How to Best Use Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
to Treat Female Infertility and Improve the Success Rate of IVF Treatments
While female infertility most obviously can prevent a woman from becoming pregnant, if a woman with similar underlying difficulties does manage to become pregnant, it will often be difficult to take the pregnancy successfully to term, as these underlying difficulties may lead to miscarriage. The goal for treating female infertility is not only to enhance the ability to become pregnant in the first place, but also to prevent miscarriages and to deliver a healthy baby.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been used to treat infertility and prevent miscarriages for about two thousand five hundred years in China. Thousands of years of clinical practice and empirical evidence built from innumerable cases has allowed Chinese medical physicians to determine that using needles to stimulate certain specific points on the meridians of the body can help treat infertility. Some of these points are SP6 (it is on the spleen meridian, on the medial side of the lower leg, superior to the prominence of the medial malleolus) and REN 3, 4, 6 (they are on the conception meridian, on the midline of the lower abdomen and between umbilicus and the pubic symphysis).
There are many classical Chinese herbal formulas devised by Chinese medical physicians that have, throughout history, been successful in treating infertility and preventing miscarriages. Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan (which means: “pills of five seeds to bring forth offspring”) is a classic herbal formula to treat infertility. Shou Tai Wan (which means: “Fetus Longevity Pill”) is commonly used to treat miscarriage and/or pre-miscarriage with lower back pain, abdomen pain and uterine bleeding during pregnancy. Today, these formulas are still recommended remedies by Chinese medicine doctors and Western medical physicians in China to help infertility and miscarriage.
In China since the 1980’s, there have been numerous studies that have shown the marked advantages of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in combination with Western medicine to treat infertility due to factors like anovulation, luteal phase defect, follicular maldevelopment, inadequacy of the corpus luteum function, obstruction of the fallopian tube(s), immune infertility, among others. Below are examples of studies that stand as evidence for the effectiveness of Chinese medicine for treating infertility due to a variety of causes.
It was first reported in 1981 that acupuncture is effective in the promotion of ovulation and success in becoming pregnant. Of the 50 women with anovulation that received acupuncture treatment, 45 women successfully ovulated and 28 women got pregnant .
Another study done in 1984 showed, of the 24 women with anovulation that received acupuncture stimulation at point SP6, 18 women successful ovulated and 16 became pregnant .
It was reported in 1991 that 60 cases of infertility due to luteal phase defect were treated with Chinese herbs. After the treatment, the hyperthermal phase score of basal body temperature (BBT) was noticeably augmented, the hyperthermal phase 7-8 days after ovulation was enhanced, the transitional period of BBT remarkably reduced, and the pregnancy rate in 32 uncomplicated cases of luteal phase defect was 56% .
In 72 cases of infertility caused by endometriosis, after treatment periods ranging from 3 to 9 menstrual cycles, there were 42 cases of pregnancy, or 58.33% of the studied group . For 20 cases of infertility due to tubal obstruction, acupuncture in combination with Chinese herbs showed results of 12 cases of pregnancy .
Remarkably, there are studies to support that Chinese herbals formulas can even benefit immune infertility. A Chinese classic formula Zhibai Dihuang Wan was used to treat infertile couples with antisperm and/or antizona pellucida antibodies in their blood serum; after the treatment the antibodies were changed to negatives in 81.3% of immune infertile couples. Eight women in one of the studies were successfully pregnant in 1-9 months after the antibodies’ negative conversion, and the negative status lasted throughout the course of pregnancy .
Practitioners in Europe and the United States also report that women who have had infertility issues, but were treated with acupuncture and Chinese medicine, successfully become pregnant. Acupuncture has also been shown to be able to improve the success rate of IVF treatment. It was reported that in Germany 160 women underwent IVF, in which 80 women received acupuncture and 80 women did not. The success rate in the group that underwent acupuncture was 42.5%, while in the group that did not undergo acupuncture the success rate was only 26.3% . A study in America showed a similar result: 51% of 114 women who received acupuncture along with IVF treatments became pregnant, versus only 36% of the women with IVF alone. Advanced analysis of this study revealed that the rate of miscarriage in the IVF-only group was 20%, while in the acupuncture group was 8%; furthermore, women who obtained acupuncture had lower rates of ectopic pregnancies .
