Female and Male Fertility

Acupuncture is the insertion of ultra-thin, sterile needles into specific acupuncture points on the body which reside on channels or meridians; these are pathways in both the exterior and interior of the body. These points, when needled, can regulate the way in which the body functions. Acupuncture helps by addressing problems that affect fertility such as an under-functioning thyroid (hypothyroidism) or over-functioning thyroid (hyperthyroidism).

Can acupuncture be used to treat infertility?

Female and Male Fertility - Acupuncture, frequently combined with herbal medicine, has been used for centuries to treat some but not all causes of infertility. For example, acupuncture and herbs will not work to address tubal adhesions which can occur as a result of pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis. However, in this situation, an individual could still benefit from acupuncture and herbs because of the potential effect of improved ovarian and follicular function. Additionally, acupuncture can increase blood flow to the endometrium, helping to facilitate a thick, rich lining.

When should acupuncture treatment begin?

Acupuncture is similar to physical therapy in that it is a process-oriented method of medical intervention. It is better to do more than less. Patients are commonly treated for three to four months before progressing to insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF), or donor-egg transfer. This pacing of treatment seems to have a therapeutic effect.

Women are encouraged to receive acupuncture treatments pre and post embryo transfer. Clinical observations from the Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness suggest that the most effective fertility treatments involve a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and traditional medicine. However, conception occasionally occurs when acupuncture and herbal medicines areused without traditional medical interventions.

Are the acupuncture points different after an insemination, IVF,< or donor-egg transfer than before?

Acupuncturists should not place needles in the abdomino-pelvic area after insemination or transfer. There are 6 contraindicated acupuncture points which should be avoided when the patient is pregnant or pregnancy is suspected.  I needle points only safe to be needled when you are pregnant.

Who kinds of patients come to see me?

I treat both male and female clients who are trying to conceive children naturally, and with IUI or IVF. Acupuncture can be used to treat any type of fertility disorder including spasmed tubes. Spasmed tubes are often de-spasmed with acupuncture, though blocked tubes will not respond to acupuncture. Acupuncture is often combined with herbal remedies to treat elevated follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), repeated pregnancy loss, unexplained (idiopathic) infertility, luteal phase defect, hyperprolactinemia (when not caused by a prolactinoma), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) with annovulatory cycles, and male factor including men affected with sperm-DNA-fragmentation.

Chinese medicine has a lot to offer you. Below are listed a number of different treatment programmes which have been designed to address the needs of couples facing the challenges of modern life while trying to maximise health and fertility.

 1 Eating a Healthy Diet

Preparing to conceive - a healthy dietThere is much information and misinformation about what constitutes a good preconception diet. From a Chinese medicine point of view the middle road is usually the healthiest where moderation of some foods is recommended and a good balance of healthy and fresh fruits and vegetables with adequate protein is encouraged. A TCM practitioner takes into account the different constitution and situation of each individual before dietary advice is given. 

A properly functioning digestive system is an important focus of treatment, so that nutrients are absorbed and utilised well. 

2 Weight loss

Preparing to conceive - weight lossA little bit of weight loss goes a long way to improving fertility. Losing 5 kg is a manageable target for most and you can start now. Just moving your metabolism a little bit in the direction of burning off fat stores, can stimulate ovarian activity, improve egg and sperm quality and increase fertility.

Acupuncture is used to reduce your appetite and improve your metabolism. An analysis of your constitution and the reasons for your weight gain by an experienced acupuncturist will lead to an individualised treatment plan designed to maximise weight loss.  Gentle electro acupuncture applied to points on the body promotes lipolytic activity (destruction of fat cells)  to reduce fat accumulation. Using acupuncture points on the ear stimulates the auricular branch of the vagal nerve and raises serotonin levels, both of which increase tone in the smooth muscle of the stomach, thus suppressing appetite.

Acupuncture for Weigh loss is recommended once  per week for 1 - 3 months before natural intercourse, IUI or IVF, or until goal weight is achieved.

