by Angie Best-Boss, Contributing Writer
A bunch of painful needles and smelly incense – what else do you need to know about acupuncture? For starters, it might just improve your fertility. Even better news? The needles don’t hurt.
Practiced for more than 3,000 years, acupuncture and herbal therapy are the major form of health care for one quarter of the world’s population. Although acupuncture has been used in England, France, and Germany for several hundred years, only in the past two decades have Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) been recognized in the United States. Randine Lewis, a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, and author of The Infertility Cure: The Ancient Chinese Wellness Program for Getting Pregnant and Having Healthy Babies, believes infertile couples should turn to Chinese medicine as an alternative to what she considers painful, invasive and time-consuming Western treatments. She explains, “Traditional Chinese medicine holds that a woman’s body must be gently nourished and encouraged to bear fruit…. I have found that most hormonal imbalances (which contribute to 40 percent of documented cases of infertility, yet are considered untreatable by conventional Western medicine) respond to Eastern methods of treatment.”
Research has shown that acupuncture alone can increase the success rate of IVF by 35%. “Most of our patients are referred to us by reproductive medicine specialists — they are usually women who have failed one or usually more than one attempt at IVF (in vitro fertilization), and their doctor is looking for something to help implement the success of their treatment, over and above what the protocols alone can accomplish,” says Raymond Chang, MD, the medical director of Meridian Medical and a classically trained acupuncturist as well as western-trained medical doctor.
How it works
From a Chinese medical perspective, channels of energy, called meridians, run through the body and over its surface. Obstructed movement in a meridian causes energy to build up in some areas of the body, while depriving other areas. Placing needles on certain sites unblocks these so-called obstructions, says Sandra Tallarico. “Modern scientific theory supposes that needles stimulate the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord and brain, promoting the body to heal itself.”
Acupuncture, as a part of traditional Chinese medicine, sees the person as an integral Mind/body organism, not treat a carrier of symptoms/diseases. Roger C. Hirsh, OMD, L.Ac., Doctor of Oriental Medicine in Beverly Hills explains that the goal “is to stimulate the bodies natural healing potential by treating root causes rather than just symptoms. When combining acupuncture and infertility, it minimizes undesired side effects and accumulated toxicity from invasive procedures and drug therapies, known and unknown.”
“It can allow you to cross the line from infertile to fertile by helping your body function more efficiently, which in turn allows other, more modern reproductive treatments, like IVF, to also work more efficiently,” says James Dillard, MD, assistant clinical professor, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and clinical adviser to Columbia’s Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
When doing acupuncture with IVF, it is recommended to have eight acupuncture treatments 2-3 times per week to bring increased blood flow to the uterus. The timing of these treatments is important. They should start at the beginning of the fertility cycle (usually with the start of lupron) and continuing until the embryo transfer date or until the endometrial thickness is 12-14mm. After the acupuncture embryo transfer, acupuncture can be continued once per week for the first trimester to help prevent miscarriage by strengthening the Kidney Chi (adrenal function and vital essence), according to Marjorie Singler, L.Ac., M.A. of the Center for Chinese and Wholistic Medicine.
Find a Specialist
Dr. Mike Berkley of The Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness recommends asking the following questions:
• How long have they been in practice?
• Are they licensed and Board certified in acupuncture and herbal medicine?
• What kind, and how much continuing education have they had in the topic of infertility?
• Have they written on the subject?
• Do they have a good relationship with one or more reproductive endocrinologists?
• Can they give you a reproductive endocrinologist as a personal reference?
• Are they available to treat you on the weekends if your IVF embryo-transfer occurs on a week-end? If not, can they guarantee coverage?
Infertility treatment is pricey – with IVF ringing up at anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 a cycle and generally isn’t covered by insurance. Acupuncture is more affordable, ranging from about $30 to over $200 per treatment —and some health insurance plans will cover a portion of the visits.