This review for patients will help explain how acupuncture can aid conception. For more information on infertility and other treatment options visit www.nhs.uk.
Simplistically conception involves the egg being released from the follicle and being fertilised by the sperm before it implants in the endometrium. With one in seven couples in the UK this fails to occur and for 25% the cause of their infertility is unexplained (1).
How can acupuncture help? Acupuncture works by:
- Increasing blood flow to the uterus and endometrium (2).
- Increasing blood flow to the gonads (this has yet to be proven to help fertility) (3).
- Establishes or promotes regular ovulation (4a,b).
To achieve this acupuncture is performed on the abdomen and limbs. Sound strange? Animal studies show just pinching the hindpaw increases uterine blood flow! (5)
In vitro fertilisation (IVF)
How can acupuncture help IVF? Acupuncture can:
- Possibly increase ovarian blood flow (6).
- Increases endometrial receptivity giving higher rates of successful embryo implantation (7).
- Reduces stress and anxiety.
- Inhibits uterine contractions post embryo transfer.
The NHS website advocates the use of acupuncture with IVF treatment (8). Trials have shown IVF success rates sore from 26.3% without to 42.5% with acupuncture (9).
The most important influence as to whether an embryo will implant is if there is any damage to the sperm or the egg. In 95% of cases the damage, when genetic, is due to the egg rather than the sperm. One of the causes of this genetic damage to the egg is poor blood supply and therefore poor oxygen supply to the follicles (10). If the follicles have a good blood supply and higher oxygen levels the eggs get damaged far less and chance of conception improves (10, 11a,b).
One explanation of the success of acupuncture with IVF is thought to be by how it’s been shown to improve blood flow and oxygen supply and how this could positively affect the follicles and egg (11a,b). This is especially pertinent in older women whereby diet and aerobic exercise can play an adjunctive role.
If you feel acupuncture would help you physically or emotionally with trying to conceive then contact your local acupuncturist.
(2a) Ho M et al (2009). Electroacupuncture reduces uterine artery blood flow impedance in infertile women.
(2b) Elisabet Stener-Victorin et al (1996). Reduction of blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertile women with electro-acupuncture
(3) Cakmak Y et al (2007). Point- and frequency-specific response of the testicular artery to abdominal electroacupuncture in humans
(4a)Johansson J1, Stener-Victorin E (2013). Polycystic ovary syndrome: effect and mechanisms of acupuncture for ovulation induction.
(4b) Johansson J et al (2013). Acupuncture for ovulation induction in polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial.
(5) Uchida S and Hotta H (2008). Acupuncture Affects Regional Blood Flow in Various Organs
(6) Stener-Victorin E1, Humaidan P. (2006). Use of acupuncture in female infertility and a summary of recent acupuncture studies related to embryo transfer.
(7) Shuai Z (2015) Effect of transcutaneous electrical acupuncture point stimulation on endometrial receptivity in women undergoing frozen-thawed embryo transfer: a single-blind prospective randomised controlled trial.
(8) NHS choice website http://www.nhs.uk/news/2007/January08/Pages/AcupunctureandsuccessofIVF.aspx
(9) Paulus WE et al (2002). Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy.
(10) Van Blerkom J et al (1997). The developmental potential of the human oocyte is related to the dissolved oxygen content of follicular fluid: association with vascular endothelial growth factor levels and perifollicular blood flow characteristics.
(11a) Rashidi BH (2013). Effects of acupuncture on the outcome of in vitro fertilisation and intracytoplasmic sperm injection in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
(11b) Manheimer E et al (2008). Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis