Acupuncture and Infertility
Acupuncture is the insertion of thin metallic needles into anatomically defined locations on the body to affect bodily function. Acupuncture needles are regulated by the FDA just like other medical devices such as surgical scalpels and hypodermic needles. This helps ensure that the needles meet standards for quality and sterility. In Illinois, practicing acupuncturists must show proof of adequate training by an approved acupuncture program and be licensed.
The general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi) through the body, which are essential for health. Disruption of this flow is believed to be responsible for disease. Acupuncture can correct imbalances of flow at identifiable points close to the skin. These acupuncture points correspond to specific areas on the surface of the body. Attempts to study these areas have found that they do have unique identifiable properties such as temperature and electrical conductance.
Some studies have shown that acupuncture has an effect on brain chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins, in turn can affect the levels of the pituitary hormones which control the function of the ovaries. It is possible, therefore, that acupuncture may be used to influence ovulation and fertility.
Several studies have shown that acupuncture apparently affected the levels of these hormones in the blood as well as the levels of estrogen and progesterone from the ovaries. A small series of women who had problems with ovulation found that that about half of them responded to acupuncture treatment.
A larger group of patients was studied by a German group. These women had various types of ovulation problems. They were divided into two groups. One group received medical fertility treatments and the other group had acupuncture. Although the investigators concluded that the acupuncture group had better results, the actual data is not that clear.
For example, seven pregnancies in the acupuncture group were actually achieved with hormone treatment 6 months after acupuncture was stopped. Another study used electro-acupuncture in PCOS patients in attempt to induce ovulation. Before treatment about 15% of menstrual cycles were associated with ovulation. After treatment, about 66% of the cycles were ovulatory.
The bottom line is that there isn’t really any good quality scientific evidence that acupuncture will improve fertility. However, there is a reasonable amount of data that we can at least conclude that it doesn’t do any harm. Therefore, we do offer it to patients. At IVF 1, we have several acupuncturists to help treat our patients.