McLean, VA – September 20, 2011 - The problem of infertility can be emotionally and financially draining, and it is also far from rare – with fully 10-15% of couples in the US having difficulty conceiving. But what’s new in the arena of infertility treatment may surprise you: According to Lisa Lilienfield, MD, at The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Virginia, “Medical research demonstrates that acupuncture is clinically effective in boosting fertility.”
“Overall, the research is very strong,” Dr. Lilienfield explains. “In general, a woman may be up to 65% more likely to become pregnant if she is receives acupuncture combined with IVF treatments, as compared to receiving IVF treatments alone.”
So, how does this procedure, which has been used for thousands of years to alleviate pain and boost the body’s immune system, help to improve fertility in women? In three ways, explains Dr. Lilienfield:
1. Acupuncture increases uterine and ovarian blood flow. Acupuncture increases oxygenated blood flow and thickens the uterine lining, increasing the chance of conceiving.
2. Acupuncture modulates the body’s neuroendocrine system, activating the brain to release hormones that in turn stimulate the ovaries, adrenals and other organs involved in reproduction.
3. Acupuncture decreases the body’s stress response. Stress can contribute to infertility, and acupuncture mitigates the body’s stress response.
Of course, men also can have infertility issues. Although there are fewer studies examining male infertility and acupuncture, the existing research suggests that acupuncture also plays a positive role in improving male fertility. Most importantly, the research indicates that there are no adverse side effects associated with using acupuncture to treat infertility.
Dr. Lilienfield urges couples to always keep in mind that each infertility situation is unique. “In women, medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) can affect ovulation and thereby undermine their ability to conceive. Also, lifestyle factors such as smoking, excess alcohol use, stress, poor diet, excessive athletic training, and maintaining an unhealthy weight can create obstacles to getting pregnant.”
Age also plays a prominent role in fertility. “As the years pass, a woman’s ovaries gradually become less able to release eggs, and the eggs produced are fewer and less robust.” This said, it is still very possible to have a healthy baby (or babies) at an older age. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20% of women have their first child after age 35.
If you are under 35, and have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a year or more, talk with your physician to determine what fertility treatments would be most effective for you. If you are over 35 and interested in getting pregnant, fertility experts recommend not waiting more than 6 months before seeking professional, medical assistance. Your doctor should administer fertility tests to determine the root of the problem. Identifying the cause of infertility will help determine the best course of action. Says Dr. Lilienfield, “We also pay special attention to any chronic medical issues you may have, measuring your intracellular magnesium and vitamin-D levels, assessing your hormone balance, and helping you manage any situational stress you may be experiencing. Most importantly, we tell couples, don’t lose hope!”
About Dr. Lisa Lilienfield, MD: Dr. Lilienfield specializes in treating hormonal imbalances through natural hormone replacement and alternative thyroid medications. She is board-certified in family medicine and is a member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. Dr. Lilienfield also serves as a Clinical Assistant Professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine's Department of Community and Family Medicine.
Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing IVF: systematic review and meta-analysis, BMJ. 2008 March 8; 336(7643): 545–549.