Fertility concerns are increasingly becoming some of the most common reasons people are seeking acupuncture treatment. The reason for this is quite clear – both anecdotally and through studies, acupuncture has been shown to help boost fertility naturally. The reasons why fertility acupuncture works, however, is unclear to most people, and it is a question that I get asked quite frequently as an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility. This blog entry will attempt to explain how and why acupuncture helps to naturally promote fertility as well as give some helpful fertility boosting tips.
Fertility Acupuncture Increases Blood Flow to the Reproductive Organs
One main reason why acupuncture can help boost fertility is that it helps increase blood flow to the reproductive organs. By bringing more oxygenated blood to the ovaries and uterus, acupuncture can help bring more nutrients to the follicles and improve the quality of the endometrium, or uterine lining. More nutrients to the follicles means healthier and better quality eggs, which in turns means increased chances of conception and a successful pregnancy. More blood flow to the uterine lining also helps to increase the quality and thickness of the lining, making it more receptive to a fertilized egg for implantation.
In addition to acupuncture, there are other natural ways to increase blood flow to the reproductive organs. Exercise, femoral artery massage, refraining from smoking, drinking adequate amounts of water, and managing stress are other healthy ways to increase blood flow to the reproductive system.
Click here for a Youtube video demonstrating femoral artery massage.
Acupuncture Helps Decrease Stress
Stress can be a big contributor to infertility. Recent studies have shown that women with a high level of a major stress marker took 29% longer to conceive compared to those women who had lower levels. When you experience stress, your body responds in such a way that can be detrimental to fertility. Stress can trigger the sympathetic nervous system, or the “fight or flight” response, setting off a chain reaction that takes resources away from your reproductive system. This can cause your blood vessels to constrict, limiting blood flow and nutrients to your reproductive organs. Stress also can adversely affect the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis (HPA), which regulates the release and timing of sex hormones. This can disrupt ovulation, causing late ovulation or lack of ovulation altogether. If that wasn’t enough, stress causes the release of the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol can inhibit sexual mood and arousal. Therefore, being stressed out is not conducive to being in the mood for sex, and this limits opportunities for conception to happen. In men, this can even lead to erectile dysfunction.
Acupuncture is a great way to combat stress and help boost fertility. It causes the body to release natural “feel good hormones”, like endorphin and serotonin, and can decrease the presence of the stress hormone cortisol. This can bring about a sense of relaxation and well-being, even just after one treatment. By relaxing the mind and body, acupuncture turns on the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is the opposing system to the “fight of flight” response generated by the sympathetic nervous system. The PNS helps the body to relax, slows down heart rate and respiration, and restores resources to the digestion and reproductive systems. Your acupuncturist may use points like Yin Tang and Shen Men, which are considered spirit calming points, help patients relax. These effects of these relaxation points can often be experienced immediately upon insertion.
Besides acupuncture, there are other natural ways to combat stress. Physical activity like moderate exercise, yoga, and walking are great stress reducers and help keep the blood flowing. Meditation and deep abdominal breathing are also great ways to calm the mind and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous response.
Click here for a Youtube video demonstrating deep abdominal,or diaphragmatic, breathing.
Click here to check out Circle & Bloom, a fertility focused guided meditation program.
Acupuncture Can Help Balance Reproductive Hormones
Several studies have shown that acupuncture and electro-acupuncture can have a normalizing effect on reproductive hormones, thereby increasing fertility. One such hormone is estrogen. Estrogen is a key hormone when it comes to fertility as it plays a critical role in ovulation and the proliferation, or rebuilding, of the uterine lining. Additionally, it helps to make the vaginal canal more receptive to sperm by increasing fertile mucus and opening up the cervix to allow sperm to enter the cervix. It also contributes to female libido. During menopause, estrogen wanes, causing diminished ovulation, vaginal dryness, and lower libido, resulting in diminished fertility or complete infertility. By helping to normalize estrogen levels, acupuncture can help improve the very important fertility functions of this key sex hormone.
Another important reproductive hormone is FSH, or follicle stimulating hormone. FSH controls the menstrual cycle and stimulates the growth of the eggs in the ovaries. Too much or too little FSH can be a problem. Not enough FSH can mean that the ovaries do not get the message to ripen and release an egg for ovulation. More commonly in women with fertility issues, FSH levels are high, indicating that the ovaries are not responding to the hormone and therefore may not be ripening and releasing eggs. The pituitary gland in turn produces more FSH to try to force the ovaries to respond. This can be a sign of diminishing ovarian reserve. By stimulating more blood flow to the ovaries, acupuncture increases the response of the ovaries to FSH, therefore signaling to the pituitary gland to produce less FSH. Acupuncture has a normalizing effect on FSH and many women with high FSH see their FSH levels drop after getting regular acupuncture. This is particularly important when it comes to women going through IVF. Fertility doctors will often cancel IVF cycles if FSH levels are too high as this can be an indication that the ovaries will respond poorly to IVF drugs. Getting acupuncture before and during an IVF cycle can increase ovarian responsiveness to the follicle stimulating drugs given, potentially increasing the quantity and quality of the eggs retrieved. I have personally seen many cases of women who’s baseline FSH levels dropped dramatically as well as number of eggs retrieved increase significantly after receiving regular fertility acupuncture treatments.
Besides acupuncture, eating a whole foods diet rich in antioxidants, fiber, good fats, and healthy proteins can not only lead to better health, but also enhanced fertility. Antioxidant rich foods like colorful fruits and vegetables can help combat the aging process as well as improve egg and sperm quality. Foods like wild caught salmon, walnuts, avocado, and olive oil are high in good fats like omega-3s, which can improve ovulation and implantation. Eating fiber and protein rich foods while avoiding processed and sugary foods help maintain a healthy BMI, healthy blood glucose levels, and decrease insulin resistance. Being overweight and having insulin resistance are key factors in PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), one of the leading causes of infertility and anovulation.
Click here for Acubalance Wellness Centre’s (not affiliated with Acupuncture for Balanced Wellness) Fertility diet.
An Acupuncturist’s Perspective on Infertility
From an acupuncturist’s perspective, infertility can be caused by blocked energy, or qi, stagnated blood flow, and energetic imbalances in the organ systems. We evaluate each patient individually and determine what systems may be out of balance or blocked and choose points accordingly. For example, the Kidney and the Liver systems play very important roles in fertility from a Chinese Medicine perspective and often become imbalanced due to constitution, lifestyle, diet, and stress. If these systems are found to be out of balance, an acupuncturist will choose points to support the Kidney and Liver systems, such as KD3, CV4, UB23, UB18, LV8, and LV3. By harmonizing specific organ systems in the body and freeing up the flow of blood and energy, we try to restore health and reproductive function to the body. Many patients notice improvements in the regularity of their menstrual cycles, a decrease in premenstrual and menstrual symptoms, changes in the quality of menstrual blood, improvements in mood, energy, and sleep in just a few sessions. In addition to acupuncture, we often use dietary and herbal supplements to naturally correct imbalances and promote fertility.
Our acupuncturists are well trained and highly experienced in treating patients experiencing infertility. We have helped many patients who are trying to conceive naturally as well as patients who are going through fertility treatments, such as IUI and IVF, improve their chances of success. Through fertility acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, heat therapy, herbal therapy, and dietary/lifestyle counseling, we customize each individual’s treatments to optimize fertility naturally and improve responses to fertility medications. Fertility acupuncture has also been shown to increase embryo implantation after IVF transfer by as much as 65% according to some studies. Many of our patients achieve pregnancy within 3 menstrual cycles or less. We also work with male patients to improve sperm quality and quantity.