What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is based on a system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dating back over 3,000 years. Fine needles are inserted at points around the body to correct imbalance in energy or qi, which in TCM is said to flow around the body in channels or meridians. It is used to treat a number of diverse conditions; these including male and female infertility but can also include anxiety, lower back pain, acne and nausea.
Acupuncturists believe there are 500 different acupuncture points around the body and that stimulating these with tiny needles can get your energy flowing correctly.
How can it boost my fertility?
Essentially acupuncturists try to rebalance your energy flow and ‘prime’ the body for fertility and conception. Treatments are tailored for each individual.
It is recognised by medics?
Mainstream medics tend to be sceptical about alternative treatments such as acupuncture and some argue that qi and meridians do not exist physically in the body. There is also little scientific evidence that acupuncture can help in infertility. But some doctors believe that acupuncture may still be beneficial because it stimulates nerve and muscle tissue – and it also induces relaxation - although most say more research is needed to prove this.
What sort of problems can acupuncture help with?
The British Acupuncture Council argues that, according to research that has been carried out so far, there are three mains ways that acupuncture may help with female fertility problems.
• By regulating hormone function: Acupuncture stimulates a chain of hormone reactions by promoting the release of a chemical in the brain called beta-endorphin.
• By increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs: It is claimed that acupuncture can stimulate blood flow to the ovaries and can help create the right environment for an egg follicle to develop. Acupuncturists also argue that acupuncture can increase blood flow to the uterus and help thicken the lining making it more likely that an egg will implant.
• By tackling the causes of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a common cause of infertility in women – it is a complex condition which may be genetic and has several side effects such as weight gain, excess hair and acne. It causes small cysts to grow on the ovaries, making it difficult for eggs to mature and be released ready for fertilising and it can also cause an irregular menstrual cycle. Acupuncture aims to reduce the symptoms of PCOS by balancing hormone levels, reducing the number of cysts, regulating periods and stimulating ovulation.
How might acupuncture help my partner?
If your partner is having problems with fertility such as the quality of his sperm, there may be a role for acupuncture. The British Acupuncture Council claims that there is evidence to show that acupuncture increases sperm motility (how fast the sperm swim) and that it can also lower the temperature in the scrotum where sperm are stored, creating a better environment for keeping them healthy. They also say that acupuncture can increase levels of the male sex hormone testosterone.
Acupuncture during fertility treatment
Some IVF clinics now have acupuncturists working within their clinics or they may refer patients to a local practitioner. Alternatively, patients may consult acupuncturists privately.
What happens during a consultation?
Acupuncturists usually take a full medical history, including details of your menstrual cycle and the results of fertility tests you may have had. The first appointment may last as long as an hour to an hour and a half. You may be asked to lie on a couch and then have fine needles inserted. Subsequent appointments last between 30 and 60 minutes on average. You may also be given advice about your diet and lifestyle.
How much does it cost?
Acupuncture for fertility problems is not available on the NHS. Expect to pay anything from £25 to £40 per hour, depending on where you live.
Acupuncturist Caroline Haigh who works in Leeds says that there are several common health and fertility problems that Traditional Chinese Medicine can help with. One of the most common, she says, is called yin deficiency.
‘This can cause symptoms such as infrequent periods, short menstrual cycles and hot flushes which can be an indication of ovarian ageing,’ says Caroline. ‘This can be a sign that the ovaries are starting to struggle. The aim of treatment is to lower the levels of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) in the woman’s body and thus improve the quality of her eggs. Acupuncture can also be useful during IVF treatment, especially just before and after the eggs are transferred into the woman’s womb, as it may speed up blood flow to the uterus. It can also help patients relax.’
Where can I find an acupuncturist?
The British Acupuncture Council has several fact sheets you can download which show some of the research on acupuncture and its role with helping treat female fertility problems.