If you are preparing for IVF, or currently undergoing IVF treatment, you may be looking for additional things you can do to maximise your chance of a successful pregnancy. Clinical research studies show that you can significantly increase your success rate when you combine IVF and acupuncture. This article will explain how and why acupuncture helps improve pregnancy rates, and will provide links to current research for further information.
How does acupuncture help IVF outcomes? Various mechanisms have been postulated, including the reduction of stress, the improved blood flow to the ovaries and uterus, and the regulation of hormones in the body. From a TCM perspective, acupuncture can be used to bring the body back into balance so that it can be more receptive and responsive to assisted reproductive technology (ART). Acupuncture can help you stay relaxed during your IVF cycle, minimise any side effects you might experience from the medication, and in the happy instance that you fall pregnant (which is more likely when using acupuncture), it can also provide support during the early weeks of pregnancy to reduce miscarriage rates.
IVF/Acupuncture research overview
There have been countless studies demonstrating the positive effect of acupuncture on IVF outcomes. Please see this meta-analysis carried out by the BMJ for well researched and reliable coverage of this area of study, and be reassured that there is a real, measurable and statistically significant benefit to receiving acupuncture whilst going through IVF. Acupuncture is now offered as an in-service at many of the major fertility clinics as the benefits are becoming more and more self-evident, and research into this area continues at a growing pace.
Acupuncture, Stress and IVF
Research indicates that stress has a negative effect on IVF outcomes, affecting medical end-points such as oocyte retrieval (egg-collection) and ultimately successful pregnancy rates. The effect of stress on fertility in general and on IVF outcomes is well documented. Click here for an overview of a recent study.
Acupuncture has long been used to decrease subjective feelings of stress as well as objective levels of stress hormones circulating in the body. Acupuncture has a relaxing effect on the body and mind and this may in part explain the beneficial effect of receiving acupuncture during an IVF cycle. Another recent study (click here to read abstract) concluded that the reduction of stress levels before and after embryo transfer was a significant contributing factor to improved pregnancy rates, with women receiving acupuncture having a pregnancy rate of 64.7% compared to the non-acupuncture group with a pregnancy rate of 42.5%.
Acupuncture and Blood flow to the Uterus and Ovaries
There has been a lot of research into the other mechanisms by which acupuncture can help improve IVF outcomes. One area is the effect of acupuncture on increasing the circulation to the reproductive organs. This study showed that acupuncture can reduce obstructions to blow flow in the uterine arteries, whereas this one demonstrated that combining acupuncture with medication improved the thickness of the endometrial lining significantly more than taking the medication by itself. Science is demonstrating what acupuncturists have known for thousands of years - acupuncture improves the blood flow to the whole pelvic area and removes blockages. These benefits translate into an increased pregnancy rates among women receiving acupuncture in conjunction with IVF.
Acupuncture, IVF and you
You might now be convinced that acupuncture can offer you a multitude of benefits when used in conjunction with IVF. So, what is the best way forward? There are many approaches to using acupuncture during an IVF cycle, so we will outline here what we have found to be the optimal treatment plan for your best chance of success.
If you are preparing for IVF treatment, acupuncture can help to strengthen your body prior to starting IVF, by regulating your hormones, reducing your stress levels, and increasing the circulation to your ovaries for better quality eggs. Ideally, you would start a pre-conception plan at least 3 months before starting IVF to fully prepare your body to be in the best shape possible. You might like to work in conjunction with a naturopath, as well as having regular acupuncture. However, we understand that you might not have the luxury of taking this much time before your cycle. If you have a month, treatments twice a week would be ideal in the lead-up to your cycle. If you have less time than that, you might want to attend two or three times a week in the lead up to the cycle, in order to get your body ready for the next stage.
If you are already undergoing IVF treatment, we recommend treatment once or twice a week to support the process, increase circulation to the uterus and ovaries, regulate hormones, reduce stress and minimise any side effects you may experience from the medication. It is then ideal to receive a treatment after your egg-collection (on the same day, if possible) to reduce any bleeding or local tissue trauma, and to calm the uterus in preparation for the arrival of an embryo. Treatment before and after your Embryo Transfer is one of the best ways to substantially boost your chances of a successful implantation. Finally one treatment a week after your embryo transfer can help to manage stress, support the body and reduce the risk of miscarriage if pregnancy has occurred.
Our acupuncture clinic offers everything you may need for your IVF journey. We are open seven days a week, have practitioners that are experienced in working with IVF patients, and provide a totally relaxing experience that can help you to optimise your chance of achieving a successful pregnancy. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We look forward to being of assistance to you in any way we can.
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