NICOLE PETERSON, LAC, MAcOM
ACUPUNCTURE & INFERTILITY - INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF CONCEPTION
Chinese medicine can effectively treat women diagnosed with infertility and is beneficial as an adjunctive therapy for women choosing Western medical procedures. The modalities used in the treatment of infertility include acupuncture, herbs, and nutrition.
The advantage of Chinese medicine in the treatment of infertility is its holistic perspective that determines imbalances in the body rather than just focusing on disease or lab results. When these imbalances are addressed, the body’s normal function returns and conception takes place. Acupuncture is a safe, natural treatment whose goal is to enhance the quality of eggs, sperm, uterine lining and cervical fluid.
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK FOR INFERTILITY?
Studies have shown that acupuncture affects the menstrual cycle by stimulating the endocrine system to release hormones that create change in a woman’s body.
It also increases blood flow to the uterus and ovaries which is necessary for the health of the uterine lining as well as the follicle.
It increases endorphin levels in the body which induces relaxation and decreases stress. Because there is a direct connection between the hormones released when under stress and the hormones necessary for fertility, stress can be a significant cause of infertility.
It affects the production of Luteinizing Hormone (LH), Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) while influencing the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian axis.
It builds the immune system and decreases inflammation, both of which are important for fertility.
In men, studies show that acupuncture significantly improves sperm quality, viability and mobility.
ACUPUNCTURE INCREASES THE SUCCESS RATE OF IN VITRO FERTILIZATION
Chinese medicine can also help prepare the woman’s body for interventions such as Clomid, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Because Chinese medicine focuses on restoring balance and health in the body, it will help Western medical treatments work better.
Research studies show that acupuncture increases the conception rate of these medical procedures by 26%, and it helps to alleviate their side effects including mood swings, abdominal pain, headaches, and hot flashes. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s Fertility & Sterility Journal and The American Pregnancy Association has endorsed the use of acupuncture in combination with assisted reproductive technology to enhance outcomes.
INFERTILITY SUCCESS STORIES treated by Nicole Peterson, LAc, MAcOM:
Fertility Success Story: High Stress and Anxiety
A 30 year old woman had been trying to conceive for three years before trying Chinese medicine. She was diagnosed with low progesterone and had tried two rounds of Clomid without success. She reported having a very stressful job, and she suffered from high anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome. Her menstrual cycles were regular, but she had PMS and very little cervical fluid at ovulation. Her Chinese medical diagnosis revealed an imbalance in her Spleen, Heart, Liver and Kidney organ and meridian systems. After three months of acupuncture, herbs, and dietary and lifestyle changes, she had much less anxiety, no PMS, increased cervical fluid, and normal digestive functioning. After seven months, she sent me an email saying: “I just wanted to let you know that I am pregnant. Can you believe it?!?!?! I didn’t even have to do the crazy fertility treatments. Yeah!! I had a feeling when I saw you last, and the feeling was right. I just wanted to let you know before my appointment.” She now has a healthy baby!
Fertility Success Story: Low Progesterone
A 28 year old woman came to me in tears who had been trying to conceive for 4 years. Her tests showed that she was low in progesterone. She tried three unsuccessful attempts at Clomid after which she started using progesterone cream. As a result, she did become pregnant but miscarried at five weeks. The interview revealed that her menstrual cycles and bleeding were normal, but she did complain of PMS before her period and some cramping on day 1. She felt cold in general with especially cold hands and feet and was under a fair amount of stress. Using the theory of Chinese medicine, I determined that her pattern of imbalance was affecting her hormones. I gave her acupuncture treatments once a week and put her on two herbal formulas. I also suggested dietary and lifestyle changes. After a month of treatment, she reported that her body was feeling warmer and she no longer had premenstrual acne. She no longer complained of menstrual cramps after two months of treatment. The next month, she became pregnant and carried the baby to full term!
