BLOG SERIES PART 7: ACUPUNCTURE FOR IVF

acupuncture-ivf

PART 7: ACUPUNCTURE IMPROVES FERTILITY – IVF

Acupuncture can improve In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) birth rates. An important factor that influences the likelihood of success is the number of acupuncture treatments one receives before beginning the IVF process. Before we get into the acupuncture for IVF, let’s talk a little about IVF itself.

About 7.4 million U.S. couples are unable to conceive and seek treatment from a fertility doctor. They undergo blood tests and diagnostic imaging to determine the reasons for their fertility struggles. Once diagnosed, the doctor recommends a treatment plan, which can include fertility treatments with medications and/or procedures for both the woman and man. Sometimes, an IVF is recommended in this plan.

IVF Basics

The IVF procedure was developed to aid women who were unable to conceive due to blocked or otherwise missing fallopian tubes. Today, it can be a an important treatment to address many other causes of male or female infertility. IVF is a fertility treatment that uses strong medications to encourage the ovaries to mature several eggs at the same time. Once those eggs are mature, they are surgically removed, and whisked off to the lab to be fertilized. Successfully fertilized eggs develop into embryos. After a few days incubating in the lab, one to two embryos are selected and placed back in the mother’s womb in the hopes they will implant and a pregnancy ensues. In women under 35 years old, approximately 46% of IVF embryo transfers performed in the US result in a live birth (also known as a take home baby), according to the latest statistics.

IVF can lead to great financial, physical, and emotional investment. Financially, the average cost is about $12,400 per IVF cycle, with costs increasing as the mother gets older due to increased doses of medications or the need to complete more than one cycle. Physically, going through an IVF requires taking several medications which can include giving yourself injections at specific times of the day and many visits to the clinic. There are some risks associated with IVF medications like bloating, headaches, abdominal discomfort, Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, multiple pregnancies, and a slight increase in the risk of birth defects.  And emotionally, stress, anxiety and depression are common complaints of couples going through fertility treatments.

Acupuncture can increase your likelihood of IVF success

In the early 2000’s, acupuncture made a big splash in the IVF world when German researchers reported acupuncture improved IVF pregnancy rates.  In the trial, two standardized acupuncture treatments were performed on the day of embryo transfer significantly improved IVF pregnancy rates compared to those who did not receive acupuncture. (42.6% vs. 26.7%, respectively) Since then, many more trials, of various sizes and designs, investigated the effects of acupuncture on IVF outcomes to confusing results.  This may be for several reasons: 1) IVF success rates are steadily rising, 2) the dosage of acupuncture may be insufficient, and 3) the design of the research studies used a control mechanism that was not inert. You can read more about issues with the research here

In my own research of 1,069 women who did IVF, we observed those who received an average of 12 acupuncture treatments in addition to the acupuncture treatments on the day of embryo transfer were significantly more likely to get pregnant and deliver a baby than those who did the IVF process without any additional acupuncture, 61.3% vs 48.1%, respectively. Acupuncture pre-treatment was also superior to acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer alone, 61.3% vs 50.8%, respectively. This could mean that we have been looking at the wrong dose of acupuncture in the research all along. In this case, more may be better.

The main ways acupuncture and East Asian Medicine (EAM) can contribute to your IVF success are because they may:

  1. Improve your response to the IVF medications. This is especially helpful for advanced maternal age or diminished ovarian reserve patients. In my research noted above, the women who received acupuncture pre-treatment fell more in this category.
  2. Improve uterine lining for those suffering from a thin uterine lining.
  3. Reduce the stress and anxiety associated with IVF.
  4. Reduce side effects from the IVF medications. As noted above, bloating, headaches and abdominal discomfort are common during IVF. Abdominal pain during IVF is especially common in women with endometriosis, and acupuncture is quite effective at reducing pain.
  5. Improve your chances of live birth.
  6. Reduce your chances of miscarriage.

The ideal treatment plan is to start acupuncture well before you begin your IVF cycle. If time is available, 12 visits spanning two to three months before embryo transfer yields the best results. For some women, it may be more. Additional lifestyle and dietary recommendations may be given at the initial consultation. In most cases, Chinese herbs are not appropriate during the IVF process. And, as we will cover in the near future, male factor must also be addressed for the best success.

Go to Part 8.

Have a question? Contact me. For updates, add this blog to your blog feeder, follow us on twitterGoogle+, or like us on Facebook. For previous entries in this series, here’s parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Image: An 8-cell embryo. Use authorized by Creative Commons. Source: wikipedia.

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About lhrubin

I am a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine specializing in fertility, adjuvant IVF support, general women's health, and pelvic pain. I am also a clinical researcher and academic. You can read more about me and my work in my bio