a hormone balancer. The science behind this approach is sound, but adverse effects can be a challenge for some patients. They include:
- Hot flashes
- Altered menstruation patterns
While these are mild in many women, for some they can result in discontinuing treatment. Acupuncture, though, is effective against many of the side effects listed above, with particularly strong evidence for its use against headaches, hot flashes, and menstruation-related discomfort. In this way, acupuncture can support a larger fertility regimen.
Considering Alternative Fertility Treatments? Many Turn to Acupuncture
Fertility problems affect millions of Americans, and for those struggling with them, there isn’t much time to pursue potential treatment options. As such, it’s common for couples to try several fertility-boosting modalities at once, including medication, physical therapy, psychological therapy, and more dramatic measures like IVF.
Among those options are promising alternatives like acupuncture, which is safe for most people when it’s provided by a licensed Houston acupuncturist. Acupuncture has several whole-body, high-level effects on the body’s health, including balancing hormones, reducing stress, improving circulation, and stimulating beneficial aspects of the nervous system. It can also be used to offset the effects of fertility medicine, helping men and women stay with their fertility treatments longer.
In short, acupuncture offers several fertility-related benefits to couples attempting to get pregnant, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most popular alternative fertility options available.