By Dr. Aaron Cashman, DAOM, LAc
When I meet people for the first time and they ask me what I do for a living, they often will say something like, “Acupuncture and East Asian Medicine, huh? I heard those are helpful with infertility”. And I will tell them that, yes, they are very helpful for increasing the odds for conception and for carrying a pregnancy to term. Sometimes people will then ask exactly HOW acupuncture and herbal medicinal formulas work to improve these odds. A full, comprehensive answer to the ‘how it works to help infertility’ question would fill a small book. So instead, I’ve decided to simplify things here and to describe three of the many ways in which acupuncture and herbal medicine help to make pregnancies more viable.
First, acupuncture can assist in increasing blood flow to the uterus to help create a thicker, healthier endometrial lining, which helps with proper implantation*. According to Valinda Nwadike, MD, “Endometrial thickness is important in pregnancy. Healthcare experts link the best chances for a healthy, full-term pregnancy to an endometrium that is neither too thin nor too thick. This allows the embryo to implant successfully and receive the nutrition it needs.” **
Second, acupuncture can help to reduce stress and thereby increase the odds of pregnancy. According to fertility researcher Alice Domar, PhD “Your body is smart, it knows that (periods of stress) aren’t good times to have a baby”. Dr Domar, who is the director of Mind/Body services at Boston IVF, stated that the medical community once “said I was stupid to believe that the mind had any control over the ovaries…Today (however), researchers widely accept that stress and fertility are connected.” Also, stress hormones like cortisol can “trip up ovulation” by interrupting the “signaling between the brain and the ovaries”, says Sarah Berga, MD. ***
Third, acupuncture can help to balance hormones, which is also pivotal in conception and carrying to term. In addition to minimizing stress hormones, other important hormones play major roles in fertility. Restoring balance to the proper levels of some of these hormones is crucial. A few important hormones in fertility include estrodial and progesterone, thyroid hormones (like TSH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). (For a much more thorough explanation on hormonal balancing through acupuncture and herbal medicine, I highly recommend the book, Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, written by Acupuncturist/Herbalist, Dr Claudia Welch.)
Other ways that acupuncture and herbal medicine have been shown to help increase fertility odds:
- Keeping the fallopian tubes open for fertilization by preventing or reducing spasms
- Increasing sperm motility and sperm count
- Overall increase of health and well-being of mother to ensure a smooth pregnancy
Why did I focus this blog post on acupuncture and not herbal medicines?
In general in the West, acupuncture is typically more widely accepted and therefore has been researched more in clinical studies. However, in my clinic and in many other EAM (East Asian Medicine) clinics, herbal medicine is just as important as acupuncture for many conditions- sometimes more important.
In the realm of fertility and conception, acupuncture sometimes has enough of an impact alone that adding herbal medicine or a supplement is not needed. But more often, patients get better, faster results when both herbs and acupuncture are administered consistently over time.
According to the AMA’s (American Pregnancy Organization) website, “Clinical observations from the Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness suggest that the most effective fertility treatments involve both a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and traditional medicine. However, conception occasionally occurs when acupuncture and herbal medicines are used without traditional medical interventions. “.
– Dr. Aaron Cashman, DAOM, LAc, is the founder of Mind-Body Acupuncture in Philadelphia, USA (www.acuforus.com)