From current research, many studies such as those from the Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, United States reveal that acupuncture and Chinese medicine benefits infertility. For example, acupuncture induces ovulation by positively affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis in the brain; normalizing hormone and endocrine systems; promoting the secretion of pituitary, follicle growth, FSH (Follicle-Stimulating Hormone) and LH (Luteal Hormal); which play key roles in fertility [8-14]. Relatedly, acupuncture has also been shown to enhance the blood supply of the uterus and ovaries, promoting blood flow to the endometrium [15-17].
Chinese herbal formulas have similar effects as outlined for acupuncture above. Chinese herbal formulas can affect the ovaries, follicles, and uterus as well. Chinese herbs can improve the development of the ovaries, quality of ovulation and cleavage capacity; increase ovary’s weight, stimulate the release of GnRH (Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone), and increase the total number of follicles. Chinese herbs can also encourage the development of the uterus, increase uterine weight, and increase thickness and the number of glands [18-20].
It should be pointed out that immune system problems are what commonly lead to infertility and/or miscarriage. Women may develop antibodies or immune cells that attack the man’s sperm, mistaking it for a toxic aggressor. Certain autoimmune diseases, in which the woman’s immune cells attack normal cells in her own body, may also lead to ovarian problems. Clinical studies have illustrated that acupuncture and Chinese medicine have special advantages in the treatment of infertility (or miscarriage) due to antibody or immune system problems .
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are positively effective against many diseases related to infertility such as pelvic inflammatory disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, ovary problems, luteal phase defect, and other uterine problems. Treatments for these conditions also provide a better environment for infertility treatment.
Usually, Chinese medicine and acupuncture treatments for infertility focus on regulating the menstrual cycle, inducing ovulation and preventing miscarriage.
The normal menstrual cycle includes the follicular phase, ovulation phase, luteal phase and menstruation phase. Women with infertility often have an accompanying disorder and/or dysfunction of these phases. The best way to treat these conditions is by using different special herbal formulas, acupuncture protocols and techniques at different phases of the menstrual cycle depending on the conditions present. The timing of the phases is as follows: around the 4-13th days of the cycle is the follicular phase, meaning that promoting follicle development is important. Around the 14th day of the cycle, the ovulation phase, inducing ovulation is needed; while around 16 – 28th days, the luteal phase occurs. It is necessary to promote the secretion of LH (luteinizing hormone); moreover, it is needed to lead bleeding in the menstruation phase. It is especially important that acupuncture treatment for menstrual cycle dysfunction be done once or twice per week for 3 to 6 months (or more). However, it is necessary and important to use electric-acupuncture once a day for the consecutive three days before ovulation in order to inducing ovulation.
Additionally, though the treatment plan is similar to the above for acupuncture and Chinese medicine when working with women undergoing IVF treatments, there is a unique element consisting of one session of electric-acupuncture treatment given within 1 hour before the embryo transfer and 1 hour after implantation.
Women with a history of miscarriage may be more susceptible to infertility, and even after they become pregnant it is still easy to miscarriage. Helping them to become pregnant and preventing miscarriage is most important; therefore, a detailed treatment plan and schedule are necessary. Usually, the treatment with acupuncture and Chinese medicine is needed for three to six months before making a plan for pregnancy. Considering that most miscarriages occur within the first three months of pregnancy, once a woman becomes pregnant, she will still need treatments to prevent the miscarriage. This course of treatment may last twelve weeks or more depending on the timing of her last miscarriage.
Chinese medicine and acupuncture are also beneficial for women with pre-miscarriage problems. Common symptoms include lower back pain, abdominal pain, and uterine bleeding during pregnancy. The signs of effective treatment are the disappearance of the above symptoms within 3 days to 1 week. The immediate use of acupuncture and Chinese herbs are necessary afterwards.
Dr. Yang has treated many cases of female infertility in the China and United States over the last 20 years. He has successfully helped women with infertility to become pregnant and prevent miscarriage by using only acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas. Dr. Yang has also been involved in helping women undergoing IVF treatment to successfully get pregnant and prevent miscarriage via applying acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas.
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