Infertility rates in the United States have increased dramatically in the last 15 years and now almost one in five couples experience problems with infertility. In pre-modern Chinese society, failure to have children and especially sons was regarded as a personal disaster of great significance. Therefore, Chinese doctors placed great emphasis on the treatment of infertility, both male and female. With 2,000 years of recorded clinical experience on the Chinese medical treatment of this condition, acupuncture and herbal medicine are finally being recognized as safe, gentle and effective therapies for infertility.
Some of the benefits of Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine are:
(1) Improves the function of the ovaries to produce better quality eggs: Acupuncture and Chinese medicine stimulate ovarian function allowing for the development of better quality eggs and stronger and healthier embryos.
(2) Regulates the hormones to produce a larger number of follicles: Based on our clinical experience, Chinese medicine can help the ovaries produce double the number of viable follicles.
(3) Increases blood flow to the uterus which helps the development of follicles: The implantation of the embryo, and increases the thickness of the uterine lining.
(4) Relaxes the patient and reduces their stress: Stress hormones (such as epinephrine) interact with the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian axis and interfere with the hormones that are responsible for normal ovulatory cycles. In addition, some hormones that are released during times of stress can cause the uterus to contract, and interact with immune cells, both of which will interfere with proper implantation. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine helps prevent uterine contractions and decreases the chance of miscarriage.
(5) Reduces the side effects of the pharmaceutical drugs used in IVF: Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help the ovaries respond better to the stimulating drugs by producing more follicles and better quality eggs and significantly reducing these drug’s side effects such as nausea, abdominal bloating, and cramps.
(6) Strengthens and regulates the immune system: Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can balance and strengthen the immune system resulting in better overall health and vitality.
While some patients respond quickly, Chinese medicine does not work overnight. Most patients require a series of ongoing treatments over a period of one month to a year. The recommended treatment schedule is based upon the consideration of many factors that are unique to each individual. In many cases, we recommend that the patient start acupuncture and Chinese herbs at least 3 months prior to the beginning of the IVF cycle, with the patient continuing treatment twice a week until the day of the transfer. For those patients trying for a natural pregnancy, in many cases at least 2 normal menstrual cycles should pass before trying for a natural pregnancy.
2. In vitro fertilization (IVF)
In vitro fertilization, or IVF for short, is a process in which fertilization takes place outside of the body by injecting sperm into the egg. The resulting embryo is nurtured in a Petri dish (in vitro) and then implanted into the female’s uterus to develop as a normal pregnancy. This procedure was first used successfully in the U.S. in 1981 and has become a widely accepted method of treatment for infertile couples.
A number of studies have confirmed the effectiveness of utilizing acupuncture to treat infertility. A widely published German study found that a test group receiving acupuncture in conjunction with IVF achieved a 42% clinical pregnancy rate compared to only 26% in the control group that did not receive acupuncture. When acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are used in conjunction with IVF, clinical experience suggests the pregnancy rate can be raised to at least 60%.
There are various causes of infertility and many can be treated successfully with in vitro fertilization. The following are some of the reasons for utilizing IVF:
1. Fallopian tube obstruction
2. Low sperm count
3. Abnormal cervical factors
4. immunological factors affecting either partner
5. Infertility after tubal surgery
6. Infertility after treatment for endometriosis
7. Unexplained infertility
For best results, Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, Chinese herbs, dietary and lifestyle therapy, should be used before, during and after IVF. Chinese medicine can help prepare both partners before IVF in order to improve the function of the ovaries, strengthen and regulate the immune system, reduce stress, and improve the quantity and quality of sperm and the quality of the seminal fluid. This is accomplished in the female by the treatment of any and all menstrual irregularities and gynecological problems such as amenorrhea, PMS, fibroids, cysts, or heavy bleeding due to a lack of ovulation. This treatment usually lasts 3 – 6 months. Specific Chinese medical treatment also exists for low sperm count, low sperm motility, abnormal sperm, and problems with the viscosity of the seminal fluid. (See Men’s Health & Infertility)
After successful implantation of the embryo has taken place, Chinese medicine cam also be used to help prevent miscarriage. In general, Chinese medicine is extremely effective for preventing miscarriage when threatened miscarriage is due to hormonal imbalances, such as low progesterone. For this purpose, it may be used either preventatively when the woman has no symptoms or even after symptoms of threatened miscarriage have appeared.