Fertility & IVF

Chinese medicine and acupuncture for fertility & IVF

In the clinic, Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture are commonly used for fertility or as an assistive treatment to IVF. Traditional Chinese medicine looks at fertility from a holistic lens. All factors which potentially affect fertility are assessed, which include diet, sleep, exercise, life stresses, work-life balance, underlying health conditions, and mental-emotional considerations. A special focus is brought to menstrual health, hormonal balance, and male fertility. The predominate treatment strategies include:

  • BBT tracking
  • Regulating the menstrual cycle
  • Promoting ovulation and healthy endometrial lining
  • Assist in managing diagnosed conditions such as endometriosis, adenomyosis & polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Supporting the production of healthy egg and sperm
  • Increasing the chance of producing a strong and viable embyro
Chinese medicine for fertility

Research on fertility & Chinese herbs

A 2015 meta analysis of approximately 4200 women taking Chinese herbal medicine, found a two-fold improvement of pregnancy rates over four months compared to Western medicine. Trials included women with endometriosis, PCOS, fallopian tube blockage, anovulation or unexplained infertility. Their conclusion was:

"Chinese herbal medicine can improve pregnancy rates 2-fold within a 3-6 month period compared with Western medical fertility drug therapy. In addition, fertility indicators such as ovulation rates, cervical mucus score, biphasic basal body temperature, and appropriate thickness of the endometrial lining were positively influenced by Chinese herbal medicine therapy, indicating an ameliorating physiological effect conducive for a viable pregnancy"

Ried K. (2015). Chinese herbal medicine for female infertility: an updated meta-analysis. Complementary therapies in medicine, 23(1), 116–128.

Research on acupuncture for IVF

A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online to investigate the benefit of acupuncture as a supportive treatment for IVF treatment and around the time of embryo transfer. The authors of the meta-analysis had this to say:

"A benefit from trials of acupuncture when administered within 1 day of embryo transfer increased clinical pregnancy, ongoing pregnancy and live births when compared with no adjunctive treatment. There was a clinically significant 30% increased chance of an improved reproductive outcome". Furthermore, "Acupuncture appears to have a significant effect on clinical pregnancy rate, independent of comparator group, when used in women who have had multiple previous IVF cycles, or where there was a low baseline pregnancy rate. The findings suggest acupuncture may be effective when compared with no adjunctive treatment with increased clinical pregnancies".

Smith CA, Armour M, Shewamene Z, Tan HY, Norman RJ, Johnson NP. Acupuncture performed around the time of embryo transfer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Reprod Biomed Online. 2019;38(3):364-379. 

Female fertility treatment

It is recommended to attend weekly sessions for at least 8-12 weeks. This helps in gaining an understanding of your individual needs, how your body responds to treatment, and an in-depth assessment of your cycle. For most cases, treatments will be pushed back to fortnightly sessions, as the treatment focus shifts to regulating menstruation and ovulation. Chinese herbal medicine is often included for most fertility cases, and certain supplements or Chinese medicine dietary lifestyle considerations may also be prescribed.

Frequency of acupuncture for IVF support

The frequency of acupuncture treatments for IVF depends on your individual case and where you are on your IVF journey. However, it is generally recommended to receive weekly acupuncture treatments leading up to an IVF cycle. For most women, this is weekly sessions for 2-3 months prior to the IVF cycle.

 

Pre-egg retrieval:

To best support your body during an IVF transfer, it is specifically recommended to receive acupuncture treatment the day prior to egg collection. Many women choose to also receive acupuncture 24-48 hours post-egg retrieval to reduce any pain, discomfort or bloating.

 

Pre and post-egg transfer:

Ideally acupuncture should be performed as close as possible to embryo transfer. This is usually 24 hours prior to transfer, and preferably on the same day after transfer. It is also recommended to receive acupuncture during the two week wait, with treatment focus on managing any stress or anxiety which may arise.

Male fertility considerations

Men may also face a number of reproductive issues, thus fertility considerations and IVF support may be needed. Specific conditions affecting male fertility include, low sperm count, poor sperm motility, abnormal sperm morphology or high levels of sperm antibodies which prevent the sperm from fertilising the egg. It is also common for men to suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED) due to underlying health conditions, medications, age or stress.

Other considerations which can effect male fertility include:

  • Smoking
  • Chronic alcohol use
  • High Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Previous surgery or traumatic injuries
  • Hernias

Typical treatment focus for male fertility includes optimising sperm quality, addressing diet and lifestyle and reducing stress levels. Male fertility treatment often includes a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Typically, the acupuncture treated areas are on the legs, arms and navel region. 

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