Infertility is an issue that affects about 12% of American women between the ages of 15 and 44. In 35% of those cases, the problem rests with both the male and the female. Couples who can’t conceive after a year of trying to get pregnant without contraceptives are put into this group. It’s not unusual for these people to seek a mixture of treatments, both traditional and alternative.
One of the most popular holistic and alternative treatment methods for infertility is Chinese acupuncture. The practice has been around for centuries but it’s still regarded with a lot of skepticism in the west. A closer look at acupuncture may reveal why it’s a standard practice in China as well as how it might potentially help those trying to conceive.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the process of sticking ultra-thin needles into particular points on the body. The primary goal of this procedure is to direct the pressure of the needles into specific energy points in the body. In general, this will increase a person’s well-being but it may also be used for certain medical ailments. People have gotten acupuncture to treat digestive issues, arthritis, migraines, and, yes, infertility.
There are 350 acupuncture points in the human body, which acupuncturists use to balance the life energies in the body. In particular, the body holds the yin and the yang energy, also known as male and female life forces. When these are not in harmony, it is said that illnesses strike.
Acupuncture and Infertility
So how does this Chinese tradition pertain to fertility issues? Proponents believe that acupuncture can increase blood flow and circulation to the reproductive system as well as harmonize the hormones. Acupuncture is also a common remedy for stress, which is another factor that could play a role in infertility.
A study in 2017 looked at women with polycystic ovary syndrome who underwent acupuncture sessions. However, researchers could not find enough supporting evidence that the treatment was effective. Likewise, in 2018, a study was done on women undergoing in-vitro fertilization, or IVF. One group received legitimate acupuncture while the other group got fake acupuncture with non-invasive needles pointing away from the meridians in the body. The results? About 18% of the first group experienced successful live births while 17% of the “fake” group had similar success. Given these conclusions, scientists surmised that acupuncture did very little for women undergoing IVF treatment in particular. The ancient Chinese practice has not garnered much medical or scientific support, given its poor test results in experiments. Lots of people attribute any changes from acupuncture to be more psychological than physical, similar to the placebo effect.
The Case for Acupuncture
Well, what if couples would like to try acupuncture purely for the psychological benefits? After all, decreased stress or even a belief that the treatment is working might be able to ramp up reproductive health. There doesn’t seem to be any inherent harm in trying acupuncture but participants need to be careful when choosing a practitioner.
First of all, an acupuncturist should use the correct size needles and they should be sterile and meant for acupuncture use. According to the FDA, the needles used by an acupuncturist are classified as medical equipment so they should be treated as such. Any acupuncture needle is for single use and should be used immediately after coming out of the packaging.
Now, how to choose an acupuncturist? There are many people out there claiming to be professionals in this field and they may even seem legitimate. Perhaps they also work with herbs and natural medicines. Still, a potential client should always be on the lookout for training certifications and licenses when finding an acupuncturist. This is especially important for women who are undergoing IVF treatments.
Acupuncture licenses are different depending on the state, which is why it can be a bit difficult to spot a true professional. Taking the time to do research is well worth it.
Downsides of Acupuncture
Are there any disadvantages to undergoing an acupuncture session? Any negative effects shouldn’t be serious. A person may experience some swelling or bruising at the sites of the needle pricks. There might be redness, tenderness, or discoloration. Some people may be more susceptible to bleeding, although the needles shouldn’t be going too deep into the body. Typically, the needles go one-quarter to one inch into the skin. This is another reason why it’s so important to seek out a professional.
Another potential risk is using unsterilized needles. It’s always the best policy to unwrap the needles while the client is in the room. This ensures that the needles have never been used before. While each particular treatment session is slightly different, the process is generally the same. The acupuncturist examines the client and will take a look at the pre-session questions that he or she answered about his or her ailments. The client lies down on his or her back, stomach, or side and the needles are inserted one by one. Some people feel the needles while others don’t, but the consensus is that it feels like a dull tingling sensation. They stay in for anywhere from five to 30 minutes.
Acupuncture as Part of a Treatment Plan
Granted, most people who go for acupuncture are trying other methods to combat their infertility. Very rarely will someone rely solely on acupuncture for these kinds of issues. Going further into the alternative therapy route, some couples try hypnotherapy and mind/body visualizations. They may take herbs or do certain yoga poses. It may sound far-fetched to western couples but people in the Far East have been practicing these techniques for centuries.
For more traditional methods, many couples try to see if they qualify for IVF treatments. Other options include hormone treatments, medications, or surgeries, depending on the physical health of the couple. The best course of action is to speak with a doctor to get started on some possible approaches. Sometimes infertility lies with the woman, other times with the man, and sometimes with both. Each case is unique and deserves an individual approach.