I had regular acupuncture treatment with Dr Tang throughout our first (successful) IVF cycle, and I’ve been going back every week (twice on ET day) during my current cycle. Contrary to what some may think about needles – they’re actually pretty painless and overall, it’s a wonderfully relaxing experience / chance to have a snooze before the commute home. I still had so many questions about it though, so I emailed them all to my own personal acupuncturist, the brilliant Dr Tiejun Tang of London Knowhow Acpunture in Harley Street. Dr Tang kindly went into detail in his answers below. So here you have it – the low-down on acupuncture and fertility.
Acupuncture – what IS it?
Tell us a bit about how it works in terms of the body and why putting needles into these areas can help?
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese therapy. It is one of the key components of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is among the oldest medical therapies in the world. Acupuncture is penetrating the skin with filiform needles to stimulate certain points of the body. According to the traditional Chinese medicine approach, there are fourteen channels known as meridians in the human body, these meridians link to corresponding organs and travels up and down. Every acupuncture point is like a tube station on individual channels. Stimulating specific acupuncture points can correct imbalances in the flow of Qi or Chi. It also can regulate blood circulation of the whole body, correct imbalances of Yin & Yang and regulate the function of internal organs. That is why acupuncture can release many symptoms physically and mentally, and benefit health.
Why is acupuncture especially recommended for fertility / IVF?
IVF success rate is very low usually. Clinical research has showed that acupuncture can increase the success rate of IVF. This fact was discovered by chance. In 1999 Dr Stener-Victorin tried to evaluate the anaesthetic effect during oocyte aspiration in IVF. She found the acupuncture group had a significantly higher implantation rate, pregnancy rate, and take home baby rate. She published her research report in Human Reproduction, the top journal in reproductive medicine. Some other doctors repeated this clinical research and add two acupuncture sessions on embryo transfer day. The result showed the acupuncture group’s success rate was significantly higher than that of the control group. Many clinical trials were carried out with modified treatment protocol. More and more doctors recommended acupuncture during the IVF treatment. More reference paper and research detail can be obtained here.
Can acupuncture help a couple struggling to conceive, to conceive naturally and how?
Acupuncture not only can increase the success rate of IVF, but it can also help couples conceive naturally. According to the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine, the fertility function is dominated mainly by the kidney. Normal Qi and blood circulation in both partners ensures a normal fertility function. Acupuncture can boost the fertility function by tonifying the kidneys and regulating qi and blood circulation. Remember that IVF has only 40 years of history, while in comparison, traditional Chinese medicine has used acupuncture to treat infertility for thousands years.
Can acupuncture improve sperm quality, morphology, motility etc and speed?
Yes, research reports showed acupuncture can significant improve sperm quality, morphology, motility and ultrastructural.
Here are some useful research studies to read in more depth:
- Can acupuncture help to increase the success rate of IVF?
- Effect of acupuncture on sperm parameters of males suffering from subfertility related to low sperm quality
- Influence of acupuncture on idiopathic male infertility in assisted reproductive technology
- Effects of acupuncture and moxa treatment in patients with semen abnormalities
Why do you take a pulse and look at the tongue – how much do those things tell you?
Pulse taking and tongue observation are two diagnosis methods of Chinese medicine.
The diagnosis is very important because the acupuncture point selection is based on diagnosis. Pulse and tongue can provide a lot of information to practitioner, includes the level and status of qi and blood, the functional condition of each internal organs, the imbalance of yin and yang etc. Patient should not eat or drink colourful food and drinks before an acupuncture visit in case the tongue shows a fake colour.
When should one have acupuncture during an IVF cycle?
The acupuncture treatment protocols are various for individual cases. The treatment plan depends on the age, constitution, history and many other factors. In some conditions acupuncture should start 2-3 month before IVF for fertility to prepare.
During the ovarian stimulation acupuncture should be used to reduce the side effects caused by IVF drugs; one acupuncture session at an hour before egg collection, to alleviate the tension and pain during egg collection; two sessions of acupuncture about an hour before and after embryo transfer.
The first week after embryo transfer one or two sessions of acupuncture are needed. If the pregnancy tests positive, the patient still need to carry on with acupuncture once a week until the 12th week in order to prevent miscarriage.
When you’re treating someone undergoing IVF, do you look at treating other problems in the body may be contributing to infertility?
Yes, of course. We must treat other problems during the IVF process. Some chronic diseases can effects success rate of IVF. It may be one of the reasons for infertility. Chinese medicine emphasises a holistic view of the human body. Acupuncture can regulate qi and blood circulation, balance the yin/yang of whole body. Nourishing qi and blood can benefit anemia. Tonified yin/yang can regulate hormone imbalance and thyroid disorder. Activating blood flow and removing blood stasis can reduce symptoms of endometriosis, PCOS and uterine fibroids.
Are there immediate signs that acupuncture has worked, or is working? i.e. pulse etc? Tongue
After acupuncture treatments many people will feel energetic, experiencing improved sleep, less stress and anxiety. Their face colour and tongue colour looks better then before and their pulse will get stronger.
Why is acupuncture so important before and after embryo transfer, what does each sessions do?
Embryo transfer day is an important day in IVF. Patient should have the best condition on that day. An acupuncture session about one hour before ET is necessary. It can reduce the stress mood, benefit qi and blood movement and strengthen kidney function which will increase the chance of success; a session after ET also necessary. It can nourish heart and calm the nerves, this will help patient have good sleep and good rest after ET. Many researchers believe that acupuncture treatment on the ET day is even more important than egg collection day treatment.
What happens if a session is missed – is it important to have regular sessions?
It is very important to have regular acupuncture session around the IVF process/cycle. If a session is missed, it is better to arrange a replacement session in next one or two days. Never miss the session on egg collection day and embryo transfer day. Regular sessions mean a higher chance of success.
What top tips would you give to couples trying to conceive in terms of things they can do besides acupuncture – i.e. diet, general health etc?
The top tips to increase success rate of IVF are:
- Keep a happy mood and confidence
- Healthy diet, avoid spicy food and cold food
- No smoking and no alcohol
- Regular and gentle exercise
- Enough sleeping and rest
- Take Chinese herbal remedy which prescript by a qualified practitioner in some stage of IVF