Acupuncture for Female Infertility
A couple will be diagnosed as infertile if there is no pregnancy after two years of trying to conceive. In about 40% of cases the cause is female infertility, with male infertility implicated in another 40%. In 20% of cases conventional medicine offers no explanation; this is termed as unexplained infertility. Common causes of female infertility include:
Problems with ovulation, possibly due to such conditions as thyroid problems, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), or premature ovarian failure
Problems with the womb or fallopian tubes, perhaps due to endometriosis or fibroids
Stress, which can affect libido and interfere with ovulation
Being over or under weight, which can affect ovulation
Ageing: a woman’s fertility begins to decline significantly as she passes her mid-thirties
Conventional medicine treats infertility with drugs, surgery, artificial insemination and Assisted Reproduction Techniques (ART).
Female Infertility and TCM
The approach of TCM to female infertility is quite different from that of conventional medicine. The latter is technologically very sophisticated and can give quick results; but on the other hand it is often expensive, invasive and may involve unwanted side effects. TCM is more gradual and holistic; it seeks to restore harmony and balance to the reproductive system and the menstrual cycle, and in fact to the woman as a whole, so that nature can once more take its proper course. Sometimes the two approaches can work well together, for instance in women who have acupuncture before and during their IVF treatment (please see our leaflet “Acupuncture and IVF” for more information). Some women, however, prefer to rely on the natural re-balancing of their energy that TCM facilitates. Indeed it might be argued that infertility is nature’s way of saying that the body is currently incapable of nourishing a foetus to create the basis for a healthy life, and that relying solely on ART bypasses nature in a way which may, in the end, have consequences both for the mother and for that new life.
TCM treatment is individualised for each woman; we usually recommend that a woman thinks in terms of coming regularly over the course of three menstrual cycles. During this time we can monitor her rate of progress and the improvement in her fertility by paying attention to changes in her periods, pre-menstrual symptoms, body temperature and other signs and symptoms. Depending on the person, in addition to acupuncture we may prescribe herbal remedies, dietary modifications and gentle Chi Kung exercises.
The TCM approach is especially popular with couples who suffer from ‘Unexplained Infertility’. This is usually because the imbalances in the woman or man’s Qi are not so great as to manifest in any conditions that are recognised in Conventional Medicine. TCM therapists however can usually identify these imbalances relatively easily and thus prescribe a course of treatment to help readjust and harmonise the Qi. In the case of unexplained infertility, of course, it is often best if both partners are having treatment concurrently. Please refer to our leaflet on male infertility for more information on this subject.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Infertility?
The World Health Organisation1 considers the therapeutic effect of acupuncture for female infertility has been shown, but further proof is needed. Among more recent studies gathering this proof are a 2007 review2 which concludes that acupuncture exerts long lasting beneficial effects for PCOS patients, including effects on ovulation and endocrine systems.
1 WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials
2 Stener-Victorin, E et al Journal of Neuroendocrinology 20 (3), March 2008
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