While clinical research on acupuncture for fertility is limited, there are reasons to believe acupuncture may have benefits for individuals navigating infertility.
Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that comes from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Generally, acupuncturists insert thin needles into a person’s skin at specific points around the body, depending on the ailment being treated.
Acupuncture is often used for pain relief and to help treat a variety of disorders. More recently, people navigating infertility have
also turned to acupuncture to help support their path to becoming parents. What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient medical practice that originated in China over 3,000 years ago.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that acupuncture points around the body are connected by pathways known as meridians. The flow of energy through these meridians is responsible for a person’s overall health.
If this energy, or qi (pronounced “chee”), is disrupted, it can cause diseases and other ailments. By applying acupuncture to particular points, practitioners seek to remove blockages and stimulate the qi’s flow. This is thought to restore balance to the body and promote healing.
Becoming an acupuncturist requires years of comprehensive training. People who are interested must first obtain a Master’s degree from an acupuncture program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). They must then pass exams with the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) to obtain board certification. Licensing requirements vary from state to state.
How is acupuncture practiced?
The most commonly-known form of acupuncture uses needles. In this practice, extremely thin, stainless steel needles are inserted into the skin at specific acupuncture points around the body. Where the needles are inserted depends on factors like the ailment being treated, your particular symptoms and conditions, and the treatment plan that you and your acupuncturist have discussed.
Once inserted, the acupuncturist gently manipulates the needles in order to stimulate the acupuncture points. This can be done manually, with hands, or with mild electrical currents that pulse through the needles (electro-acupuncture).
are regulated by the FDA as medical devices. The needles must be sterile and labeled for single-use only.
Other forms of acupuncture treatment don’t use needles. Instead, acupuncturists stimulate acupuncture points around the body using:
Acupressure Cupping Moxibustion
In acupressure, the practitioner uses their fingers to stimulate the acupuncture points. In cupping, cups are placed on the skin to create suction. Moxibustion uses heat.
Generally, patients go to multiple acupuncture sessions over a particular period of time. These sessions can range from weekly to multiple times a week. Your acupuncturist may also prescribe herbal medications as a complementary treatment.
If your acupuncturist uses needles, you may feel a slight prick or pressure as they are inserted, but pain should not last. It’s possible that you won’t feel the needles being inserted at all.
The needles usually remain in place for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, though times can vary. During the session, you may feel deeply relaxed, or even fall asleep. Before your appointment ends, your acupuncturist will remove all needles.
What can acupuncture treat?
Acupuncture is most commonly used to treat chronic and other types of pains. It is also used to treat mental and emotional health concerns such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Acupuncturists treat a number of other conditions as well, such as respiratory disorders, neurological disorders, and gastro-intestinal disorders.
Increasingly, patients dealing with reproductive system disorders, including issues with menstruation and infertility, are seeking out acupuncture for treatment.
In Western medical settings, research into acupuncture’s effectiveness is ongoing. That being said, several studies suggest promising results for its use.
Acupuncture and infertility
People navigating with infertility may be able to find help in a number of different medical practices.
Research into acupuncture’s effectiveness for treating infertility has yet to be widely conducted in the framework of Western medicine. Studies have generally been small, and sometimes inconclusive. Still, some studies, as well as widespread anecdotal findings, have indicated that acupuncture may help in treating fertility issues.
Although the overall research is slim, there is reason to believe that acupuncture, when combined with other forms of treatment, may help individuals conceive and have a
successful pregnancy. Stress
It has long been said that
stress and other psychological symptoms can make it more difficult to conceive. While the medical community continues to debate this claim, studies have shown possible correlations between increased stress levels and longer time to pregnancy or fertility problems.
This is in part due to the way that stress can affect reproductive hormones. Stress can also impact fertility in the short term by interfering with your period and
Here’s how acupuncture can come in.
Studies have found that acupuncture may help lower stress levels in patients. This study found that acupuncture may have impacted stress levels in people undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) by helping to regulate stress hormones.
The study also found that patients treated with acupuncture had higher success rates in their IVF cycles. However, the researchers were unable to determine whether this was related to the participants’ acupuncture treatment or their lower stress levels.
While stress is likely not the only factor impacting your ability to conceive, practices aimed at reducing stress could be useful as you navigate your fertility journey. Acupuncture may be able to help calm your body and your mind.
According to acupuncturists like those at the
Yinova Center, acupuncture may help support healthy uterine and reproductive functions. For example, the Yinova Center states that acupuncture can: Induce and regulate ovulation Regulate reproductive hormones Increase fertile cervical mucus
Acupuncture may also increase blood flow to the ovaries and the uterus. This, in turn, can help thicken the endometrial lining, which can aid in egg implantation following fertilization.
Acupuncturists at the Yinova Center also state that acupuncture can help improve success rates for people undergoing assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as IVF and intrauterine insemination (IUI). These findings are still under debate.
Other conditions related to infertility
Acupuncture may help treat other conditions that can cause infertility, including:
study demonstrated that acupuncture may help people with PCOS by regulating menstrual cycles, normalizing luteinizing hormone (LH) levels (a hormone necessary for ovulation), and lowering testosterone levels. This systematic review also found that acupuncture can improve menstruation and ovulation in people with PCOS. How do you find an acupuncturist?
Adding acupuncture as a complementary form of treatment may be able to help you on your journey to parenthood.
As you search for a practitioner, keep in mind that not all licensed and certified acupuncturists are familiar with treating infertility. It may be useful to talk with potential practitioners about their specific experience in this area, or to search for centers that include acupuncture for fertility treatment.
Be sure to inform your chosen acupuncturist of your medical history, including any preexisting conditions that may have an effect on your body’s reaction to acupuncture. Though complications are rare, conditions such as bleeding disorders or medications like blood thinners may increase the risk.
The biggest risk for complications is believed to come from improper technique. This means that it’s very important to choose a practitioner who is trained and board certified. The vast majority of states require licensing, as well.
The NCCAOM has a
national database of licensed and board certified acupuncturists that you can use to find an acupuncturist in your area.
Although Western clinical research remains limited, acupuncture may be able to help you on your fertility journey.