Review of the research in Acupuncture and Female Fertility

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Acupuncture has been linked to aiding and supporting couples and particularly women in getting pregnant. It is often a popular therapy for patients to undertake in order to conceive or to facilitate in fertility treatments. (Smith 2010) In 2006 one in seven couples in the UK have problems in conceiving.  (HFEA, 2006). You are classed as infertile or subfertile if you have regular unprotected sex for two years without getting pregnant.

Why can’t you get pregnant?

There are many different reasons that you can have problems with fertility however in 30% of cases doctors are unable to identify why. It is harder to get pregnant with age especially in females as more mutation are likely and stress can also play a part in conceiving. Some of the causes include:

  • Ovulation disorders: 27%
  • Tubal Damage: 14%
  • Problems with sperm count or quality: 19%

(NCCWCH, 2004).

How can Acupuncture help?

There are many ways that acupuncture has been proven to help increase the chances of getting pregnant. While there is research, everyone’s situation is different and there is still no guarantee it will help every individual.

Inducing ovulation:

There are reviews of research suggesting that acupuncture is just as effective as medications in order to induce ovulation without any side effects, however they actually have a higher pregnancy rate due to lower risks of miscarriage. (Song et al 2008)  The mechanism behind acupuncture being able to start ovulation is that it helps regulate and dampen down the sympathetic nervous system along with the endocrine and neuroendocrine system.  Stener-Victorin & Wu. 2010. Another review supports these findings and mechanism behind the use of acupuncture for the treatment of subfertility. The regulation of the endocrine system causes an increase in rate of pregnancy.(Yang et al 2005). The change in the sympathetic nervous system will help to alter the uterine blood flow and reduce overall stress which can help restore ovulation especially in patients with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. (Ng et al 2008;Stener-Victorin et al 2008)

Increasing blood flow:

There are many studies and research into how acupuncture increases the blood flow to both the uterus and the ovaries. It is suggested this is the main reason why it is affective in increasing pregnancy rates. In patients with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome clinical studies have found that it may help increasing blood flow to the ovaries, reducing the volume within the ovaries and the number of ovarian cysts found. Lim et al 2010. The positive effect on blood flow in both the ovaries and uterus in Acupuncture did reveal higher fertility rates in 3/4 reviews. More research would need to be done to solidify the results but it is conclusive in ensuring a positive affect can be gained from acupuncture with no adverse effects.Stener-Victoria & Humaidan  2006. There is also some research to show that acupuncture can also help with increasing endometrial thickness. Jiang & Ding 2009

Regulating hormones:

There has been research to suggest that in patients that suffer with polycycstic ovary syndrome, acupuncture can increase the amount of beta-endorphins in the body for up to 24hr which in turn will help regulate the Follicle Stimulating Hormones, Luteinizing hormone and androgen levels.  Lim & Wong 2010. Stener-Victorin et al, 2000. Another hormone that reports have proven to regulate is the gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH) which is again involved in inducing ovulation, improve uterine blood. Huang & Chen 2008 Some research has shown that while the hormonal levels and menstruation irregularities have improved with acupuncture that unfortunately 44% still remained infertile. Gerhard & Postneek 1992

 

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