Are you labelled as a poor IVF responder? Is there a way you can up your chances of making a baby? You know there are not many options. Can acupuncture help?

IVF is the numbers game. The important part of IVF is for your ovaries to safely produce as many follicles as possible. And poor IVF responders’ ovaries, as the name suggests, don’t grow many follicles. This means these IVF cycles are often cancelled. If you are lucky you may end up with a couple of oocytes. Furthermore, those eggs are less likely to turn into embryos.

The poor ovarian response (POR) is a diagnosis no one wants when trying to conceive. IVF clinics can’t do much to help you respond better. There are several IVF protocols you can try, but unfortunately, they are seldom successful.

So, what does poor IVF response diagnosis mean? Let’s take it apart.

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Can fertility acupuncture help depression? Sounds like it has nothing to do with each other. But let’s have a closer look.

Relax and it will happen, they say. Does your stress cause infertility or does the emotional rollercoaster of not being able to conceive lead to stress and depression? Stress and infertility – a classic Catch-22?

Couples with infertility have increased levels of anxiety and depression. This is a fact. Infertility causes significant distress.

Unmanaged depression can have a negative effect on a couple’s relationship.  It affects libido in both partners, it even has a toll on sperm quality.  Furthermore, men who have major depression are less likely to conceive a child. And women with severe symptoms have 38 per cent fewer conceptions each month.

So what should you do? Are there any safe treatment options?

Many studies have explored and showed the negative effects of antidepressants on pregnancy and on a baby. We are not yet certain how these drugs affect fertility.

For instance, women undergoing medical treatment for depression are more likely to miscarry. The same study links the use of antidepressants and male infertility.  If you are in a position to choose, discuss non-pharmaceutical treatment with your doctor.

How to overcome your depression naturally when trying for a baby

There are a few effective non-drug interventions. We recommend a combination of

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Prepare the soil before planting the seed, the saying goes. The endometrial lining is where the future baby (embryo) attaches to, where it gets nutrition and grows. The healthy lining is important to reduce the risk of early miscarriage.

So, what is the fertile soil for the baby? The ideal endometrial lining before the implantation is about 8mm in thickness. It has good circulation, and ideally, it has a three-layer pattern (it can be seen on the ultrasound).

Women undergoing IVF with better blood circulation in the endometrium have more live births.

Developing embryo gets nutrients from endometrial lining until at least the tenth week of pregnancy. It regulates placental growth and differentiation.

Treatments that optimise your endometrium’s receptivity are limited. We also don’t know of lifestyle interventions which are proven to help.

Why you should try acupuncture

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Our patients often ask how acupuncture boosts fertility.

One of the ways is by reducing inflammation in the reproductive system.

I recently came across this little study showing acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory effects for pelvic inflammatory disease.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is acute inflammation in your reproductive organs.  It is a complication often caused by STIs, like chlamydia or gonorrhea. With a recent rise in reported STIs cases in New Zealand, there is an increased risk of women developing the pelvic inflammatory disease.

It’s concerning as you may not realise you have PID.  Symptoms may be mild, or you may not feel any difference at all.  However, if you have symptoms like

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Do you find yourself scrolling through endless pages of conflicting advice on fertility diet? Do you feel like after all that googling you haven’t found the answer?

Is dairy good or bad for fertility? Pineapples? Gluten? Go vegan?  What about Keto diet?

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Unexplained infertility probably is the most heartbreaking diagnosis. Not knowing why you can’t get pregnant is frustrating.

The principal treatments for unexplained infertility are recommendations for timed intercourse, lifestyle changes, Clomiphene citrate, intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF). Recently, Lipoidal flushing showed promising results.

What role does acupuncture play in treating unexplained infertility?

We see reproductive acupuncture benefits and results for couples with unexplained infertility in our clinical practice. We have seen patients who were under specialist care and tried everything else for as long as 7 years conceiving naturally under our care. However, acupuncture research is technically challenging and underfunded, there are only a few research papers that analyse this issue.

So understandably, I was excited to see a paper that took a challenge and looked into acupuncture’s benefits for unexplained infertility. It is unfortunate they did not utilise the power of acupuncture fully by using everything available. Nonetheless, the women who had acupuncture were better off.

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Stress affects your fertility. We can’t ignore this fact any longer.

Furthermore, long-term stress can reduce your IVF success. UK scientists measured cortisol levels in women undergoing IVF. They took samples of hair and saliva. Hair sampling allows analysis of cortisol over the preceding 3–6 months. While saliva sample shows immediate stress levels. Results were eye-opening. Women exposed to chronic stress were 27% less likely to conceive with IVF.

How many acupuncture sessions do you need to have a significant impact on stress?

Is it realistic to think that a single acupuncture session can reduce the cumulative effects of stress that has happened over a longer period, say 3-6 months?

A recent study led by Dr Sutton explored this question. They compared a month of regular acupuncture with one session on the day of embryo transfer. Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer is often recommended by reproductive endocrinologists.

To no surprise women who had several acupuncture sessions felt more relaxed. Unfortunately, researchers didn’t further explore if acupuncture dose has an impact on pregnancy rates.

