When conventional and initial fertility treatments have not resulted in a successful pregnancy, many women consider starting IVF (in vitro fertilisation). During IVF, drugs stimulate the development of several ovarian follicles instead of one. The resulting eggs are harvested and fertilised in a laboratory. After fertilisation, the normally developing embryos can then be transferred to the uterus for implantation.
IVF is an expensive procedure with varying success rates. For women under 35, the live birth rate of IVF can be as high as 45%, but for women over 42 it drops to as low as 4%. In addition, the side effects of the drugs used are unpleasant for many women.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are an excellent and risk-free complement to planned IVF treatment. A 2015 study (1) compared live birth rates in three groups:
- women undergoing IVF only
- women undergoing IVF and 1 acupuncture treatment on the day of embryo transfer
- women undergoing IVF as well as acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments.
For the study, this third group received the authors’ definition of “whole systems of traditional Chinese medicine” (WS-TCM), which was defined as 11-12 acupuncture treatments in the 2-3 months prior to embryo transfer, and 1 treatment on the day of transfer with additional dietary/lifestyle recommendations.
The authors of the study found that only in the IVF group was the live birth rate 48.2%. With one treatment on the transfer date, the rate rose slightly to 50.8%. However, the live birth rate in the group receiving WS-TCM treatment rose to 61.3%, a 13-point success.
These results reflect what I have seen in my treatment of women who have started fertility treatment: acupuncture within 24 hours of embryo transfer and regular acupuncture in the months before IVF has been very beneficial and has helped to achieve and maintain a healthy pregnancy. Chinese medicine has been found to help with the following issues:
- Improving blood flow to developing follicles (follicles develop blood flow a few months before ovulation, so nourishing them early is crucial).
- Stimulation of blood flow in the uterus, which improves the quality of the uterine lining and aids successful embryo implantation.
- Stress reduction: high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol have been shown to have a negative effect on fertility by affecting the HPO (hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis) axis.
- Reducing the side effects of IVF drugs.
If you are considering IVF treatment, please contact me and I will explain how acupuncture and Chinese medicine can support you to achieve the desired result!
(1) Hullender Rubin, L.E., Opsahl, M., Wiemer, K., Mist, S., and Caughey, A. (2015). http://www.rbmojournal.com/article/S1472-6483(15)00092-9/abstract