New studies have shown that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) methods such as acupuncture may improve one’s chances with infertility treatment. So that our infertile patients are offered all options that may potentially benefit their efforts of becoming pregnant, CARMI offers the services of experienced acupuncturists at our facility. These are provided as necessary especially for patients undergoing embryo transfers during IVF where there is supporting medical evidence.During acupuncture, very fine needles are inserted into ‘acupoints’ on the body that have been empirically proven to be effective in treating certain disorders. Recent studies have shown that acupuncture administered immediately prior to, and immediately after embryo transfer during IVF, may increase pregnancy rates by providing relaxation and improving blood flow to the uterus.
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Acupuncture is a technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is a system that focuses on treating the person, not just the symptoms. TCM is based on the philosophy that Qi (chee), translated as ‘vital energy’ or ‘life force,’ influences the activities of the entire human being, and that disturbances in the harmonious flow of Qi bring about imbalance, thus illness. The ultimate goal of TCM treatment is to attain a state of homeostasis by regulating the body’s Qi through different techniques.Acupuncture is the technique of TCM where hair-thin needles are inserted into specific sites on the body known as ‘acupoints.’ The sensations felt in the process are believed to influence the flow of qi, regulating its flow, to bring a state of balance and harmony to the body. When this is achieved, the body is able to cultivate itself into optimal health and fertility may be restored.
Acupuncture has been used in the treatment of infertility in China ever since the Sui Dynasty (589 AD). Following the principles of TCM, the practitioners stimulate acupoints to strengthen the reproductive organs, regulate the production of hormones, and restore deep relaxation to body and mind. Both partners may receive a series of acupuncture treatments to promote optimal reproductive fitness overall.Scientific research has shown that acupuncture potentially benefits fertility in women by 1) balancing hormone levels 2) regulating menstrual cycles 3) increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs including the endometrial lining 4) promoting endorphin-mediated stress relief. Among subfertile men, some studies have shown that acupuncture may also potentially 1) improve sperm count 2) improve viability, motility, and functionality of sperm 3) reduce the number of sperm defects.
Although acupuncture has yet to be fully embraced by modern medicine and that a lot of issues remain controversial from its perspective, more and more health facilities all over the world have accepted acupuncture into their infertility programs. Certain centers in such countries as the US, UK, Canada, Sweden, and Germany have included acupuncture protocols into their IVF programs. A top IVF facility in the US reports that 60% of their patients undergo acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncture is similar to physical therapy in that it is a process-oriented method of medical intervention. Patients are commonly treated for 2-4 months before an insemination or in vitro fertilization. This period of treatment seems to have a therapeutic effect.There are variations though in treatment approach. A Scandinavian protocol encourages women to receive acupuncture treatments pre and post embryo transfer. In a US study, the most effective fertility treatments involve a combination of acupuncture and traditional medical interventions.
There are many scientific journal articles that suggest a beneficial effect of acupuncture in conjunction with IVF. Among them is a 2002 German study that showed significantly increased pregnancy rates by using acupuncture on the same day of embryo transfer. More recently, a 2008 meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal reported increased clinical pregnancy and live birth rates. Although there are also a number of scientific studies that suggest no benefit in including acupuncture with IVF, there are no articles that suggest harm. As a consequence, there has been a steady increase in ART centers which have incorporated acupuncture treatment into their programs.
While some patients respond to acupuncture quickly, acupuncture certainly does not work overnight. Most patients require a series of ongoing treatments over a few months to a year. The recommended treatment schedule is based on consideration of a variety of factors in each individual case. In many cases, we recommend that you start acupuncture treatment at least 2 months prior to the commencement of the IVF cycle and that you continue for 1 to 2 times a week until the day of the transfer.
Not usually. A very gentle needling technique is used and the sensation experienced from an acupuncture needle is not like that of a hypodermic needle. In fact, acupuncture needles are one-tenth the thickness of a hypodermic needle. Most patients do not mind the needles and enjoy their treatments. The needles are 100% sterile and are disposed after use.
There are minimal risks when using acupuncture for fertility treatment. A risk for miscarriage may develop if incorrect acupuncture points are used when a woman is pregnant. This is one reason why those wishing to include acupuncture in their treatment regimen should be treated by acupuncturists who are well versed in treating fertility disorders. Acupuncture though is not contraindicated for anyone regardless of their pathology or what medications they are taking.
The exact location of acupuncture points will vary from patient to patient and from treatment to treatment. Some of the most well-known acupuncture points, traditionally used to influence the function of the female reproductive organs, are located on the lower back, lower abdomen, and legs. The points on the lumbar, sacrum, and low abdominal regions are particularly important in consideration of female anatomy and the related nerve segmental innervations. The points on head, neck, upper back and arms are used in order to stimulate the autonomic nervous system and further induce the relaxation process.
Moxibustion is a form of fire heat treatment that stimulates specific acupuncture points of the body. Moxibustion has been used in tandem with acupuncture to treat a variety of diseases throughout Asia for thousands of years. Most women who have difficulty conceiving have symptoms of cold hands and feet even in the summertime and sufficient blood flow to their reproductive organs is often compromised. The heat stimulation applied on selected acupuncture points helps to increase blood circulation to the uterus and pelvic area and induces a deep relaxation response which aids fertility as well.
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