Very often I am asked by women how often and for how long they should have acupuncture before they start their IVF cycles and whether it can influence egg quality in order to achieve a ‘better’ outcome.
We like to encourage women to have treatment once a week from at least 2-3 months prior to the start of IVF medication. The reason for this is that follicular growth lasts around 375 days but only during the last 90 days of development will follicles have their own blood supply bringing oxygen, hormones and nutrients to, and waste and secretory products from, the follicle. In other words, follicles will become sensitive and responsive to stimuli coming from the ‘external’ environment.
I am sure there are many women who are trying to get pregnant either naturally or through IVF who have been told by their doctors that their eggs are not healthy or are old, especially if they have been trying for a long time to conceive without success or have had several miscarriages or implantation failures. It is true that the health of eggs will influence whether fertilization will occur and if it will result in a healthy pregnancy.
Egg quality is defined by the chromosomal integrity of the egg. It is well accepted that the aging process and its impact on egg quality are irreversible. However certain negative influences can be avoided and/or improved that are proven to compromise egg health.
These negative factors include:
- toxic overload
- an imbalanced hormonal system
- lack of or too much exercise
- compromised absorption and utilization of nutrients
- lack of sleep
- sluggish blood flow to the pelvic organs
- stress etc.
Acupuncture has the capacity to rectify some of these negative influences by improving the function of the different body systems in order for the body to regain its balance.
Three Studies into Acupuncture
Blood flow to the pelvic organs can be greatly improved with acupuncture. In a study, published in 1998, researchers measured the pulsatile index (PI) of the endometrial artery and found that high PI (>3) which would indicate compromised blood flow to the pelvic organs, can be lowered with the administration of electro acupuncture.
A study investigating the optimal number of acupuncture treatments for the best IVF outcomes found that the clients receiving the maximum benefit from IVF were those clients who received more than 8 acupuncture treatments before embryo transfer.
In a recently published study it was concluded that women who had at least 12 acupuncture sessions added to their IVF cycles resulted in higher pregnancy rates and fewer biochemical pregnancies. The study however wasn’t randomized and participants weren’t selected with the same characteristics which might have influenced the results but the women in the ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ group, were had higher pregnancy rates compared to those who did not have acupuncture as an addition to their IVF cycles
In view of these findings we recommend to start acupuncture at least 2 months prior to IVF. This fits well with my clinical experience that women starting Acupuncture a few month before their IVF commences have better outcomes. I believe that optimizing fertility with acupuncture is not a quick fix. It is a process for the body to adjust and repair in order for it to function as optimally as possible indirectly influencing fertility in a positive way.
And lastly, I have observed during my practice that some women fall pregnant naturally while they prepare for IVF! Which obviously is an added bonus!