Approximately one in eight couples are affected by infertility in the United States. The reasons can vary and include irregular menstrual cycles and not ovulating at all. Conditions such as poly cystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis may affect the ability to ovulate and/or the quality of the environment in the uterus to support a healthy pregnancy.
When a woman is not ovulating, or not ovulating regularly, there are fewer chances for her to get pregnant. Blocked fallopian tubes, fibroids, and other structural issues – that may have no symptoms at all – can also affect fertility. And that is just for the women!
Men may also have issues that contribute to the couple’s infertility. Low sperm count, abnormal sperm shape or decreased ability of the sperm to get where they need to go (low motility) all affects fertility.
For couples where one or both partners are in their late 30s or older, age can lead to an increase of chromosomal abnormalities in both the egg and sperm. This can be a cause of the inability to get pregnant, or miscarriage occurring when pregnancy has been achieved.
Women and couples who lack a male partner may also have difficulty conceiving, even with a proven sperm donor. Often these women are unaware that there is any issue before embarking on the journey to build a family. Sometimes the issue is one of statistics. As a women ages, the likelihood of the couple getting pregnant in any given cycle decreases. For couples who lack a ready access to sperm, these statistics can be quite frustrating.
Some couples are given the diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” This can be confusing news to receive. However, in Chinese Medicine, an explanation can often be found, and specific effective treatment given.
How can acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine enhance fertility?
For many of the conditions listed above, including irregular cycles, PCOS, endometriosis, and poor sperm quality and unexplained infertility, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can often be helpful to improve fertility and pregnancy outcomes, whether a couple chooses to try to conceive naturally or with assisted reproductive techniques like IUI or IVF. In other instances, such as blocked fallopian tubes and large fibroids, some western medical intervention will be necessary.
How can acupuncture be helpful when it comes to fertility?
- Acupuncture can help regulate hormones and the menstrual cycle improving the chances to conceive. Acupuncture causes the body to release a cascade of biochemicals that signal the body to come back into homeostasis. When blood and energy flow is blocked, the whole endocrine and hormonal system can become out of balance. Your acupuncturist is trained to evaluate what is causing the flow of blood and energy to be blocked and stagnated and to choose the right points to correct this imbalance, improving menstrual cycles and the chances to conceive.
- Acupuncture can improve blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, optimizing the menstrual cycle and the nourishment that the follicles and eggs receive from the body. This can improve egg quality, ovulation, and endometrial lining.
- Acupuncture can improve the thickness of the uterine lining. By improving blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, an optimal endometrial lining thickness can be achieved which allows for a strong and healthy embryo implantation.
- Acupuncture reduces STRESS. Stress causes any number of problems for the body and mind. It tightens the muscles, can cause digestive distress like constipation or irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, irritability and loss of sleep. Stress can impact fertility by reducing blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, which can cause painful periods, inefficient ovulation, and increased strife between partners. Because acupuncture is so good at creating movement and flow in the body, patients often feel more at ease, notice easier menstrual cycles, and often notice a more “normal” menstrual cycle pattern. All of which can improve fertility.
- Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can improve sperm parameters. Men’s bodies are also affected by stress and environmental factors which can lead to imbalances and sub-optimal fertility. Acupuncture has been shown to improve sperm parameters by improving blood flow to a man’s reproductive organs, reducing stress, and balancing the endocrine system.
The next article in this series will discuss using Acupuncture with IVF to improve pregnancy outcomes.