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When you decide to have a family, you want to get pregnant fast. How can you speed up your fertility journey? Does it feel like you have tried everything? But have you?

Recently I found a fertility acupuncture study from Australia, which has some good tips.

What we know about fertility acupuncture mostly comes from the studies about IVF. In contrast to IVF research, general reproductive acupuncture studies are hard to come by. While we see many IVF patients, about 50% of our couples are trying to conceive naturally, in the privacy of their homes. So studies discussing Chinese Medicine treatment for fertility without IVF are interesting to us and our switched-on patients.

Can you actually get pregnant faster without IVF?

This Australian study explored the effect of acupuncture on fertility awareness and regularity of your cycle. But what they actually discovered will surprise you.

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In this study, researchers investigated how acupuncture influenced ovarian reserve in women who had low ovarian reserve or “very few eggs left”. They used a kind of acupuncture with no needles, where very gentle electric impulses are used to stimulate acupuncture points. This study has shown improved the hormone levels including Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH). AMH test is a test often used by IVF clinics to estimate response to the IVF drugs. Researchers observed increased number of eggs collected with IVF. The embryo quality was also improved. Consequently, women who had acupuncture had better IVF pregnancy outcomes.

The study was published in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research.

Are you interested in learning how your fertility can be optimised with acupuncture?  Contact Dr Vitalis Acupuncture Auckland.

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How does reproductive acupuncture compares to the medication at improving ovulation?

One of the causes of anovulation is luteinised unruptured follicle syndrome (LUFS).

LUFS affects 5%-10% of healthy women and 25%-43% of women with infertility. This syndrome is more common among women diagnosed with endometriosis.

Most commonly LUFS is diagnosed during a series of ultrasound scans.

In women with LUFS, the dominant follicle will grow bigger than usual (up to 4 centimeters). The follicle will undergo the luteinisation process, but it will not rupture during the midcycle to release the mature egg. Progesterone levels will increase as if you have ovulated. Your endometrium will undergo premenstrual changes. In other words, you won’t be able to see any difference in your period. The menstrual flow will be no different from a healthy menstrual cycle. But, obviously, if the egg is not released, and if you have LUFS it is not, pregnancy cannot happen.

There is a clear explanation of why some women get LUFS.  The main treatment for it is ovulation induction with hCG hormonal injection or Clomiphene. These treatments are a risk of hyperstimulation syndrome and other side-effects.

Does acupuncture offer a treatment alternative to anovulation?

A recent literature review on acupuncture’s effect on LUFS has been published in the Journal Of Acupuncture and Tuina Science. And if offers a safe and effective alternative. Read more

hyperprolactinemia-prolactinoma

 

Hyperprolactinemia can be a significant obstacle for women trying to get pregnant, and reproductive acupuncture may be one way to address the condition in some women. Previous research has shown that acupuncture influences prolactin levels in women undergoing IVF. We have studies showing acupuncture can reduce prolactin levels (auricular acupuncture using NADA protocol).

This study is interesting because the researchers were looking at natural conception rates, and women who had acupuncture treatment showed a significant difference – they were more fertile. Acupuncture plus standard treatment resulted in 43% pregnancy rate vs 20% of standard treatment alone. Bromocriptine has some nasty side-effects, including dizziness, nausea, confusion, even hallucinations and uncontrolled body movement. Women undergoing acupuncture treatment had a much better response to the drug but also had fewer side-effects.

Obviously, this is a small study; and further research looking into hyperprolactinemia and acupuncture are needed. The abstract of the study is below.

 

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Effects and mechanisms of acupuncture and moxibustion on reproductive endocrine function in male rats with partial androgen deficiency.

Ren Y1, Yang X1, Zhang Y2, Wang Y1, Li X1.
Author information
Abstract
OBJECTIVES:
Partial androgen deficiency of the aging male (PADAM) is characterised by a deficiency in serum androgen levels. Both electroacupuncture (EA) and mild moxibustion (MM) can raise serum testosterone levels in PADAM. We investigated the mechanisms underlying the use of EA and MM in a rodent model of PADAM. Read more

Can acupuncture help 35+ year old pregnant women reduce pregnancy risks?

Women of this age, are a high risk for developing stillbirth and fetal growth restriction among other complications.

This study, published in Journal of Physiology, researchers from the University of Manchester, UK concluded that the blood flow to placenta may be the reason for increased risks. Acupuncture increases the blood flow to uterus. Use acupuncture in pregnancy as a preventative measure to reduce the risks for the developing baby.

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Obstetricia-Gynecologica-pcos-amh

Acupuncture helps to normalise both ovarian volume and AMH in PCOS patients. These changes are beneficial for fertility.

Both acupuncture and exercise help to normalise overactive sympathetic nervous system in PCOS patients. Acupuncture, however, is much more effective.  Furthermore, as shown by this study, exercise has no effect on AMH nor ovarian volume.

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PCOS insulin resistance acupuncture

PCOS can improve with acupuncture treatment. More research looks into the mechanism of it. One of the lead researchers in PCOS and acupuncture Dr Elisabet Stener-Victorin from Sweden has long suspected that acupuncture may play a role in regulating blood glucose levels and helping with insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is one of the features of PCOS. This study put the theory to test.