Fertility Success Story: Irregular cycles
A 24 year old woman came to me who had been trying to conceive for over a year. She had been on the birth control pill for three years, and after stopping, she could not get pregnant. Her menstrual cycles were irregular often lasting 44 days, and her basal body temperatures were very erratic. She complained of very sore breasts before her period, headaches, a lack of cervical mucus during ovulation, and a tendency toward hypoglycemia. After her first month of treatment using acupuncture, herbs and dietary changes, her cycle shortened, she no longer had breast tenderness and her blood sugar became balanced. On the second month, she noticed an increase in cervical mucus at ovulation and to her surprise became pregnant!
Fertility Success Story: Advanced Maternal Age
A 39 year old woman came to me because she was having trouble conceiving. She had no Western medical explanation her diagnosis of infertility. She had regular menstrual cycles, menstrual cramps, PMS, no cervical fluid, poor sleep, and low energy. She was given weekly acupuncture sessions and herbal medicine for 4 months before she became pregnant. During those 4 months, her cervical fluid increased significantly, her sleep improved, her energy increased, and her PMS stopped. Unfortunately at 8 weeks into her pregnancy, she discovered that she had a blighted ovum and had to have a D&C. She then continued acupuncture and herbal medicine treatment for 2 more months and became pregnant again. She is now 16 weeks pregnant with a healthy baby.
Fertility Success Story: Recurrent Miscarriage
A 32 year old woman came to me to receive treatment for recurrent miscarriages. She had no problem conceiving but she had 3 miscarriages in the past year and a half. Her blood tests and lab work were all normal. Her periods were regular, but she did complain of PMS and menstrual cramps. She had digestive issues that included diarrhea, bloating, and gas. Shortly after beginning acupuncture and herbal treatment, she became pregnant. She continued treatment weekly through the first trimester and then once a month for the rest of her pregnancy. She had no complications and carried her baby to full term!
Fertility Success Story: Adrenal Fatigue
“A little note to let you know….it worked! I am definitely pregnant and everything looks good! Of course it’s a little too surreal right now, and I asked the doctor three times if it could be wrong, but he assured me that it is so. We’re very happy and relieved. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you’ve done for me to help me get here. I appreciate your genuine care and emotional support.” - Leslie S.
Fertility Success Story: Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)
A 35 year old woman came to me after having tried to conceive for 3 years. She had tried Clomid five times and an IUI one time with uncomfortable side effects. Her doctor diagnosed her with poor egg quality and high FSH. She had regular cycles, light menstrual flow, menstrual cramps, back pain and headaches. Her Chinese medicine diagnosis was an imbalance in her Kidney and Liver energy systems which was affecting her ability to conceive. After four months of acupuncture and herbs, she decided to do an IUI with injections. She continued to receive acupuncture during the hormonal injection and insemination procedures. Chinese medicine helped to balance her body and improve her egg quality so that when she combined it with an IUI, she became pregnant. She writes: “I AM PREGNANT!!!!!! Yippee, horrayyyy!! I just wanted to say Thank You so much for helping to get my body in line and ready for this wonderful experience. Before when I took the fertility meds it made me so crazy with hot flashes, mood swings,etc. This time around it was much more powerful meds, and I had almost no side effects. I know I owe that to you and your acupuncture expertise.”
Fertility Success Story: In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
She had successful IVF treatment and now has twins! “I want to let you know my appreciation for the compassion you showed me during my struggle with infertility. When I first came to see you, I was completely overwhelmed with my fertility situation. You listened to my concerns and hopes for a baby and quickly made me feel hopeful again and in charge of my situation. Not only was I worried about my fertility, but my job was very stressful. After leaving each session with you, I felt like a new person, the stress was gone and I always had renewed hope for my fertility. You always advised me with an open mind and never judged any of my decisions when following Western medicine. You have been a steady source of support over the last year, and I do not believe I could have made it through the Western treatments and infertility disappointments without your help. While I realized this is your job, I always felt that you truly cared and my well-being. I cannot adequately express here how much I appreciate your kindness.” - Denise M.
