Acupuncture is an alternative therapy sometimes used to improve fertility. Long used in traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is said to increase chances of conception by influencing certain factors associated with fertility problems.
Why Is Acupuncture Used for Fertility?
Proponents suggest that there are a number of ways that acupuncture can improve fertility. For example, acupuncture is thought to help thicken the lining of the uterus (and, as a result, improve embryo transfer success), affect reproductive hormones, and enhance ovarian function. In addition, acupuncture is said to reduce stress, a common problem that has been linked to infertility in a number of scientific studies.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture helps treat health problems (such as fertility issues) by improving the flow of vital energy (called "qi" or "chi") throughout the body. This vital energy is thought to circulate through invisible energy lines, which are known as "meridians." By inserting needles into specified points along meridian lines, acupuncturists aim to restore the flow of vital energy and, in turn, improve health.
The Science Behind Acupuncture and Fertility
So far, studies testing acupuncture's effectiveness in improving fertility have yielded conflicting results.
In a report published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine in 2011, for example, scientists state that "most of the existing studies suggest a positive effect of acupuncture in infertility treatment." In their review of recent research on acupuncture and fertility, the report's authors note that acupuncture appears to enhance fertility in part by improving ovulation. Also noting that acupuncture appears to improve the outcome of in vitro fertilization (IVF), the report's authors caution that larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.
In a 2008 report from Fertility and Sterility, investigators analyzed a number of studies on acupuncture and fertility and found that the therapy may be beneficial to certain patients with fertility issues. For instance, they note that acupuncture may help restore ovulation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), as well as increase pregnancy rates in people undergoing IVF treatment. However, the report also found "no sufficient evidence supporting the role of acupuncture in male subfertility."
What's more, a 2008 report published in the British journal BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology concluded that there isn't enough evidence to support acupuncture's effectiveness in improving pregnancy outcomes among women undergoing IVF treatment. For the report, researchers looked at 13 clinical trials (with a total of 2,500 women) on acupuncture and IVF. Results revealed that there appears to be "no significant association" between acupuncture and improvements in pregnancy rates.
When administered by a qualified practitioners, acupuncture is generally considered safe, however it's recommended that people consult their doctors before trying any new therapy.
Should You Use Acupuncture for Fertility?
Although it's currently unknown whether acupuncture is an effective treatment for fertility problems, it's possible that undergoing acupuncture may help aid in stress management and enhance your overall health. Studies show that acupuncture may help treat a variety of conditions, such as chronic pain and depression. Furthermore, there's some evidence that acupuncture may help alleviate the stress and anxiety that may be experienced by women with fertility problems.
If you're interested in undergoing acupuncture to improve fertility, talk to your doctor about finding a qualified practitioner.
Anderson BJ, Haimovici F, Ginsburg ES, Schust DJ, Wayne PM. "In vitro fertilization and acupuncture: clinical efficacy and mechanistic basis." Altern Ther Health Med. 2007 May-Jun;13(3):38-48.
El-Toukhy T, Sunkara SK, Khairy M, Dyer R, Khalaf Y, Coomarasamy A. "A systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture in in vitro fertilisation." BJOG. 2008 Sep;115(10):1203-13.
Huang DM, Huang GY, Lu FE, Stefan D, Andreas N, Robert G. "Acupuncture for infertility: is it an effective therapy?" Chin J Integr Med. 2011 May;17(5):386-95.
Ng EH, So WS, Gao J, Wong YY, Ho PC. "The role of acupuncture in the management of subfertility." Fertil Steril. 2008 Jul;90(1):1-13.