Each year 68,000 couples go through IVF in the UK; in 2016, there were 20,028 births as a result of IVF. Fertility treatment can be expensive, and there are fine margins between positive and negative outcomes.
Whatever the reason for IVF, most couples don’t arrive at this point until they have exhausted all other options. The quest to have a child can become like a never- ending emotional roller coaster. Live birth rates can be considered the most important measure of success for patients undergoing assisted reproductive treatment.
Against this emotional backdrop, many couples seek to maximise their chances of success. Beyond choosing the right IVF clinic, Acupuncture is a popular treatment choice alongside IVF with many clinics providing on site practitioners.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) originated in the East more than two thousand years ago and is a comprehensive medical health care system. It comprises a range of therapies including: Acupuncture, Herbal medicine, massage and dietary therapy to help patients achieve and maintain health.
How it works
From a biomedical viewpoint, acupuncture stimulates the nervous system, influencing the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. The resulting bio chemical changes activate the body’s own internal regulating system stimulating its natural healing abilities. The improved energy and biochemical balance can promote physical and emotional wellbeing.
From an Eastern perspective, the underlying principle of treatment is that illness and pain occur when the body’s qi (chi) or life force does not flow freely. Reasons for this can be: emotional stress, poor nutrition or trauma. By inserting ultra-fine sterile needles into specific acupuncture points, a traditional acupuncturist will seek to stimulate the body’s own healing response and restore natural equilibrium.
The benefits of Traditional Acupuncture
Acupuncture is one of the safest and most popular complementary therapies in the UK. An increasing weight of evidence from western scientific research demonstrates its effectiveness for the treatment of a wide range of health conditions.
At your first session, a traditional acupuncturist will take a detailed look at your general health and medical history. You will be asked lots of questions about your lifestyle, sleeping patterns, diet and emotional health. A treatment plan is then formulated to meet your individual needs. Getting pregnant involves a chain of intricately timed processes. This unique treatment approach is at the core of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and by adding recommended lifestyle elements you will be working consciously to improve your ability to conceive.
Acupuncture is shown in research to
- Increases ovarian and uterine blood flow
- Regulate hormone balance
- Reduce inflammation
- Calm the central nervous system
- Soothe stress and aid relaxation
Research demonstrates the effectiveness of acupuncture alongside IVF as well as optimising natural fertility.
In 2018 a systematic review found Acupuncture to have a significant treatment effect in improving live birth rates of patients undergoing IVF and ICSI. A total of 3,188 sub fertile women from 12 randomised controlled trials were included in this latest investigation. The study also indicated that acupuncture treatment can reduce stress and anxiety and increase a women’s ability to cope with the IVF process.
Research did not just focus on trials with a limited number of acupuncture sessions. This review included studies where women had longer term acupuncture treatment.
Previous research has focused on short term acupuncture. A widely publicised trial in 2002: The Paulus study (2002) published in Fertility and Sterility demonstrated a 42.5% pregnancy rate in the acupuncture and IVF group verses a 26.3% success rate in the IVF group. This study was widely acclaimed and encouraged many people to have acupuncture pre and post transfer to boost chances of IVF success.
The trend favouring longer term treatment is stronger and indicates that acupuncture treatment may be dose – dependent. Research is on going and is by means no means conclusive.
It is clear there are discrepancies between various studies and research can appear conflicting. Reasons for this are that scientific studies into Acupuncture are often underfunded and need to be improved. There is also still no consensus regarding what constitutes a good placebo.
However, the overall conclusion is that Acupuncture is worth consideration should you wish to try and maximise your chances of IVF success.
Preparation for your IVF cycle
Taking some time to prepare for your IVF cycle is ideal. Most acupuncturists recommend working for a period of 2- 3 menstrual cycles. The aim of treatment is to create the best fertile environment with the best quality egg. By preparing your body, you can support your hormonal and reproductive system. It is important to nourish your body and be prepared to handle any stress that may come your way during the journey.
For couples under stress and looking to boost chances of success an integrative approach, may offer an additional boost to optimise chances of success.
Trying to fall pregnant can be a stressful time, especially if things don’t go to plan. Couples may experience an emotional roller–coaster of stress and anxiety. Assisted reproduction is a different experience for everyone. To help you along the way here are some tools to help you look after your mind and body.
Fertility Tips for Self – care
Nutritionists often recommend a Mediterranean diet may help to optimise fertility. Its plant based, colourful foundation should provide the positive nutrition your body needs. Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol intake, I suggest stopping alcohol and caffeine completely. Additional supplements may also be helpful to improve egg health. Always seek professional guidance when embarking on a supplement regimen.
Meditation, yoga, breathe- work, and Acupuncture may all be suitable treatment options to help reduce stress and anxiety levels for women. Try to Keep all other areas of your life as simple as possible and not to be too busy. Nurture yourself and give yourself plenty of rest and space.
Exercise is important for blood flow, stress reduction and emotional wellbeing. Try to practise slow gentle exercise, for example: yoga or tai chi. Most importantly listen to your body. It is important to refrain from strenuous work outs during IVF.
Consider throwing away household items that are made with hormone disrupting chemicals. These interfere with reproductive health and pre- natal development. Chemicals to avoid: Formaldehyde, BPA and other phenols. These can be found in food – packaging materials and plastic.
Meditation offers a sense of balance, peace and calm that benefits overall health. Learning meditation for stress relief can be a powerful mind -body tool to improve emotional wellbeing.
Get plenty of sleep
Getting the right amount of sleep will support your IVF cycle. The hormone melatonin regulates both sleep and reproduction. Taking a walk outside in bright sunlight may help boost your melatonin levels at night and improve sleep. In contrast bright light at night can artificially suppress melatonin levels, so avoid screens an hour or two before bedtime.
One day at a time
The hardest part of fertility treatment can be the anxiety results from fear that it may not work. Living with anxiety and stress can take its toll emotionally and physically. The reality is that it is impossible to know what will happen in the future. Mindful 24- hour living creates an opportunity to embrace the present and accept life as it unfolds moment to moment.
The struggle to conceive can lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness, losing touch with any joy and happiness. Science shows that living with Gratitude can make us happier. Writing an evening gratitude list can help boost feelings of self – esteem and contentment and help you sleep more soundly at night.
If Acupuncture is something you wish to consider, make sure you see a qualified Acupuncturist.
The British Acupuncture Council is the UK’s largest professional self – regulatory body of professionally qualified Acupuncturists in the UK. All members have completed degree level training in traditional acupuncture, Chinese medicine and western bio medical sciences and observe a strict code of safe practise and professional conduct.