FERTILITY RESEARCH STUDIES
Effect of acupuncture on the outcome of in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Fertility Sterility. 85(5):1347-51, May 2006.
This randomized, controlled study was done to determine the effect of luteal-phase acupuncture on the outcome of IVF/intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Two hundred twenty-five infertile patients who were undergoing IVF/ICSI were used. In group I, 116 patients received luteal-phase acupuncture according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. In group II, 109 patients received placebo acupuncture. Results showed that in group I, the clinical pregnancy rate and ongoing pregnancy rate (33.6% and 28.4%, respectively) were significantly higher than in group II (15.6% and 13.8%).
Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer significantly improves the reproductive outcome in infertile women. Fertility Sterility.85(5):1341-6, May 2006.
In this study, one group of patients received acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer (ET), another group on ET day and again 2 days later. Both groups were compared with a control group that did not receive acupuncture. The conclusion was that acupuncture on the day of ET significantly improves the reproductive outcome of IVF/ICSI, compared with no acupuncture. Repeating acupuncture on ET day +2 provided no additional beneficial effect.
Reduction of blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertility women with electro-acupuncture. Human Reproduction, 11(6), 1996.
In this study, women who had been diagnosed with a thin endometrial lining as a possible cause of fertility were divided into two groups. The women in the group that was given acupuncture for 4 weeks leading up to their IVF cycle had a dramatic increase in blood flow through the uterine artery which led to a thicker endometrial lining.
Acupuncture may improve sperm quality. Fertility Sterility. Vol 84:141-147, July 2005.
This is a prospective study of uncontrolled trials using acupuncture in infertile men. 28 men received acupuncture twice weekly for five weeks. After acupuncture, there was a statistically significant increase in the percentage, number, and quality of sperm.
Recommended Reading on Fertility
Lewis, Randine. The Infertility Cure. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co., 2004.
Weschler, Toni. Taking Charge of Your Fertility. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2002.
Article in the Asheville Citizen-Times featuring Nicole Jurkovic Peterson, LAc:
TREATING INFERTILITY WITH ACUPUNCTURE
by Nanci Bompey
published April 3, 2007 in the Asheville Citizen-Times
ASHEVILLE — Kristen Smith and her husband, Luke, have been trying to have a baby for more than four years. After rounds of hormone shots, unsuccessful infertility treatments and a miscarriage, the couple decided to try acupuncture.
“We’re just taking a break from traditional medicine, and we’re going to go with acupuncture,” Smith said. “We’ve basically tried everything we can, so there’s nothing to lose at this point.”
The 28-year-old Haywood County resident is one of a growing number of women who are looking to acupuncture to help in becoming pregnant.
While the technique has been used in China for thousands of years, it has only recently begun to catch on in the West.
“Women just don’t really know it’s an option yet,” said Asheville acupuncturist James Whittle.
Infertility affects more than 6 million women and their partners in the United States, or about 10 percent of the reproductive-age population, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
While most infertility cases, 85 percent to 90 percent, are treated with conventional therapies like medicine or surgery, some women are also starting to turn to acupuncture either alone or in conjunction with Western therapies.
Smith’s acupuncturist, Nicole Jurkovic Peterson, L.Ac., said in the three years since she opened her practice in Asheville, about 30 percent to 40 percent of her clients have been women with infertility problems.
“People are wanting answers and a different way of looking at infertility that hasn’t been explored enough,” Peterson said.
A holistic approach
Both Peterson and Whittle subscribe to the practices of Chinese medicine, which takes a holistic approach to diagnosing and treating patients.
Traditional Chinese medicine sees the body as a balance of two opposing forces: yin, or cold, and yang, or hot. Health is achieved through the maintenance of a balance of yin and yang, which practitioners balance through a patient’s diet, lifestyle, nutritional and herbal supplements, and acupuncture treatments.
During treatments, an acupuncturist uses a small, metallic needle on a series of acupuncture points that connect channels of energy in the body. The needles are used to regulate the flow of qi, or vital energy, through the body. A blockage of qi leads to an imbalance of yin and yang.
