Acupuncture and herbal therapy regulate hormones, support egg quality and ovarian reserve, and encourage regular ovulation. Studies also show treatments to be effective for fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS and many other reproductive health concerns. If you are doing ART, we work closely with your reproductive endocrinologist during IUI and IVF cycles to deliver seamless and appropriate care, and are proudly board certified in reproductive medicine by the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (ABORM). We’ve made the treatment of hormonal and reproductive health issues our specialty and have years of advanced training and experience in treating them. From premenstrual symptoms to libido issues, men’s health issues to menopausal symptoms, our acupuncturists will work with you to address your complaints.
Acupuncture & IVF Support
Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like IVF and IUI help tens of thousands of couples have children every year, and research suggests that those using acupuncture have more pregnancies, more live births and fewer miscarriages than those that don’t.
The effects of acupuncture are cumulative and persist for months after acupuncture is discontinued. A recent study showed that the effects of acupuncture on egg quality, as well as the receptivity and fullness of the endometrial lining, begin to reach their full potential around the 8th treatment. Even a few treatments can reduce stress and increase blood flow to the ovaries and uterus, but for full effect we recommend coming once or twice weekly for at least a month prior to IVF retrieval or IUI.
Acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbal medicine also help control some of the side effects that come with the medications used during IVF, IUI and Clomid/Femara cycles. We often recommend herbal therapy during IUI and Clomid/Femara cycles, and in advance of IVF cycles, but only when it is sanctioned by your reproductive endocrinologist. We’ve cultivated a close working relationship with many of the REs in the area, and are always open to communicating with them to coordinate care, especially when acupuncture treatments are recommended directly before and after IVF embryo transfers.
Endometrial Lining & Receptivity Issues
Pregnancy is dependent on not just a healthy and viable embryo, but also on an endometrial lining that is full and receptive. A lining of 8 to 12 mm is considered an ideal thickness for successful implantation (though healthy pregnancies can occur with linings under 6 mm). It used to be that endometrial thickness was the only factor considered important. We now know that the ability of the lining to be conducive to the implantation and hatching of the embryo (i.e., receptivity) is just as important.
What makes a lining ‘receptive’ is poorly understood, though biomedicine is learning more about specific biochemical markers found in the lining that are indicative of endometrial receptivity. Some of these biomarkers are decreased when the uterus is exposed to toxins and stress hormones. Conversely, biomarkers associated with receptivity are increased with uterine exposure to some of the nutrients found in certain foods, supplements and herbs.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, it can be seen that acupuncture and electroacupuncture increase blood flow to the uterus, thereby increasing delivery of the nutrients that support homeostasis and uterine health. Acupuncture also reduces stress and circulating stress hormones. That, paired with the nutrients found in herbs, help to support both the thickness and receptivity of the endometrial lining.
Endometriosis & Fibroids
Though endometriosis and uterine fibroids have different causes and presentations, they are related in many ways. They both cause or are associated with:
- Pelvic and abdominal pain
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding, like spotting or hemorrhaging
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Embryo implantation issues
From a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective these conditions are both seen as forms of Blood stagnation (TCM terms italicized), though in each individual they can be caused and affected by other unique constitutional patterns.
Acupuncture is effective at decreasing the pain common to these conditions. It also helps to improve circulation and regulate the hormones that often drive endometriosis and uterine fibroids.
Herbal medicine is effective at controlling abnormal bleeding and reducing the inflammation that is especially prevalent with endometriosis. Traditional Chinese herbal formulas unique to each person can even shrink or eliminate fibroids, especially when less than 3 cm in size. Most importantly, acupuncture and herbs, when combined, help to support a healthy uterine ecosystem that decreases future fibroid and endometriosis growth.
Egg Quality Issues, Diminished Ovarian Reserve, Advanced Maternal Age
Because the eggs in each ovary were created when a woman was still in her mother’s womb it is often thought that ovarian reserve and egg quality can not be affected. Thankfully, this is not true. Though new eggs are not produced after birth, the health of those eggs and the follicular fluid they are bathed in can be influenced starting at four months prior to the ovulation of each egg, when the follicle containing that egg first becomes vascularized.
Prior to the vascularization of the follicle (i.e. the development of arteries linking to the mother’s blood flow), each egg is in a dormant state with no access to the nutrients and toxins contained in circulating blood. Chromosome damage typically does not occur in that dormant state, but once vascularization occurs rapid cell division begins to take place that matures the egg. If the nutrients necessary for cell division are not in the blood, or if toxins that create damage are, then chromosomal abnormalities that lead to poor egg quality and diminished ovarian reserve are more likely to occur.
Herbs, supplements and great nutrition provide the nutrients essential for the rapid cell division that begins four months before ovulation and the recent vascularization of the follicle allows delivery of those nutrients and supplements. Acupuncture, electroacupuncture, exercise and stress reduction provide the means to regulate and increase the blood flow that helps deliver those nutrients.
The duo of acupuncture and herbs for 3 to 4 months prior to ovulation can have a profound impact on egg quality, especially when combined with the resources we provide around how to best avoid some of the chemicals that can have a negative impact.
Hormone & Menstrual Cycle Regulation
One of acupuncture’s strengths is its ability to regulate the Qi and Blood of the Liver (TCM terms italicized). The Liver in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) regulates mood, balances hormones, controls the smooth flow of the menstrual cycle and is responsible for reducing premenstrual symptoms. Though the ideas of Liver Qi, Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis are ideas that are foreign to Western, scientific medicine, they are central to TCM’s view of health and pathology. When one refers to the Liver, one refers not only to the liver organ, but to a rich tapestry of physiologic functions that include, but are not limited to, the anatomic liver.
Because acupuncture and herbal therapy are so effective at regulating Liver Blood and Qi, TCM has been used for millennia to treat issues like amenorrhea (lack of menstrual flow), irregular cycles, lack of ovulation, dysmenorrhea (painful periods), premenstrual symptoms and PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder). Patients often make use of the birth control pill to manage symptoms associated with these conditions. Once those hormones are discontinued; however, the original problems often return, as the root cause of the issue was never addressed. TCM’s approach is much more holistic, and is especially useful when one is wanting to prepare for pregnancy, or if one is actively trying to get pregnant.
Male Factor Infertility
The male component of reproduction is often overlooked. Male-factor infertility or subfertility is much more prevalent now than it was just a few decades ago. Problems that considerably reduce chances of pregnancy include:
- Low semen volume
- Low sperm count (oligospermia)
- Reduced motility or ability for sperm cells to travel to the egg (asthenozoospermia)
- Abnormal cell shape or morphology (teratozoospermia)
- Excessive DNA fragmentation percentages
We’re also learning more about how a man’s age and sperm health can impact miscarriage rates and chances for a healthy baby.
In the same way that acupuncture has been shown to increase blood flow to the ovaries and uterus in women, it has been shown to increase blood flow to the testes. A number of studies show that acupuncture helps with morphology and motility. And herbal therapy, dietary therapy, and certain nutraceuticals, like ubiquinol and carnitine, can dramatically improve male-factor issues and live birth rates.
Spermatogenesis, the process through which new sperm cells are created, happens continuously through the course of a mature man’s life. The process takes about two and a half months. In that time all sperm cells in the production queue can either be positively influenced by nutrients in herbs, supplements and a healthy diet, or negatively influenced by things like exposure to toxins and excessive circulating stress hormones.
For that reason, we recommend 3 months of acupuncture, herbal therapy and lifestyle changes before retesting.
Optimizing Fertility & ‘Unexplained Fertility’
One of the strengths of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) modalities like acupuncture and herbal therapy, is how effective they are at regulating normal physiologic function. Homeostasis is the body’s attempt to return to a state of balance. TCM supports reproductive health at that most fundamental level – through supporting and encouraging homeostasis. TCM regulates hormones. TCM regulates blood sugar levels. TCM increases blood circulation to the ovaries, thyroid, brain and digestive system. The result is better digestion, a more stable mood, sounder sleep, and steadier energy levels. Feeling great is an indicator of good health and good health increases your chances of getting pregnant, having a healthy pregnancy, and a vibrant and happy baby.
Towards this end, acupuncture and herbs are recommended while trying to get pregnant, even for couples experiencing no specific fertility problems. TCM’s real light shines, however, with couples diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’. Though there may not be a clear Western diagnosis, Chinese medicine is wonderful at finding subtle imbalances that may contribute to fertility difficulties. Through acupuncture’s support of homeostasis, underlying issues with circulation, immunity or hormones can be addressed that can have profound and often poorly understood impacts on fertility.
Perimenopausal & Menopausal Support
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are two substances that are considered most important for health and vitality, the Yin and the Yang. The Yin of the body is the physical material that moistens, cools, feeds and supports. The Yang of the body is the energy and vitality that allows for movement, thought and action.
As a woman enters her perimenopausal years, hormones fluctuate and other changes take place that can deplete both the Yin and the Yang. Though both Yin and Yang are impacted, the sharp decline of estrogen during this time particularly depletes the Yin. This process of Yin depletion is often further exacerbated by overworking, over-exercising, not sleeping and eating poorly. Yin depletion is the primary driver of many menopause related symptoms like:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep disturbance
Thankfully, supporting the Yin of the body can help reduce and prevent those symptoms. Chinese herbal and dietary therapies are especially effective at nourishing the Yin of the body, thereby regulating hormones, clearing excess heat and reducing many of the negative symptoms prevalent during the transition through perimenopause.
Some of the best evidence we have about the efficacy of acupuncture is around its ability to regulate the vasomotor symptoms that cause hot flashes and night sweats, whether from chemotherapy agents or the hormonal flux that begins in perimenopause.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (P.C.O.S.)
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is one of the leading causes of infertility in women and it has dramatic effects on both the endocrine system and metabolism. Though it presents in a myriad of ways, almost all women will experience less frequent and less predictable ovulation, and some women may not ovulate at all. Some of the best research we have on the effects of acupuncture and electroacupuncture for fertility have to do with the treatment of PCOS. Documented effects include:
- Decreased insulin resistance (one of the diagnostic criteria for PCOS)
- Improved blood flow to the ovaries and uterus.
- Reduced serum levels of testosterone and other androgens
- Regulation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian axis
And most importantly, the downstream effects of all of the above:
- More regular-length menstrual cycles
- Increased ovulation rates and a much greater chance of pregnancy
- Less acne and abnormal hair growth
- Easier weight maintenance
- Feeling better!
Check out some of the fascinating research below on the treatment of PCOS with acupuncture, herbs and key supplements.
Recurrent Pregnancy Loss
The best time to treat recurrent miscarriages is months before the next pregnancy. This is especially true when the loss occurs as the result of a chromosomal abnormality. As described in detail in the ‘Egg Quality Issues’ section above, 3 to 4 months prior to ovulation antral follicles gain direct access to blood supply, along with all of the negative or positive things in that blood (toxins, nutrients, etc.). Most non-viable pregnancies are due to chromosomal abnormalities that occur during that time. Recent research shows that egg quality can be improved during those months, thereby reducing the chromosome damage that results in miscarriage.
Other common reasons for recurrent pregnancy loss may include autoimmune issues, blood-clotting factors, hypothyroidism and anatomic abnormalities of the uterus. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is generally not helpful in addressing anatomic abnormalities like a septate or bicornuate uterus. But acupuncture and herbal therapy can be very helpful in the other cases, as acupuncture and herbs both support homeostasis and overall health. When homeostasis is supported, inflammation is lessened, stress is reduced, healthy circulation returns, and many sub-clinical or ‘unexplained’ causes of miscarriage can be avoided.