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Chinese Medicine and Assisted Reproductive Technology (IVF, IUI)

Today' Blog will be discussing the roll Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture play in enhancing IVF and IUI outcomes.

 

For thousands of years acupuncture has been used to treat reproductive disorders and to help prevent miscarriages. Now, modern medicine is finding that acupuncture can indeed improve IVF outcomes (increasing pregnancy rates) and simultaneously decreasing miscarriage rates and helping to maintain a healthy pregnancy.

 

Please read on to learn more about how Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture can help enhance IVF and IUI outcomes.

 

 

 

 

According to the National Center for Health Statisitics, 9.3 million American women are currently using assisted reproductive technology (ART) services to help them cope with fertility issues. One of the most widely used ART is in-vitro fertilization or IVF. This consists of harvesting a woman's eggs (called "egg retrieval") and then combining the eggs with sperm and thus, fertilizing the eggs in a lab where they can grow the resulting embryo for several days. Once the embryo that results from this fertilization hits a certain stage of maturity, it is then introduced into the woman's uterus to develop as a normal pregnancy.

 

IVF is used in cases such as: fallopian tube blockage, low sperm count, abnormal cervical factors, immunologic factors affecting either partner, infertility after a tubal surgery, infertility after treatment for endometriosis, and for un-expalined infertility. This procedure was first successfully used in the United States in 1981. Truly an amazing medical feat.


However, despite how amazing this technology is, only about a third of people on average undergoing IVF will get pregnant. If you are over 40 your chances can be much lower than that. In addition, even if you get pregnant, you have a 20% or higher chance of miscarrying.


This is where acupuncture can be extremely helpful. Studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can greatly increase IVF pregnancy rates. Women who receive properly timed and properly performed acupuncture have demonstrated up to a 106% increase in ongoing pregnancies. Studies have also demonstrated a number of other benefits including substantial increases in implantation rates and increases in both uterine and ovarian blood flow. [1] [2] [3]

 

Acupuncture also has a significant impact on "poor responders", whose bodies do not respond well to standard IVF medications or protocols. In one study, poor responders that had acupuncture achieved the same pregnancy rates as normal responders. [4]


A widely published recent German study found that using acupuncture with IVF achieved a 42% clinical pregnancy rate compared to only a 26% in the control group that did not receive acupuncture. When acupuncture and Chinese Medicine are used in conjunction with IVF, both clinical studies and experience suggests the overall pregnancy rate can be raised to at least 60%.


Recently there have been several meta-analyses done lumping together all of the good quality studies on acupuncture and IVF. The meta-analysis published in the most prestigous medical journal (British Medical Journal) found that for patients undergoing IVF, acupuncture increased the odds of a live birth by 91%. In other words, when you average all the studies available, you find that the odds of having a live birth are almost doubled.

 

How Does Chinese Medicine Help Improve IVF Success Rates?

  • It improves the function of the ovaries to produce better quality eggs.
  • It regulates the hormones to produce a larger number of follicles.
  • It increases the blood flow to the uterus and increases the thickness of the uterine lining.
  • It relaxes the patient and decreases her stress.
  • It helps prevent uterine contractions.
  • It lessens the sides effects of the Western drugs used in IVF.
  • It strengthens and regulates the patient's Immune system.
  • It Improves male semen to create better quality and quantity of embryos.
  • It decreases the chance of miscarriage.


When to use Chinese Medicine with IVF:

For best results, Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, Chinese herbs and Chinese Dietary & Lifestyle therapy, should be used before, during, and after IVF. Chinese medicine can help prepare both partners before IVF in order to improve the function of the ovaries, strengthen and regulate the immune system, reduce stress, and improve the quantity and quality of the sperm and the quality of the seminal fluid.


This is accomplished in the female partner by treating any menstrual irregularities, such as amenorrhea, PMS, endometriosis, uterine myomas (a.k.a. fibroids under 2 cm), or heavy bleeding during or outside the menses. Such preparatory treatment usually lasts 3-6 months, but can take longer. Specific acupuncture and Chinese Herbal protocols exist for the treatment and support of the above mentioned menstrual irregularities and gynecological problems. Specific Chinese Medical protocols also exist for low sperm count, low sperm motility, and abnormal sperm morphology (or shape), and problems with seminal fluid liquefaction.


