Acupuncture for Fertility

Table of Contents

Acupuncture is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine that uses hair-thin, surgically sterilized needles to stimulate specific energy pathways in the body.  The Chinese have used acupuncture to treat a variety of diseases, relieve pain, and improve general health for thousands of years.  New research on how acupuncture can help treat a number of medical conditions that affect infertility is growing.  This is causing an increasing number of men and women to undergo acupuncture treatment in conjunction with fertility treatments each year.  10-15% of couples struggle with infertility and seek the help of a fertility specialist at some point during their reproductive lifetime .  Research has shown that when acupuncture is used along with fertility treatments, it can positively affect the likelihood of conception and live birth rates.  

Fast Facts About Acupuncture for Fertility

How Does Acupuncture Help Fertility?

The Chinese have used acupuncture to regulate the female reproductive system for thousands of years.  Clinical and laboratory studies have shown that acupuncture affects the central and peripheral nervous systems.  Precisely placed needles trigger the brain to release endorphins that help to moderate the stress response and help to balance hormone levels in the body .  

Research has shown that acupuncture has a positive effect and no adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes .  

Acupuncture helps improve fertility in many ways:

  • Improving sperm count and motility
  • Reducing stress and anxiety associated with infertility
  • Normalizing hormone production and endocrine systems
  • Improving blood flow to the reproductive organs (uterus and testes)
  • Decreasing chance of miscarriage
  • Decreasing inflammation that may be causing infertility
  • Regulating the menstrual cycle
  • Increasing the chance of pregnancy for women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF)

Below we will highlight and further explore some of the key benefits of acupuncture for fertility and the mechanisms by which it might work.

Major Benefit 1: Improving Egg and Embryo Quality

To ensure the health of your future baby, you need to start with healthy eggs.  Research has shown that acupuncture can improve both egg and embryo quality, leading to better chances of a successful pregnancy.  In one study, researchers focused on the effects of acupuncture on women who had previously been diagnosed with infertility.  The study found that acupuncture can help to increase the high-quality egg rate and high-quality embryo rates for women suffering from infertility and kidney deficiency .  Kidney deficiency is a common symptom of PCOS and may be responsible for causing women to experience irregular or absent menstrual periods.  

For additional ways to improve egg and embryo quality along with your overall fertility health, check out our guide on boosting female fertility.

Major Benefit 2: Sperm Quality

Sperm make up half the genetics of a growing embryo and future child.  It is often mistakenly assumed that the female partner is the one largely responsible for a couple’s infertility, when in fact 30% of cases of infertility are related to the male-factor alone .   Research has shown that acupuncture treatment for men can help to improve semen quality and fertilization rates for couples undergoing fertility treatment.  In a review of four studies, researchers found that acupuncture might significantly improve two important semen parameters, sperm motility and sperm concentration .  One study focused specifically on the effectiveness of acupuncture to improve sperm quality in subfertile males.  The study concluded that acupuncture may help men diagnosed with infertility due to reduced sperm activity .  

Research also exists on acupuncture’s ability to help men suffering from infertility that previously failed with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), a form of IVF treatment.  In one study, researchers measured the effects of acupuncture on 22 males diagnosed with infertility who failed ICSI.  The participants in the study were treated with acupuncture for 8 weeks prior to a second ICSI treatment. The study found that the normal sperm ratio was increased, as was the fertilization rate after acupuncture.  Researchers concluded that acupuncture can help improve sperm quality and fertilization rates when used alongside reproductive treatments

Check out our guide on male fertility testing to learn more about the importance of healthy sperm to achieving pregnancy.  For additional ideas on how to improve sperm quality, please read our article on boosting male fertility.

Major Benefit 3: IVF Success Rates 

In addition to improving sperm, egg, and embryo quality, acupuncture can also help to improve IVF success rates in other ways.  Research is available to support acupunctures’ ability to improve clinical pregnancy rates, pregnancy outcomes and help couples who have previously failed IVF.  In one review of past studies, researchers reviewed thirty trials with 6334 participants treated with acupuncture and IVF.  Based on the results of those studies, researchers concluded that acupuncture can improve clinical pregnancy rates in women undergoing IVF .

