Chinese medicine, fertility, pregnancy and IVF support - Call 0424 984 337
To date the kind of randomised controlled scientific trials necessary to provide conclusive evidence that Traditional Chinese Medicine can cure or treat infertility have not yet been carried out or published. Hence any treatment or advice offered in our clinic is based on existing evidence, our extensive training and our experience, and that of many generations of doctors before us, in gynecology clinics in Traditional Chinese Medicine hospitals in China.
What you can do
Whether you are preparing to conceive, actively trying to conceive or embarking on IVF, Chinese medicine has a lot to offer from its long history of improving women’s health. Below are listed a number of different programmes relevant for consideration by couples facing the challenges of modern life while trying to maximise their reproductive health.
There is much information and misinformation about what constitutes a good preconception diet. From a Chinese medicine point of view the middle road is usually the healthiest where moderation of some foods is recommended and a good balance of healthy and fresh fruits and vegetables with adequate protein is encouraged. A TCM practitioner takes into account the different constitution and situation of each individual before dietary advice is given.
A properly functioning digestive system is an important focus of treatment, so that nutrients are absorbed and utilised well. If there are any digestive issues such as bloating, bowel disorders, reflux, cravings or low appetite these can be addressed with acupuncture.
A little bit of weight loss goes a long way to improving fertility. Losing 5 kg is a manageable target for most and you can start now. Just moving your metabolism a little bit in the direction of burning off fat stores, can stimulate ovarian activity, improve egg and sperm quality and increase fertility.
Acupuncture can be used to help reduce your appetite and improve your metabolism to promote weight loss. An analysis of your constitution and the reasons for your weight gain by an experienced acupuncturist will lead to an individualised treatment plan designed to maximise weight loss. We use gentle electro acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to help to reduce waist circumference and abdominal obesity. Acupuncture can reduce the level of specific hormones which affect appetite and metabolism.
Using acupuncture points on the ear stimulates the auricular branch of the vagal nerve and raises serotonin levels, both of which increase tone in the smooth muscle of the stomach, thus helping to suppress appetite.
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The environment that eggs occupy during their lengthy maturation process in the ovary has an impact on what shape they are in before meeting a sperm (with or without an IVF embryologist in attendance). They need a good blood supply, the right nutrients, the right hormone signals and the capacity to supply enough energy to the embryo.
This has important implications, particularly for eggs that are coming from slightly older ovaries (and possibly for eggs coming from women with PCOS or endometriosis). While no treatment can turn back the clock, or change the DNA, it makes good sense to try to optimise reproductive health by improving delivery of nutrition to the developing egg and enhancing its capacity to make energy (see below).
Lifestyle factors make a big difference to the health of sperm, and the good news is that most of it is under your control. For many years clinics in China have used Chinese herbal formulas to treat male factor fertility.
Many clinical trials in several different countries have demonstrated the possible benefit of acupuncture to certain sperm parameters (references). However the heterogeneity of the trial designs and their reporting mean that the pooled analysis does not allow us to draw firm conclusions yet. Acupuncture in these trials is applied to the abdomen and the lower legs. Mild electro-acupuncture has been shown to increase blood flow through the small blood vessels of the testes, indicating a possible way to improve delivery of nutrients to developing sperm. Thus acupuncture could be considered as part of a pre-conception programme even where there is a normal semen analysis. Read more
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Being under weight affects ovary function, as much as being over weight does (although in a different way). Acupuncture can help to regulate the sympathetic nervous system (reducing adrenalin) and improve appetite. In conjunction with behavioural and dietary modifications this can help to put weight on.
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One of the things mentioned a lot in a traditional Chinese medicine gynecology textbook, including the chapter on fertility, is the term “Regulating the Cycle”. What this refers to is the ideal of a 28 day menstrual cycle (give or take a few days), and a regular ovulation occurring around the middle of that cycle. This is one of the first aims of much TCM treatment of gynecological disorders. A regular menstrual cycle is an indication of good ovary function and good hormone balance.
Implantation of the embryo in the uterus is a vital and pivotal event which determines the success of an ongoing pregnancy after conception, or after transfer of an embryo in an IVF cycle.
The crucial role that the immune system plays in the process of implantation and the development of the placenta is gradually being elucidated though there is much we still don’t know. A positive finding of immune factors like anti-cardiolipin antibodies, anti- thyroid antibodies, anti-nuclear antibodies or an excess of some types of NK cells can indicate that there may be subtle imbalances in the immune environment of the uterus which are not conducive to establishing a healthy pregnancy. It is thought that acupuncture may modulate immune function possibly through its ability to increase endorphins and other neurotransmitters.
Women with PCOS, particularly those with irregular or infrequent periods, have their own particular challenges when it comes to conceiving. We don’t yet fully understand the causes of PCOS however we do know that certain acupuncture protocols can reduce some of the factors that operate to prevent polycystic ovaries working properly. For example some studies show that acupuncture reduces testosterone and LH (luteinising hormone) levels promoting the conditions for more frequent ovulation and better quality eggs. (references)
Patients with PCOS who are trying to conceive naturally or planning to do IVF, may benefit from doing a course of acupuncture over 3 to 4 months to improve ovary function. For those PCOS patients who do IVF, certain acupuncture protocols during the stimulation phase and after embryo transfer have been shown to reduce the risk of hyperstimulation.
