Acupuncture and Fertility

Guest Post – Rachel Sherriff

So we just wanted to write a little blog post for those of you who are about to undergo IVF or ICSI and are considering whether or not to try some Acupuncture. Some of you may not even really know exactly what it is or how it works to support fertility treatment. We’ll be exploring some facts and myths surrounding acupuncture and follow Kate’s journey throughout her latest round. Kate has used acupuncture alongside her previous cycles of fertility treatment and found it to be very beneficial.

Essentially acupuncture is a form of medicine, originating in the East but nowadays used all around the world in western societies for many ailments. It’s based on meridian theory, determining areas of the body that may be blocked, under nourished or imbalanced. Some of these meridians flow directly through the pelvic basin and therefore an imbalance can potentially affect your fertility. This may be due to reduced blood flow to the uterus, either caused by lack of nourishment or too much tension causing ‘stasis’. Temperature imbalance can also be affected and ‘cold uterus’ is a cause of fertility issues in Chinese Medicine.

My three main focuses when supporting patients undergoing IVF or ICSI are:

  • To counteract any adverse-affects of IVF drugs
  • To treat the patient according to their diagnosis and rectify underlying pathology
  • To support the patient emotionally

If you are undergoing a Long Protocol cycle you will ‘Down Reg’ which means your body will be put into a temporary menopause using drugs such as Buserelin or Synarel. Depending on your underlying pathology you may feel fine or you may be one of the number of women who suffer with night sweats, mood swings and a vicious thirst! Acupuncture may help to alleviate some of these symptoms, the same way it would for women undergoing a natural menopause.

Next comes the ovarian stimulation phase when drugs such as Gonal F or Menopur are used to stimulate follicle recruitment. Science has shown us that when oxygenated blood flows freely to the pelvic basin the whole area benefits including the ovaries. If you have a poor response to these drugs and your follicles are struggling, studies show that acupuncture can increase the blood supply to the ovaries and improve IVF outcomes.

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When it comes to egg transfer the optimal thickness of the uterine lining for healthy implantation is between 9-15mm.  Acupuncture may contribute to a thicker, more blood rich lining which in turn may help implantation of the embryo. One particular study identified the ‘Paulus protocol’, a selection of acupuncture points to be used in the 24 hour window prior to egg transfer and again within 24 hours after transfer. This protocol was shown to significantly increase pregnancy rates when undertaken within the time frames around egg transfer and many fertility acupuncturists recommend and use this protocol on a regular basis.

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Alongside the scientifically proven benefits to having acupuncture alongside your IVF or ICSI is the added benefit that you get to lay down for 20 minutes and relax. Many patients like to listen to some relaxing music or a guided meditation which will help to lower cortisol levels and de-stress. Through images you have seen online or listening to someone else’s bad experience, you may be lead to believe that acupuncture involves being made to look like Freddy Kruger and is not an enjoyable experience, however we beg to differ. The needles are extremely thin, rarely painful beyond a dull ache and the benefits fair out way any uncomfortableness. Check out Kate’s images of her treatment above.

Next time we will be talking about PCOS, how it can affect your fertility treatment and how acupuncture may help alleviate some of the symptoms alongside western medical treatment.

Additionally if anyone would like some links to any research papers please do contact Rachel at @oxtedacupuncture

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