A different study focused on how acupuncture can help to improve IVF  outcomes.  Researchers found that after several acupuncture treatments, participants showed improved endometrial thickness, reduced stress, and improved patient satisfaction .  Later in the article, we will explore why reducing stress is important during fertility treatment.  Another analysis of multiple studies found that acupuncture can benefit women with a history of unsuccessful IVF attempts .  

Major Benefit 4: Treating Pre-existing Conditions 

Conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrom (PCOS), endometriosis, and ovarian cysts are known to impact female fertility negatively.  Research has indicated that acupuncture can be used along with traditional medical treatments to improve symptoms that may be causing infertility.  For example, women with PCOS are known to suffer from anovulation.  When a woman does not ovulate, she can’t get pregnant.  Research has shown that repeated acupuncture treatments can help to induce ovulation in over 1/3 of women with PCOS .  Other studies have shown that acupuncture can specifically help patients with PCOS undergoing IVF treatment.  After measuring the effects of acupuncture on 66 patients undergoing IVF treatment, researchers concluded that acupuncture can positively influence pregnancy outcomes, relieve symptoms of kidney deficiency, and improve clinical pregnancy rates .  

Acupuncture can help reduce symptoms of endometriosis by increasing nourishing blood flow and balancing hormones to improve the uterus’ health.  Endometriosis can cause cysts to grow that appear as endometrial tissue outside the uterine cavity.  These cysts can cause chronic pain and impairment of ovarian function, causing infertility.  Research has shown that acupuncture can help to give positive results and serve as a non-surgical infertility treatment option for women with endometriosis.  Results from the study also indicated that acupuncture can help women with endometriosis to achieve pregnancy Research has also shown that acupuncture can help to reduce the pain associated with endometriosis .  

Acupuncture may also be able to help patients with poor ovarian reserve.  In one study, researchers studied the effects of acupuncture in 60 cases accepting IVF treatment.  They found that acupuncture therapy can improve oocyte quality and pregnancy outcome in patients with poor ovarian reserve .  

Major Benefit 5: Balancing Reproductive Hormones and Normalizing Menstrual Cycles

Improperly balanced hormones are known to have a negative impact on fertility.  Luckily, acupuncture can help improve the production of sex hormones related to fertility and bring balance to the body.  In a review of several studies, researchers found that acupuncture can help to increase estrogen, progesterone,  prolactin, and other hormones

As mentioned above, women can not get pregnant if they do not ovulate.  Irregular menstrual cycles are a major symptom of anovulation .  Studies have shown that in addition to improving hormone production, acupuncture can positively influence menstrual health and reproductive functioning in women experiencing delays in getting pregnant .  Acupuncture can also specifically help women with PCOS who ovulate infrequently and are suffering from infertility.  Research has shown that repeated acupuncture treatments can result in higher ovulation frequency in women with PCOS .

Possible Mechanisms for Improving Gamete Quality and Fertility Treatment Outcomes

Reducing Stress

Stress is one of the most complex causes of infertility because a diagnosis of infertility only makes the problem worse.  Stress can increase after the diagnosis of infertility, follow-up appointments, and failed in-vitro fertilization treatment.  Acupuncture is a highly-touted stress-reduction technique that can help to reduce concentrations of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body.  This, in turn, can increase your chances of conceiving. 

Numerous recent studies have established a link between a woman’s day-to-day stress levels and lowered pregnancy chances .  In one study, women who had high levels of alpha-amylase, a marker for stress, in their saliva took 29% longer to get pregnant compared to women with lower levels.

When our bodies sense stress, they recognize it is not an ideal time to have a baby and react accordingly. Periods of stress greatly impact our lifestyles and can influence us to have sex less frequently.  Stress can also cause people to turn to unhealthy habits like drinking too much caffeine, or smoking, and drinking too much alcohol—all of which are detrimental to a woman’s overall health and natural fertility.

Specific to men, studies have found that stress can affect semen parameters.  Stress can negatively impact the production of luteinizing hormone (LH) and testosterone.  This causes complications in spermatogenesis, resulting in reduced sperm quality .

Acupuncture is also known to help balance hormone levels, especially cortisol, the primary stress hormone.  Acupuncture has been shown to help reduce depression, which unfortunately can be severe in people undergoing infertility treatment .  