Once the woman's menstrual cycle and period are normal according to the guidelines of Chinese medicine, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be used during the IVF procedure itself. This typically begins during the month prior to the IVF when the woman is placed on oral contraceptives in order to give her ovaries a rest. Step-by-step protocols are then used at every phase of the IVF procedure. For instance, certain acupuncture points and Chinese herbs are used to stimulate the ovaries, others are used before the transfer of the embryo, and yet others are used after the transfer has been accomplished. Not only are different methods used at these different stages, but each treatment is also individualized to fit each patient's personal Chinese Medical Diagnosis.


After successful implantation of the embryo has taken place, Chinese Medicine can also be used to help prevent miscarriage. In general, Chinese Medicine is extremely effective for preventing miscarriage when threatened miscarriage is due to hormonal imbalances, such as low progesterone. For this purpose, it may be used either preventively when the woman is asymptomatic or even after symptoms of threatened miscarriage has happened.


The best of Both Worlds:

When one combines the high tech power of modern assisted reproductive technologies with the holistic wisdom of centuries of Chinese medicine, one makes use of "the best of both worlds." While Western medicine is capable of micromanaging human physiology, Chinese medicine addresses the bigger picture, thus insuring that the whole organism is brought back to a state of dynamic balance and vibrant health.

 

How Many Sessions Are Recommended?



There are a number of protocols that we use depending on the history and condition of the patient. If you are already beginning your IVF cycle, we typically recommend 4 - 10 treatments or beginning weekly leading up to the transfer. In order to prepare an optimal Uterine environment, we suggest the patient start TCM treatment at least 2 months

before the IUI or IVF procedure.

 

 

If there are complicating factors, more may be required. Please keep in mind that specific treatments must be done at very specific times during the cycle.

 

If you are not yet beginning your IVF cycle, it is a good idea to have a consultation as soon as possible so that we can evaluate your specific needs. During the visit, we will perform a non-invasive physical exam and, based on the results, make recommendations as to the duration and frequency of treatments.

 

Dealing with any imbalances prior to your cycle can help enhance all parameters of your cycle and greatly increase your health and your chances of a successful IVF pregnancy.

 

References:

[1] Paulus, et.al. Influence of Acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy: Fertility and Sterility Vol: 77, No. 4, APRIL 2002; Quintero et.al A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Cross-Over Study Evaluating Acupuncture as an Adjunct to In-Vitro Fertilization: Fertility and Sterility Vol: 81, Supplement 3, April, 2004; Dieterle S, et.al. Fertility and Sterility 2006 Apr 7.




[2] Stener-Victorin E, et al Reduction of blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertile women with electro-acupuncture. Hum Reprod 1996;11:1314 -7.; Stener-Victorin E, et al, Ovarian blood flow responses to electro-acupuncture stimulation at different frequencies and intensities in anaesthetized rats: Auton Neurosci. 2003 Oct 31;108(1-2):50-6.




[3] Quintero et.al A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Cross-Over Study Evaluating Acupuncture as an Adjunct to In-Vitro Fertilization: Fertility and Sterility Vol: 81, Supplement 3, April, 2004




[4] Magarelli et.al. Acupuncture & IVF poor responders: a cure?: Fertility and Sterility Vol: 81, Supplement 3, April, 2004



 

[5] Quintero et.al A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Cross-Over Study Evaluating Acupuncture as an Adjunct to In-Vitro Fertilization: Fertility and Sterility Vol: 81, Supplement 3, April, 2004




[6] See e.g., Gurfinkel et al., Effects of acupuncture and moxa treatment in patients with semen abnormalities. Asian J Androl. 2003 Dec;5(4):345-8.




[7] Quintero et.al A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Cross-Over Study Evaluating Acupuncture as an Adjunct to In-Vitro Fertilization: Fertility and Sterility Vol: 81, Supplement 3, April, 2004

About the author

Gina

The road to conceiving a child can be difficult for patients suffering from fertility hurdles. Fortunately, the best of both worlds in the field of

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