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).