Improving Circulation

It’s theorized that many cases of infertility arise due to blockages that impede blood flow.  With acupuncture treatment, you can increase your blood circulation and ensure that nourishing blood flow is reaching your reproductive organs.  Increased blood flow helps to provide these reproductive organs with more oxygen and other vital nutrients. 

Research has shown that acupuncture has a positive effect on blood flow.  In one study, researchers focused on acupunctures’ ability to reduce blood flow impedance and increase circulation in the uterine arteries of infertile women .  The study measured three main indicators of blood flow (1) the pulsatility index (PI), (2) skin temperature on the forehead (STFH) and, (3) temperature in the lumbosacral (lower back) area before, during, and after treatment.  Researchers found that all three indicators were either significantly reduced or improved, indicating that acupuncture therapy can be used to improve blood flow.

Improving Sleep

Many studies have confirmed that insufficient sleep and sleep disturbances can affect men’s and women’s overall and reproductive health. One study on women who have sleep issues found that those with insomnia are 400% more likely to have fertility issues .  A study of men undergoing fertility treatment found that poor sleep quality is correlated with lower total motility, concentration, and total sperm count  .  

In a meta-analysis of past studies on acupuncture, researchers found that acupuncture can be used to effectively treat insomnia .  Data from the analysis indicated that acupuncture can also be used to improve parameters in sleep quality and duration.  Two main ways have been identified for how acupuncture can help to treat insomnia.  

  • In addition to reducing stress, acupuncture can help to balance and regulate internal body processes to reinforce health and eliminate the pathogenic, thus improving sleep .
  • Acupuncture can increase the amount of γ-amino butyric acid in the body γ-amino butyric acid is responsible for educing neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system. It is known to reduce sleep latency in patients with insomnia .  

Acupuncture and Fertility Treatment: When to Do it & Treatment Protocols

At CNY Fertility, we believe in Integrated Reproductive Medicine which combines Eastern, Western, and other modalities of healing together to increase your chances of having a baby.  We focus on healing and improving your overall and fertility health prior to treatment because a healthy body is a fertile body.  Over the last 15 years,  an increasing amount of research has emerged showing the benefits of acupuncture with IVF and other fertility treatments.  Acupuncture treatment has been linked to more babies, pregnancies, live births, and fewer miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. 

When to do Acupuncture for Fertility

Experts recommend acupuncture for fertility is done during the following times:

  • 30-90 days prior to any fertility treatment
  • During any fertility treatment
  • During pregnancy

The sooner you can begin acupuncture treatment, the better.  Research has shown that some treatment is better than no treatment, but acupuncture’s effectiveness increases with the number of acupuncture sessions prior to fertility treatment. Sperm and eggs both take approximately 90 days to develop.  As such, we recommend you begin acupuncture treatment at least 3 months prior to treatment and continue throughout whatever treatment you are pursuing.

Below are our recommended timelines for receiving acupuncture during the three months prior to fertility treatment as well as during ovulation induction, IUI cycles, and IVF cycles.

Acupuncture Protocol/Schedule when Preparing for Fertility Treatment

Male

Don’t worry; acupuncture to increase male fertility doesn’t involve putting any needles “down there.”  As mentioned above, acupuncture can help to improve sperm quality.  Since sperm take approximately 90 days to develop, we recommend that men begin weekly acupuncture treatment at least 3 months before trying to conceive.  Many men continue acupuncture treatment beyond their fertility protocol to manage stress throughout the entire pregnancy process and beyond.

Female

As mentioned earlier in the article, fertility outcomes are generally best when paired with an acupuncture protocol that spans several months before the anticipated treatment.

Experts here at CNY and elsewhere suggest that patients follow a treatment cycle similar to the protocol below during ovulation induction treatment and leading up to IUI and IVF cycles:

  • First Acupuncture Session: during the follicular phase (usually days 1-14 of your cycle)
  • Second Acupuncture Session: during ovulation (on or around day 14 of a normal cycle)
  • Third Acupuncture Session: during the luteal phase (after ovulation, usually lasting 12- 14 days)
  • Fourth Acupuncture Treatment: during menstruation 

This regimen is repeated, ideally for three months or more until you enter your fertility treatment cycle.  For more information on understanding your cycle, check out our guide on naturally improving fertility.  

