Can Acupuncture Help with Fertility?
A growing body of research shows that acupuncture can be an effective form of fertility support, in both men and women. Acupuncture is typically used in conjunction with other fertility treatments, including in-vitro fertilization (IVF). In fact, a 2002 study published in Fertility and Sterility found that women receiving acupuncture during IVF boosted pregnancy rates from 26 percent to 42 percent.
Acupuncture Improves Fertility by Reducing Stress
Stress is a known infertility risk factor. Although the stress effect isn’t completely understood, mind-body fertility treatments (which emphasize stress reduction) have shown promise in improving pregnancy rates.
Women suffering from depression are twice as likely to suffer from infertility, and anxiety can impact fertility as well. As such, stress is clearly a factor in reproductive health.
Acupuncture can be a powerful stress reliever, and there is considerable medical research to back this up. For example, a meta-analysis published in Annals of General Psychiatry looked at 20 randomly controlled trials that included about 1,000 patients in total. The research team determined that acupuncture was superior to controls in reducing self-reported anxiety symptoms by a significant margin.
When inserted into the correct points, acupuncture needles stimulate the release of several beneficial biochemicals. Among them are endorphins, which are compounds that reduce stress and improve mood.
Acupuncture also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – the part of the nervous system responsible for placing the body in a relaxed state. In this way, acupuncture can utilize the body’s own stress-reduction mechanisms to support better fertility.
Acupuncture Improves Fertility by Regulating Menstrual Cycles
Women are encouraged to track their ovulation cycles in order to identify fertility “windows.” However, irregular menstrual cycles can make this difficult for women.
When a woman experiences irregular menstrual cycles, it could be due to imbalanced hormones or issues with blood flow.
Acupuncture can help with both issues. Research shows that acupuncture can modulate the body’s hormone expression, including sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Acupuncture can also balance thyroid hormones, which also impact menstruation cycles.
Another way acupuncture corrects menstruation is through better circulation. During treatment, acupuncture needles stimulate the release of vasodilators like nitric oxide. In effect, blood vessels are relaxed and hydraulic efficiency in the vessels is increased. This allows the body to deliver a consistent supply of nutrient-rich blood to the uterus, ovaries, and other reproductive organs.
Acupuncture Can Improve Follicular Quality
Another benefit of improved circulation is ensuring the ovaries get the nutrients they need to develop high quality eggs.
In a 2019 study published in Medical Acupuncture, women who received electroacupuncture – acupuncture needles stimulated by an electrical current after insertion – were able to develop a greater number of mature eggs. Mature eggs have a higher chance of implanting and developing following conception.
Acupuncture Can Help with Conditions That Cause Infertility
Acupuncture is also used to treat a variety of conditions that can impact reproductive health. Two major examples include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and uterine fibroids.
PCOS is characterized by enlarged ovaries, ovarian cysts, irregular menstrual cycles, excessive body hair growth, weight gain, acne, and fertility problems. Although the exact cause of PCOS remains unknown, physicians currently believe that it’s driven by a combination of genetic and hormonal factors. Acupuncture can be used to treat PCOS-related hormonal imbalances, which supports more consistent menstruation and better ovary health.
Acupuncture is also effective for uterine fibroids. These typically benign growths develop on and around the uterus and are most common among women of child-bearing age. Although most cause no symptoms, some uterine fibroids can develop to the point that they cause pain, cramping, and heavy menstrual bleeding. They can also interfere with fertility, as they may cause the uterus to shift or pinch off. Acupuncture, because it improves uterine blood flow, can help the body shrink fibroids and resolve fertility issues arising from them.
Acupuncture Can Also Improve Male Fertility
In about 1/3 of infertile couples, the cause is male infertility. There can be many reasons for male infertility, including hormone imbalances or erectile dysfunction (ED).
Acupuncture can help men with both issues. Studies show that acupuncture doesn’t just balance estrogen and other “female” hormones, as it also increases the level of “male” hormones like androgens and testosterone. Further, male fertility relies on a complex network of hormone-producing organs, including the testicles, pituitary gland, and the thyroid. Acupuncture helps the body keep these organs in balance with each other, ensuring they can function properly for male reproductive health.
Acupuncture is also a popular support therapy for erectile dysfunction and can be used to treat physiological and psychological causes behind the condition. Physiologically, acupuncture improves blood flow and can therefore improve sexual performance. Psychologically, acupuncture treatments can relax ED patients and improve their mentality prior to having sex. Both can increase the chances of successful intercourse and conception.
Acupuncture Can Support and Improve Fertility Treatments
If provided by a licensed, reputable acupuncturist, acupuncture treatments can improve fertility in several ways. They can balance hormone levels, improve blood flow, increase follicle quality, and reduce stress.
Acupuncture can also help patients deal with the side effects of other fertility treatments. This can keep women on their current fertility regimen until it provides results.
If you’re struggling with infertility, or are currently receiving other fertility treatments, consider scheduling an appointment with a Houston acupuncturist and see how treatment can help you. A Houston acupuncturist who is also board certified in allopathic (western) medicine can provide guidance on a full spectrum of fertility treatments, maximizing your chances of a successful pregnancy.