Are you or someone you know experiencing fertility challenges? Chances are you have answered with a resounding ‘YES’ as 8-10% of the population in its reproductive years are experiencing infertility. Of that percentage, thousands seek Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), which includes In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), in their journey to have a baby. Unfortunately, IVF success rates are low and the majority of IVF cycles do not result in pregnancy. However, clinical studies are demonstrating increased success rates when IVF and acupuncture are combined. If you are considering or currently using IVF, read on to find out how you can maximize your fertility and improve your chances for a healthy and happy pregnancy.
The IVF Process
Undergoing IVF is a grueling process requiring careful coordination and timing. Women must attend early morning appointments at the IVF clinic (often on a daily basis), receive repeated injections, have frequent blood tests, and ultrasound monitoring. Combine this with the emotional and financial stresses of the procedures, and it can be a very overwhelming experience. Despite the best efforts of all parties involved, preliminary results from 23 IVF Centres in Canada in 2003, as reported by the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, suggest you can anticipate an overall birth rate of only 31% per cycle started, or a 69% failure rate! If you are a woman over thirty-five, your chances are even lower. However, the good news for you is that several studies have emerged investigating the use of acupuncture to improve the outcome of IVF. With the low success rate of IVF, and promising results of acupuncture in improving birth rates, it is wise to combine the two to maximize your chances of success.
Addressing the Cause of Infertility
There are a variety of reasons why you may be experiencing fertility challenges. The causes of female infertility fall into four (4) main categories. 1) Abnormalities in egg production; 2) Anatomic abnormalities leading to obstruction of transport of the sperm, egg, or embryo through the fallopian tube; 3) Abnormalities in the implantation process; 4) Other factors including, but not limited to, emotional and psychological factors, nutrition (e.g. gluten intolerance), cigarette smoking, alcohol and caffeine intake, and borderline hormonal imbalances. All of the above factors are positively influenced by acupuncture. It is worth mentioning that two people are involved in creating a new life and as such, both partners will benefit from treatment.
How Does Acupuncture Work to Improve Fertility and IVF Success?
Acupuncture increases blood flow to the testes, ovaries, and uterus, an essential component in using acupuncture specifically during the pre- and post-transfer stages of IVF. It regulates both female and male hormones and works to downregulate stress hormones (which when elevated, negatively impact your fertility). The recent evidence published by the British Medical Journal on the favourable effects of acupuncture on IVF success rates investigated the impact of two (2) acupuncture sessions; one session 25 minutes before a transfer and one session 25 minutes after a transfer. However, it is advisable to prepare the body for such procedures by beginning acupuncture at least 3 months ahead of IVF and continuing throughout all the stages of IVF.
What Do the Studies Say?
Three large, randomized, and controlled trials present evidence suggesting acupuncture can significantly improve the success of IVF. When comparing a group of women receiving IVF plus acupuncture against a group receiving only IVF, the clinical pregnancy rate in the acupuncture group was 42.5% (34/80) versus 26.3% (21/80) in the non-acupuncture group. A second similar study involving 225 women (average age 34 years) demonstrated that the group receiving acupuncture had significantly higher implantation rates, clinical pregnancy rates, and ongoing pregnancy rates versus the sham acupuncture group.
Despite it use over thousands of years in the Eastern World, acupuncture is now gaining popularity in the West in treating many health problems, and infertility is no exception. These studies suggest that acupuncture can improve the outcome of IVF and that it is a safe adjuvant therapy for women undergoing IVF, as no adverse events were associated with the acupuncture interventions. The above mentioned studies were conducted in a well controlled environment, using a standard protocol for each participant. Remember, you are an individual with a unique set of lifestyle and nutritional requirements and deserve a personalized treatment plan created specifically for you and your body. Work with your Naturopathic Doctor to create a treatment plan that will best prepare you and your body for the wonderous role of being a Mother.
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