The study revealed acupuncture increases whole-body glucose uptake during and after stimulation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.  See the abstract and a full text of the study below.

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Polyps and fibroids will often be surgically removed if they obstruct the chances of embryo implanting. Sometimes surgery is not the desired option.

We can use Chinese fertility herbs attempting to shrink the fibroids. This study shows this can be worth a try, especially if the fibroids are small.

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Frozen embryo transfer acupuncture

IVF Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) patients benefit from Acupuncture. This helps us understand how Acupuncture benefits fertility.

Electro stimulation on acupuncture points leading to the IVF transfer improves the quality/receptivity of the uterine lining. A study published in the latest issue of peer-reviewed British Medical Journal (Acupuncture in Medicine) found the rates of embryo implantation, clinical pregnancy and live birth rates were higher in patients who received acupuncture leading to the transfer. They also found significant measurable changes in the endometrium (uterine lining):

  • Acupuncture improved the chances of triple-line pattern endometrial lining. It has been shown in studies that triple-line pattern is associated with good IVF outcome.
  • Endometrial perfusion (blood supply to the uterine lining) is an important factor in the process of implantation. The study found greater endometrial and subendometrial vascularisation following a series of acupuncture treatments leading to embryo transfer.
  • Acupuncture improved HOXA10 expression. Higher HOXA10 is associated with greater endometrial receptivity and good pregnancy outcomes. HOXA10 expression is lower in the uteri of women with hydrosalpinx, PCOS, and endometriosis.

How much acupuncture should you have to see those enhancements to your fertility? Women in this study had six acupuncture sessions per cycle for three menstrual cycles.

See the abstract of the study below. Read more

Stress sperm acupuncture Impact of stress on female infertility and pregnancy has been well documented. Below study, published in the journal of Fertility and Sterility, shows male reproductive health is similarly affected by it. The researchers are confident the correlation between stress and sperm parameters is clear.

Acupuncture has been shown to improve sperm quality, it has also been shown to help with stress. Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center have shown that acupuncture interferes with the very mechanism of stress.

Effects of work and life stress on semen quality

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embryo-implantationSuccessful implantation is an absolute prerequisite for a successful pregnancy. The process by which a blastocyst is accepted by endometrium is involved and requires an interplay of many systems.

The researchers of this study have discovered acupuncture can optimise this subtle uterine environment by modulating cytokines, and therefore it can increase the implantation rate.

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clomophene pcos acupunctureThis study by Beijing Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology has shown acupuncture to be superior to clomophene on ovulation and pregnancy rates in treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome.

Other studies have shown that unlike Clomophene, acupuncture can have long term effect on PCOS by reducing the sympathetic nervous tonus. Apart from study methodology issues, another limitation of this study is that it only looked into the short term effect, but didn’t evaluate the effectiveness over a longer term. However, this is another study adding to the body of evidence. The study was published in the journal of Zhongguo Zhen jiu (Chinese Journal of Acupuncture & Moxibustion [2013, 33(11):961-964]).

Efficacy and safety evaluation of acupuncture combined with auricular acupoint therapy in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome

Department of Acupuncture and Physical Therapy, Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, Capital Medical University, Beijing 100026, China. geyongchun1981@sina.com
Zhongguo Zhen jiu = Chinese Acupuncture & Moxibustion [2013, 33(11):961-964]
Type: Journal Article, English Abstract (lang: chi)

OBJECTIVE: To compare the efficacy differences between acupuncture combined with auricular acupoint therapy and clomiphene oral administration in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

METHODS: One hundred cases of PCOS were randomized into two groups, 50 cases in each one. Acupuncture combined with auricular acupuncture group (group A): acupuncture was applied at Guanyuan (CV 4), Zhongji (CV 3) and Zigong (EX-CA 1), once daily; auricular point sticking was applied at Spleen (pi, CO13), Endocrine (neifenmi, CO18), Uterus and Kidney (shen, CO10), the plaster was changed once a week. Clomiphene group (group B): oral clomiphene was prescribed at the 5th day of the menstrual, for 5 consecutive days, totally 3 menstrual cycles was needed. The ovulation induction, pregnancy and menstruation resuming of patients in the two ‘ , The totally effective rate was 90.00% (45/50) in group A, which was group were observed and compared.

RESULTS: The totally effective rate was 90.0% (45/50) in group A, which was superior to 86.0% (43/50) in group B (P<0.05); the ovulation rate and pregnancy rate were 68.0% (34/50)and 64. 0% (32/50) in group A, which were superior to that of group B (all P<0. 05); the menstruation resuming rate was 94.00 (47/50) in group A, which was superior to 88.00 (44/50) in group B (P<0.05). No adverse effect was observed in group A, while in group B, varying degrees of nausea, vomiting, headache and dermatitis were observed in 29 cases, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) like polycystic ovary was observed in 14 cases under the B ultrasound. CONCLUSION: Acupuncture combined with auricular acupoint therapy has a better effect than clomiphene in the treatment of PCOS without any adverse effects.