3 Egg quality

The environment that eggs occupy during their lengthy maturation process in the ovary has an impact on what shape they are in before meeting a sperm (with or without an IVF embryologist in attendance).  They need a good blood supply, the right nutrients, the right hormone signals and the capacity to supply enough energy to the embryo.

This has important implications, particularly for eggs that are coming from slightly older ovaries (and possibly for eggs coming from women with PCOS or endometriosis). While no treatment can turn back the clock, or change the DNA, acupuncture and herbs can be used to rejuvenate some oocyte characteristics by improving delivery of  nutrition to the developing egg and enhancing its capacity to make energy thus increasing its chance of making a viable embryo.

Acupuncture is recommended once a week/ Chinese herbs are recommended twice a day for 3 - 6 months

4 Sperm Quality

Many clinical trials in several countries have demonstrated the benefit of acupuncture to sperm quality (reference).  This is particularly the case where there is low motility or high numbers of abnormal forms.  Acupuncture is applied to the abdomen and the lower legs according to research protocols and your individual constitution.

Acupuncture is recommended once per week for 5 - 10 weeks (10 - 15 treatments in total).

If you are considering a pre-conception program, or if infertility is unexplained, the aim is to maximise sperm and egg quality. To this end we recommend using mild electroacupuncture on points which increase blood flow through the small blood  vessels of the testes, improving delivery of nutrients to developing  sperm and promoting optimal sperm vitality.

Acupuncture is recommended one time per week to complete a course of 10. 

5 Immune Factors

Implantation of the embryo in the uterus is a vital and pivotal event which determines the success of an ongoing pregnancy after conception, or after transfer of an embryo in an IVF cycle. Recently the crucial role that the immune system plays in the process of implantation and the development of the placenta has been elucidated. A positive finding of immune factors like anti-cardiolipin antibodies, anti- thyroid antibodies or anti-nuclear antibodies can indicate that there may be subtle imbalances in the immune environment of the uterus which are not conducive to establishing a healthy pregnancy. Acupuncture has proven effects on modulating immune function possibly through its ability to increase endorphins and other neurotransmitters.

Schedule acupuncture once a week, 3 times a week at time of ovulation, or twice on the day of embryo transfer.

 6 Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Women with PCOS, particularly those with irregular or infrequent periods, have their own particular challenges when it comes to conceiving.  We don’t yet fully understand the causes of PCOS however we do know that certain acupuncture protocols can reduce some of the factors that operate to prevent polycystic ovaries working properly. For example acupuncture reduces testosterone and LH (luteinising hormone) levels which promotes the conditions for more frequent ovulation and better quality eggs.

If you have PCOS and are trying to conceive naturally or planning to do IVF, you can benefit from doing a course of acupuncture over 3 to 4 months to improve ovary function and egg quality. For those PCOS patients who do IVF, certain acupuncture protocols during the stimulation phase and after embryo transfer will reduce the risk of hyperstimulation.Low intensity gentle electroacupuncture is applied to points on the  abdomen and the legs.

Schedule acupuncture 1 - 4 times a week until regular ovulation is re-established, until you conceive or for 3 months to prepare for IVF.

 7 Endometriosis

Endometriosis reduces fertility by damaging ovary function (AMH is  reduced) and negatively impacting the immune milieu (inflammatory cytokines are raised) and affecting the lining of the uterus and its implantation  sites. Acupuncture has been shown to be an effective treatment for  reducing the symptoms of endometriosis and for improving fertility and  Chinese herbs have been shown to improve response to IVF drugs and fertilisation rates in endometriosis patients. 

Acupuncture is most effective when performed at specific times of your menstrual cycle. These will be decided in conjunction with your practitioner and will depend on your symptom picture and whether you are actively trying to conceive. 

