Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) based on the understanding that our body’s motivating energy force, or Qi, moves through a network of channels called meridians. These meridians run along the nerve pathways.
Illness arises from blockages in the energy flow. An acupuncturist inserts fine, sterile needles at various points on the meridians to rebalance the body’s energy, which promotes healing.
So how does this correspond to fertility? By inserting needles in the right places, it can increase the blood flow to the reproductive organs (Ho, 2009, Anderson 2007) which in turn can thicken the endometrial lining, increasing the chances of embryo implantation (Liu, 2008).
Further studies show that acupuncture can increase egg production (Jin, 2009) and improve oocyte quality (Chen, 2009) which could increase the chance of fertilisation.
As trying to fall pregnant can result in anxiety and tension, acupuncture can regulate levels of neurotransmitters and hormones, such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine, altering the brain’s moody chemistry to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Chen 2009; Zhou 2008).
If IVF is the route you have decided to take, than acupuncture is a suggested tool to work alongside your IVF programme. It is suggested that regular acupuncture in the lead up to IVF is an excellent way to treat your body’s underlying conditions, as well as combat the negative effects that you experience due to the medication. Having acupuncture before and embryo transfer is highly recommended (and known as the Paulus Protocol). Wolfgang Paulus conducted a study in 2002 whereby he treated two groups of women undergoing IVF. One group was given acupuncture immediately before IVF and immediately after and the other group received no treatment. The pregnancy rate for those who received acupuncture was 34 out of 80 patients (42.5%) whereas the pregnancy rate in the group receiving no acupuncture was 21 out of 80 patients (26.3).
A British Medical Journal meta-analysis of Paulus’ original study came up with an increase in success rates of 65% (Manheimer, E., Zhang, G., Udoff, L. et al 2008).
Melanie Hackwell, First Class BSc (Hons), Lic Ac, MBAcC, MRTCM
For those experiencing fertility issues, it can be a very stressful time. There is so much conflicting advice and information that it is hard to know what is right for you. Please use these tips as guidelines and by doing so, you can ensure you are in the best possible health and taking all the right measures
Make sure you are having sex at the correct times. Most women ovulate between day 12 and 16 day, depending on your cycle (day 1 if the first day of your period). The best way to measure ovulation is by using a Basal Body Temperature (BBT) Thermometer which monitors your cycle by indicating small fluctuations in body temperature. For example, higher levels of oestrogen present during the pre-ovulatory (follicular) phase of the menstrual cycle will lower your BBT. The higher levels of progesterone released by the corpus luteum after ovulation will raise your BBT. The rise in temperatures can most commonly be seen the day after ovulation, but this varies and BBT can only be used to estimate ovulation within a three-day range. However, it is important to have plenty of sex on a regular basis to keep the sperm strong. Some studies have indicated that the day to have sex which leads to the highest conception rate is 2 days before ovulation. I suggest to my patients to have regular intercourse from day 10 to 16, every other day.
To coincide with ovulation, you should experience a stretchy and slippery egg white discharge at the time of ovulation. The sperm uses this discharge as “stepping stones” into the uterus and therefore it is essential to ensure this is happening. If the discharge is thick and pasty, it can block the pathway to the uterus (this is where acupuncture is extremely effective). It is also important for the woman to orgasm after the man, if possible. The contraction of the uterine muscles that comes with an orgasm will assist the sperm in moving further into the uterus.
Both partners should get checked by their GP – the woman should have her AMH, FSH and LH levels monitored to make sure she is producing the correct hormones and to check her egg reserve and the man should have a semen analysis. In over 50% of infertility cases, the man has a low sperm count or low motility, yet it is the woman who undergoes all the tests, treatments, etc. Sadly, I treat a huge number of women for infertility where the man experiences difficulties, yet they refuse to see me. Sorry about this guys, but please remember there is no shame in this and its best to get it looked at as soon as possible. Also, when having a blood test, the female should ask her GP to check her iron and thyroid levels. I cannot tell you the amount of patients that I have seen after a failed IVF and their pulse indicates this type of deficiency. If your body is low in either, it can be difficult to maintain a pregnancy.
Stay warm. Your stomach should always be warm (not hot so do not use a hot water bottle) but I suggest putting a pillow on the stomach when watching television or other forms of relaxation. Also ensure you keep your feet warm at all times so always wear socks.
Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided when fertility is an issue. Women can have 3 units of alcohol a week and men 6 units, but absolutely no more. You can have one cup of tea or coffee a day and unlimited herbal tea, but no decaffeinated products as they are highly processed which can block the body’s natural ability to achieve a healthy equilibrium.
Superfood nutritional supplements can be purchased from health food shops or the internet, packed with algaes, vitamins and minerals which really helps in producing a good, high quality egg. I recommend Terra Nova’s Intense Greens or Superfood from Herbs Hands Healing. Additionally, it is useful to see a qualified nutritionist who can suggest appropriate supplements for you. Both Mel Brown and Alessandra Bernsen are Nutritionists who specialises in Fertility and I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Get regular acupuncture. It is important to see a qualified acupuncturist regularly to help treat the underlying issues that can affect fertility. The British Acupuncture Council has a list of all their members and you can find a practitioner close to you.
Make sure you eat protein regularly to keep your blood sugar levels stable. A handful of nuts, some hummus or avocado will do the trick. If your blood sugar levels are not stable, this will cause your insulin levels to fluctuate which can put undue pressure on your liver and pancreas.
Ensure what you eat is organic – especially meat and fish and avoid farmed salmon (almost all salmon is farmed unless otherwise stated) and keep tuna and mackerel to a minimum. Lots of beans, quinoa, green vegetables and organic free range chicken is the best and try to have plenty of foods rich in zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium.
In the world of Chinese Medicine, it is always suggested to avoid dairy products as it can be phlegm and damp forming, which can cause blockages in the reproductive areas. Try to substitute Cow’s Milk with Almond Milk or Rice Milk. Instead of cheese produced by cow’s products there are plenty of cheeses made from Goat or Sheep products which do not cause the damp and heaviness in the reproductive areas. Also, avoid plastics which is made from toxic materials and avoid chemicals of any sort.
Much has been written about the benefits of exercise when you are undergoing fertility problems. However, avoid high level cardio exercise such as running and aerobics and switch to gentle walking and yoga. A high cardio exercise regime is not advised due to the adrenaline forming qualities which in turn releases cortisol (known as the stress hormone). Over a period of time, Cortisol has a negative impact on the body’s reproductive function. To combat this, try to practice regular meditations (mindfulness or manifesting meditations). More and more studies are showing the benefits of regular meditation and it is important to practice some form of relaxing technique.
Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. You are both going through this together, so it’s important that you share your feelings with one another.