Low intensity gentle electro-acupuncture is applied to points on the abdomen and the legs.
Endometriosis reduces fertility by damaging ovary function (AMH is reduced) and negatively impacting the immune milieu (inflammatory cytokines are raised) and affecting the lining of the uterus and its implantation sites. We use acupuncture to manage the symptoms of endometriosis like pain and menstrual disturbance. Chinese herbs are sometimes used in China to improve response to IVF drugs and pregnancy rates in endometriosis patients.
Acupuncture is best performed at specific times of the menstrual cycle. These will be decided in conjunction with your practitioner and will depend on your symptom picture and whether or not you are actively trying to conceive.
Obstructions to implantation, such as polyps or fibroids, are usually removed surgically. In the case that surgery is not desired, and fibroids are not large, then Chinese herbal medicine may be employed to try and shrink them. Some of the symptoms caused by ovarian cysts (such as pain or cycle irregularity) may also be amenable to treatment with Chinese herbs and acupuncture.
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Stress, for most of us living and working in modern cities, is part of life. However it can get a lot worse when you are not conceiving as easily as you thought you would. And in a cruel vicious cycle, stress can have a negative impact on fertility. Women who are more stressed have reduced fertility, and during IVF cycles have lower embryo implantation rates. Stress has also been shown to affect semen quality. This is why we do specific acupuncture treatments at particular times of the IVF cycle.
Acupuncture is well known for its ability to relax the patient and this has been demonstrated in an IVF setting. Its action in raising endorphin levels and reducing adrenalin and cortisol levels allows the body and mind to relax immediately and learn a different way of being. Our patients frequently comment on how relaxed they feel after their treatments.
The connection between sleep and fertility is not always self evident, although getting to bed early with your partner may for some couples have obvious benefits.
You may not realise that the quality and quantity of your sleep influences sex hormones, sperm production, ovulation, immune factors, weight gain, mood, stress levels and longevity as well as the more obvious stamina.
Getting enough good quality sleep is an essential part of preparing for conception for all these reasons. Acupuncture has a proven track record (reviewed in several medical journals) of assisting to establish sound sleep patterns.
It takes two and this stressful journey is traveled more easily when the two of you do it together, supporting each other. Whether it is unexplained infertility, male factor or ovarian issues, focusing on improving general and reproductive health on both sides often provides the solution when nothing else is working. Many of the couples we have treated have voiced an appreciation of the emotional and psychological benefits they experience when they come for treatments together. Saturday tends to be our couples day in the clinic (see couples fee package).
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Many IVF clinics like to transfer embryos into a natural environment. Embryos that have been frozen and successfully thawed are transferred back into a uterus in its natural state at exactly the right time for implantation. Using electro-stimulation on acupuncture points on the abdomen in the months and weeks before the transfer, has been shown in one study to improve the structure of the uterine lining, and significantly enhance the implantation and pregnancy rate.
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Acupuncture applied during the stimulation phase of the IVF cycle may address any symptoms you may be experiencing, and also incorporates specific points from clinical trials which demonstrate increased blood supply to the uterus and a regulation of hormones which may be important to follicle development and implantation. Recent analyses of the benefit of IVF patients receiving acupuncture have shown that patients who have treatment before and during the stimulation and implantation phases benefit more than those that have acupuncture only on the day of embryo transfer (reference)
However until more large scale, well designed studies are done it’s premature to make statements as to the effect of acupuncture on the live birth rate.
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These treatments are based on protocols used in clinical trials which showed that an increase in pregnancy rates in some groups of women (those for whom the expected pregnancy rate is 30% or less). (You can find the references for these trials here)
Not all trials or and only some meta-analyses have shown a benefit of receiving acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer.
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Acupuncture may be useful in managing any side effects experienced during an IVF cycle. Reduced fatigue, stress, moodiness, abdomen swelling and discomfort and other side effects are reported by many women using acupuncture during their IVF cycle. In addition women report greater relaxation and control of anxiety (reference), and overall greater resilience. The acupuncture treatment will be different for each patient and depends on symptoms.
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Some IVF patients feel a benefit from having an acupuncture treatment the day or two after egg collection, to help reduce any discomfort from local tissue trauma or bleeding, and help prepare them for embryo transfer.
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Sometimes the pressure to produce a sperm sample on the day of egg collection can be significant enough to cause a problem. Acupuncture reduces anxiety and may increase blood flow to the genital area.
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Many IVF patients find the “two week wait” the hardest part (even when its only 10 days!). Acupuncture may be used during this time to keep the mind calm and the stress hormones low.
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Regular monitoring of the pulse (a TCM diagnostic technique) and regular treatment with acupuncture designed to reduce anxiety may offer you important and reassuring support during these first few weeks of pregnancy. Doctors in NZ showed that regular monitoring and reassurance reduces miscarriage rates in some of their patients. One study in China found that […]
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You may have had a long journey with plenty of medical intervention to get this far. Now is the time to relax, let mother nature do her job and enjoy your swelling belly. However should any minor pregnancy disorders develop, you may find acupuncture helpful.
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