Acupuncture is recommended once a week or fortnight. Chinese herbs daily (when not taking IVF drugs)

8 Stress Managment

Stress, for most of us living and working in modern cities, is part of life. However it can get a lot worse when you are not conceiving as easily as you thought you would. And in a cruel vicious cycle, stress can have a negative impact on fertility. Women who are more stressed during IVF procedures have lower embryo implantation rates.  This is why we do specific acupuncture treatments at particular times of the IVF cycle. 

Acupuncture is well known as an excellent stress reduction therapy. Its ability to raise endorphin levels and reduce adrenalin and cortisol levels allows the body and mind to relax immediately and learn a different way of being. Our patients frequently comment on how relaxed they feel after their treatments and that they don’t know how they would cope without that support.

Acupuncture once or twice a week or as required.

9 Sleep Quality                                                           

The connection between sleep and fertility is not always self evident, although getting to bed early with your partner may for some couples have obvious benefits. You may not realise that the quality and quantity of your sleep influences sex hormones, sperm production, ovulation, immune factors, weight gain, mood, stress levels and longevity as well as the more obvious stamina. Getting enough good quality sleep is an essential part of preparing for conception for all these reasons.

Acupuncture has a proven track record (reviewed in several medical journals) of assisting to establish sound sleep patterns.
Schedule acupuncture 1-2 treatments per week.

 10 Preparing to conceive together

Whether it is unexplained infertility, male factor or ovarian issues, focussing on improving general health and the health of the gametes on both sides often provides the solution when nothing else is working.

Many of the couples we have treated have voiced an appreciation of the emotional and psychological benefits they experience when they come for treatments together. Saturday tends to be couples day in the clinic.

Schedule: 1 treatment per week (see couple package below).

 Embarking on IVF

 Acupuncture before and during the medication phase of IVFThis treatment schedule is based on protocols used in clinical trials which demonstrate increased blood supply to uterus and ovaries (reference) and a beneficial regulation of hormones which may be important to follicle development and implantation (reference). A significant increase in pregnancy rates was reported in these trials also.
Schedule: 2 treatments per week for 4 weeks (optimal) plus treatment at time of embryo transfer.

Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer (including frozen embryo transfer)These treatments are based on protocols used in clinical trials which  showed that an increase in pregnancy rates in some groups of women  (those for whom the expected pregnancy rate is 30% or less). (You can find the references for  these trials here ) Schedule:  a – before or after transfer  …… one treatment b – before and after transfer  …… two treatments

Acupuncture at any phase of the IVF cycleAcupuncture can be used to manage any side effects you might experience and reduce anxiety. These treatment protocols are based on the clinical experience of many acupuncturists and their patients. Reduced  fatigue, moodiness, abdomen swelling and discomfort and other side effects are reported by many women using acupuncture during their IVF cycle. In addition women report greater relaxation and control of anxiety (reference). The acupuncture treatment will be different for each patient and depends on your symptoms. These treatments can be combined with Schedule 2 above.
Schedule: 1-2 treatments per week as needed. 

Acupuncture after egg collectionIVF patients are recommended to have an acupuncture treatment after egg collection, to reduce any local tissue trauma or bleeding, and help prepare a calm environment for the arrival of an embryo. This treatment can be combined with Schedule 2 or 3 above. 
Schedule: 1 treatment just after the procedure itself or within the following 2 days.

Acupuncture on day of sperm donationSometimes the pressure to produce a sperm sample on the day of egg collection can be significant enough to cause a problem.  Acupuncture reduces anxiety and can increase blood flow to the genital area.

Schedule: 1 treatment before sperm donation.

Conditions that I treat related to Fertility:

Fibrocystic breasts
High FSH
Ovarian Cysts
Painful Periods
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Premature Ovarian Failure (POF)
Recurrent Miscarriage
Unexplained Infertility
Integrative collaboration with Western
        Fertility Treatments (IUI & IVF)

Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH)
Inflammation of the Prostate (Prostatitis)
Low libido (andropause)
Male Fertility concerns:
Low sperm count
Morphology issues
Motility concerns
Sexual dysfunction
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)