How Does Acupuncture Theoretically Address Fertility Challenges?

Enhanced Blood Flow

Acupuncture has the potential to increase blood flow to the uterus and probably the ovaries. In the case of the uterus, this helps develop the endometrium to prepare it to receive an embryo.

Additionally, acupuncture may reduce “central sympathetic tone,” and in turn may slow uterine contractions at the time of embryo transfer. A quieter uterine environment helps when placing an embryo during IVF.

Here the data is limited. In one small Swedish study, 10 women were given electro-acupuncture over 8 sessions and as a result their uterine Pulsatility Index (measure of blood flow impedance) dropped dramatically post-acupuncture and remained low weeks afterwards.

If It’s True, Why It Matters:
Women who have a high (3.0) PI at the time of transfer typically are less likely to deliver a live birth. Again, the intuition is that good blood flow helps the endometrium develop and thicken, making it more receptive to receive the embryo. A study published in 1995 showed that a high PI predicted ~35% of embryo transfer failures and a smaller study in 2008 reflects that women with an elevated PI recorded lower implantation and pregnancy rates.

Hormone Regulation

Acupuncture may affect hormonal production and regulation in a number of ways. Acupuncture can induce the release of neurotransmitters (chemical signals in the brain) and endorphins. In patients with PCOS, acupuncture has been observed to normalize insulin sensitivity and help normalize reproductive hormones and ovulation.

Neurotransmitter & Endorphin Release: Proof & Why It Matters:
In a 1998 study, 90 patients given acupuncture showed dramatically increased levels of beta endorphins versus a similar group not provided acupuncture. Beta endorphin levels regulate and balance a woman’s Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) levels which impact the ability of her ovaries to grow follicles and produce eggs.

Insulin Resistance in PCOS: Proof & Why It Matters:
When tested on rats (well below our typical standards for a useful study), acupuncture was shown to improve insulin resistance. Amongst PCOS patients, insulin resistance is believed to be a driver of their condition and, in some populations, when insulin resistance is addressed, the likelihood of conception improves.

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A growing number of fertility patients undergo acupuncture to increase their odds of conceiving. In this course we cover the basics of acupuncture, its "mechanism of action" on fertility, and the hard data about whether using acupuncture improves live birth rates. As with any treatment, acupuncture requires a financial and temporal cost. We'll cover both of those, along with the implications of using herbs and how to determine which acupuncturist to use.