For women dealing with infertility, the process helps to balance their hormones, increase blood flow to the uterus, boost the immune system and relieve stress, all helping their body to conceive, Peterson said.
“I was a little bit skeptical at first because we’ve been through so many treatments before,” Smith said. “After seeing the results, I feel like we’re on the right track.”
Smith said while she isn’t pregnant yet, the acupuncture treatments and herbal supplements have given her more energy, helped to regulate her menstrual cycles, alleviated pain in her neck and helped her to feel more relaxed.
Rebecca Piersma had been trying to have a baby for nine months when she started acupuncture treatments with Peterson last fall. She is now three months pregnant.
“I feel like it is a really positive thing because it takes into account everything going on in your life,” said the 25-year-old Fairview woman. “I realized I had to give my body time.” .
Peterson said she has about a 65 percent success rate in treating infertility with acupuncture.
“I tell people give me six months, and if you’re not pregnant by then, go to Western therapy,” she said. “If nothing else, you’re going to feel really good, and your body’s going to be much more ready for Western therapy.”
Some studies suggest that acupuncture may help increase the effectiveness of in vitro fertilization, but the reason behind its effectiveness is still under investigation.
James Holman, an infertility specialist at the Center for Applied Reproductive Science in Asheville, said a lot of his patients undergo acupuncture along with their infertility treatments. While he is not sure to what extent it helps women to conceive, he does not discourage them.
“This is stressful, there’s just no question,” he said of infertility. “Acupuncture and some relaxation therapies can help you cope with it.”
Smith agreed the infertility treatments have put a strain on her body, and trying to conceive has been a source of stress in her life. The soothing music and aromatherapy used in acupuncture, and Jurkovic’s support, have helped her to relieve stress, which is good for her whether or not she becomes pregnant, she said.
“My husband and I just really needed a break.”
Smith said she is committed to trying acupuncture for six months but will go back to in vitro fertilization if the treatments are not successful on their own.
“I’m just not ready to give up yet,” Smith said.
Facts about acupuncture and Chinese medicine:
Acupuncture originated in China more than 2,000 years ago.
An estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults have used acupuncture and about 2.1 million U.S. adults have had acupuncture treatments in the previous year.
Acupuncture is the key component of traditional Chinese medicine, which sees the body as a balance of two opposing forces: yin (cold) and yang (hot). Health is achieved through the maintenance of a balance of yin and yang.
An imbalance of yin and yang leads to blockage of the flow of qi (pronounced ch-ee), or vital energy, along 12 main meridians of the body.
More than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body connect the meridians.
During treatments, an acupuncturist uses a small, metallic needle on these points to regulate the flow of qi in the body.
Acupuncture treatments range in price from $100 – $130 for the first visit to $70 – $75 for follow-up visits.
Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Blue Ridge Acupuncture Clinic and Ling Dao Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. .
Facts about infertility:
Infertility affects about 6.1 million women and their partners in the United States – about 10 percent of the reproductive-age population.
Most infertility cases – 85 percent to 90 percent – can be treated with conventional medical therapies such as medication or surgery.
Infertility affects both men and women in equal proportions. For 20 percent of couples, the cause of infertility is unexplained.
The most common male infertility factors include azoospermia, where no sperm cells are produced, and oligospermia, where few sperm cells are produced.
Ovulation disorder is the most common reason for female infertility. Other causes of infertility in women include blocked fallopian tubes, which can occur when a woman has had a pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis, a condition that causes adhesions or cysts.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a technique where eggs are surgically removed from the ovary and mixed with sperm outside the body. The fertilized embryo is then implanted into the woman’s uterus.
IVF accounts for less than 5 percent of all infertility treatments in the United States.
For women younger than 37 years old, one cycle of IVF results in a pregnancy about 40 percent of the time.
One cycle of IVF costs about $11,000.
Source: American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Center for Applied Reproductive Science.