Acupuncture Protocol for IUI or Ovulation Induction Treatment Cycle

Ovulation Induction is a simple fertility treatment in which the woman is prescribed medications to assist with egg development and ovulation. The couple is then instructed to have intercourse at an optimal timeIUI treatment is commonly referred to as artificial insemination and is a simple procedure in which sperm is collected, concentrated, and deposited into a woman’s uterus.  At CNY Fertility, we recommend that after you have completed the female acupuncture treatment described above, you enroll in our IUI cycle-specific acupuncture protocol described below:

  • Treatment One: after heavy flow of menstruation
  • Treatment Two:  before trigger shot
  • Treatment Three: “immediately” before the IUI (or intercourse)
  • Treatment 4:  a week after the IUI (or intercourse)

Acupuncture Protocol for IVF Treatment Cycle

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is the gold standard of fertility medicine and the most effective fertility treatment available. IVF treatment offers the highest success rates and quickest time to pregnancy of any Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART).

For patients undergoing IVF, acupuncture treatment leading up to your retrieval is intended to balance your hormones and increase nourishing blood flow to your uterus and ovaries.  The pre-transfer treatment is designed to focus on and improve the health of your ovaries to produce as many eggs as possible.  In addition to improving the quality of your eggs and ovaries, acupuncture also helps your uterine lining.  

We recommend that patients follow the female acupuncture protocol for at least 12 weeks prior to starting IVF treatment.  This amount of time helps to increase the chances that the egg and resulting embryo are healthy and that the body can receive the embryo and sustain a successful pregnancy.  The specific acupuncture protocol we recommend during your IVF cycle is described below:

  • Treatment One: after heavy flow of menstruation
  • Treatment Two: before egg retrieval
  • Treatment 3 & 4: Immediately before and after embryo transfer.
  • Treatment Five:  3-5 days after embryo transfer

Acupuncture During Pregnancy

Acupuncture can help both mom and baby during pregnancy.  For mom, acupuncture can help to reduce stress, nausea, low back pain, and additional symptoms that come along with pregnancy.  During pregnancy, oxygen and nutrients from the mother’s blood are transferred across the placenta to the fetus.  Since acupuncture is known to increase blood flow, it makes sense that it can help to provide the baby with more nourishment.  Studies have shown that acupuncture can contribute to beneficial hormonal responses with decreased miscarriage rates.   Researchers have concluded that acupuncture may promote specific beneficial effects in early pregnancy .

Infertility acupuncture specialists recommend that women undergo acupuncture treatment one time per week for the first 12 weeks after getting pregnant.  Research has shown that acupuncture during pregnancy may be a safe treatment for relieving discomfort without adverse effects on delivery outcome .

Find a Fertility Acupuncturist Near Me 

At CNY Fertility, we recommend that our clients visit CNY Healing Arts (our sister company for all things healing arts) for acupuncture treatment.  Their team of acupuncturists is extensively well-trained in using acupuncture to assist those attempting to become pregnant naturally and those undergoing fertility treatments. Each day, they work together with the staff at CNY Fertility to assist couples in achieving their dream of pregnancy.  And, they continue to work with women, once pregnant, to moderate symptoms and help to prepare a woman’s body for labor and delivery.

CNY Healing Arts also offers additional supportive treatments like massage therapy, spa services, and yoga.  Healing Arts’ doors are open to anyone seeking wellness, self-care, and rejuvenation.  

Of course, due to our attractive pricing and payment plans, over half our patients travel from outside states with CNY Fertility Locations so we put together a wonderful map to help everyone locate a fertility acupuncture specialist near you.

Map of Fertility Acupuncture Specialists Around North America

 

 

Bottom Line About Fertility Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of many ways that you can increase your fertility.  It can positively impact many aspects of the fertility process including sperm quality, egg quality, implantation success, and pregnancy outcomes.  We understand that fertility acupuncture may sound intimidating or even scary at first.  We hope this article has helped you to understand the benefits of fertility acupuncture and ease some of your concerns about treatment.  If you are struggling to get pregnant or experiencing infertility and you are considering acupuncture treatment, please contact our healing arts clinic!

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