Many women would agree that being stuck with a bunch of needles is a small price to pay for the possibility of motherhood. While not the answer for every couple, evidence suggests that acupuncture can help with some types of infertility.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine in which thin, sterile needles are inserted into specific points on the body. These points—over 2,000 of them—are connected to meridians, or energy pathways, and when stimulated by acupuncture needles they can regulate the way the body functions. An imbalance of energy can lead to illness or health problems; acupuncture can restore balance in the body and, in some cases, aid with fertility problems.
Acupuncture, often in conjunction with herbal medicine, has demonstrated potential for treating some types of infertility, including sterility resulting from recurrent miscarriage, elevated follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Acupuncture cannot treat tubal adhesions resulting from endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease; however, it may help improve these conditions.
In a systematic review published in the British Medical Journal, Eric Manheimer and colleagues found preliminary evidence that acupuncture can help significantly with in vitro fertilization (IVF). A Fertility and Sterility review compiled by Ernest Hung Yu Ng, MD, and colleagues also found that acupuncture increased pregnancy rate with IVF treatment, particularly when acupuncture treatment occurred the same day as embryo transfer. This report also found that acupuncture helped many women relieve pain during egg retrieval.
Beginning acupuncture treatment a few months before IVF, insemination or donor-egg transfer can help increase the effects. Continuing acupuncture throughout the first trimester may help prevent miscarriage. Carefully selecting an acupuncturist who is trained in fertility disorders is important, as use of incorrect acupuncture points during pregnancy can actually lead to miscarriage. Still, this is one of the few risks of acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncture is generally a safe form of treatment with few, if any, side effects. This makes it an appealing option for women looking for further help with infertility. However, it is important to recognize that published reviews, while touting the positive results, also emphasize the need for further studies to present more conclusive evidence. The use of acupuncture in fertility treatment is still somewhat controversial and demands more research.
In any case, for couples who have struggled with fertility issues, acupuncture may be an appealing option. If nothing else, acupuncture has demonstrated efficacy in reducing stress and helping patients relax, which can offer respite from the anxiety of fertility treatments.
Reviewed July 7, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton