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Acupuncture and IVF (in-vitro fertilization)

In-vitro fertilization was originally developed to treat infertility due to fallopian tube problems. It is being used today to help couples who are experiencing other issues such as poor sperm quality, surrogacy, advanced maternal age, and unexplained infertility. Recently, clinical research has shown that integrating acupuncture with IVF can contribute positively to how you feel during your IVF cycle, and may also improve your chances for a successful pregnancy.
The combination of ancient medical techniques (such as acupuncture) with cutting-edge medical technology (such as IVF) may seem strange at first. However, there are sound reasons to incorporate an integrated approach to fertility in order to maximize your chance for success.

Acupuncture Increases Blood Flow to the Uterus & Ovaries
Research has shown that poor blood flow of the uterine arteries is associated with decreased pregnancy rates following an IVF embryo transfer. A 1996 study by Stener-Victorin et al, reported in "Human Reproduction" (the official journal of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology), showed that blood flow to the uterus was significantly increased after 8 acupuncture treatments. This effect was present both immediately after the 8th treatment, and 10-14 days after the completion of the treatments. A 2003 study by Stener-Victorin et al demonstrated that acupuncture can significantly increase blood flow to the ovaries. While this study was done on rats, we assume that a similar mechanism will work on women.

Acupuncture Normalizes Cortisol & Prolactin Levels During an IVF Cycle
In a 2009 study by Magarelli et al, women undergoing an IVF cycle were treated with acupuncture in the weeks before egg retrieval to improve blood flow to the uterine arteries. The researchers found that these women showed beneficial changes in their blood levels of cortisol and prolactin when compared to a control group. Acupuncture appears to have normalized these stress hormones, which had been artificially depressed during the IVF cycle. The researchers also reported significantly higher pregnancy and live birth rates in the group which received acupuncture treatments.

Both Sides of The Acupuncture and IVF Research
While the majority of research published in the respected journal Fertility & Sterility indicates that integrating acupuncture and IVF creates a favorable result, it is important to mention that there is some data which indicate otherwise:

  • A 2007 meta-analysis (the process of synthesizing and describing results from a large number of similar studies) got media attention as it showed improved results when using acupuncture with IVF; however a September, 2010 meta-analysis has found differing results.

In light of this research, it is generally agreed that several weeks of the correct bi-weekly acupuncture treatments result in significantly improved blood flow to the uterine arteries. This protocol has also improved pregnancy rates after IVF. On the day of embryo transfer, treatments which are limited to that day only appear to statistically benefit those women who have an expected pregnancy rate of 35% or less (including women with 1 or more previous unsuccessful IVF cycles, or women over the age of 35). Women who have an expected pregnancy rate of 50-60% may not receive any statistical benefit from acupuncture on embryo transfer day only.

The Best Way to Schedule Your Acupuncture IVF Support Treatment Plan
During the 4 weeks before your eggs are harvested from your ovaries, 2 acupuncture treatments per week are recommended to prepare your body for IVF. Considering that the generation of follicles is actually a 3 month process, you may also consider a series of once per week treatments in the two months before your bi-weekly treatments begin (especially recommended for couples who have had an unsuccessful IVF cycle in the past).
Around the time your embryo is introduced to your womb, an acupuncture treatment before and after your transfer may be recommended. Depending on your situation, it may be beneficial to arrange your treatment on-site at your IVF clinic.