Acupuncture has been used as a beneficial medical treatment in China for over two thousand years. During acupuncture, thin disposable needles are inserted into specific points in the body to restore balance and promote the normal flow of qi along meridians. These channels of energy have over three hundred acupuncture points located along them, each with specific functions to enhance the health of the body.
Acupuncture is not like an injection. Most people may feel some heaviness, numbness or warmth around the point, or a slight radiating along the meridian, followed by a feeling of relaxation.
Other treatments can involve moxibustion, in which penetrating heat from a burning Chinese herb is used to warm acupoints in order to tonify or to promote flow of qi; or cupping, the application of warmed glass cups to certain areas of the body to help pain or blockages and release toxins.
Acupuncture for gynaecology
In the area of gynaecology, acupuncture has traditionally been used for a wide range of problems, including period pain, irregular periods, amenorrhea, mood swings related to periods, fibroids, and infertility. Acupuncture is also employed for some common conditions during pregnancy, where it is used to stop pain [see pdf on Pain in pregnancy], reduce nausea, help sleep, reduce functional disability [see research on acupuncture in pregnancy], correct breech presentation [see research on moxibustion and acupuncture for breech presentation] and gently prepare the body for labour [see research on acupuncture and induction of labour]. Acupuncture helps to increase energy levels, improve sleep and enable the body to deal better with stress.
In Chinese medicine a dynamic balance between yin and yang and a smooth flow of qi is necessary for health. When this becomes unbalanced or blocked, illness can result. Imbalance and disruption to the flow of qi can be caused by changes in the external environment, such as weather conditions, viruses, or injury, or internally from emotions, poor nutrition, or a constitutional predisposition. Chinese medicine recognises a strong link between the reproductive system and the mind and emotions, and it follows that anxiety and stress can contribute to menstrual problems and infertility.
Acupuncture and IVF
Chinese doctors have known for centuries that acupuncture improves fertility. Studies suggesting that acupuncture could help with IVF success rates have been appearing over the last decade and more. One of the early clinical trials conducted at the University of Adelaide found higher pregnancy rates in women undergoing IVF when they also received acupuncture (Smith et. al., 2006). Around the same time, Danish researchers reported similar results, with an almost doubled pregnancy rate in those receiving acupuncture in conjunction with IVF or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) compared with a control group (Westergaard et. al., 2006). These studies are now considered out-of-date by research standards, but their early suggestions have been supported by a number of systematic reviews and meta-analysis of many studies showing that acupuncture treatment improves the success rates for invitro fertilization (IVF) in many women [see research on acupuncture and IVF]. .
Acupuncture in the months leading up to an IVF cycle helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and balance hormone levels. By treating the root causes of infertility, some patients may even fall pregnant during this preparation time (a pleasant side effect when it happens!), while the chance of a successful IVF cycle is increased.
A course of acupuncture is generally 6 weekly treatments, with a break midway to allow the body to adjust. Further courses of treatment may be undertaken as needed, and the timing of treatments should be flexible during an IVF cycle to optimise results.
Early studies from:
Smith et. al., Journal of Fertility & Sterility 2006: 85; 135258
Westergaard et. al., Journal of Fertility & Sterility 2006: 85; 134146
Paulus et.al., Journal of Fertility & Sterility 2002: 77; 72124
Liang, L., Acupuncture & IVF, Boulder Blue Poppy Press, 2003