Can Acupuncture Treat Infertility?

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on October 10, 2017Written by Corey Whelan

Overview

Acupuncture is a type of alternative medicine. It’s originally from China, but is now practiced around the world. Acupuncture may provide some benefits to people experiencing infertility, especially when combined with traditional medicine. It may help:

  • relieve stress
  • regulate hormonal imbalances
  • increase blood flow to the uterus and ovaries

Read on to learn more about the use of acupuncture for infertility.

What does the research say?

There’s no conclusive evidence to support the use of acupuncture for the treatment of infertility. Some studies show little to no benefit. Other studies report significant, positive results.

Acupuncture is challenging to study. There are different types of acupuncture, including:

  • trigger point acupuncture
  • auricular acupuncture
  • traditional Chinese acupuncture
  • moxibustion

Each type uses unique techniques. Acupuncture may also be used as a standalone treatment, in conjunction with herbal medications, or in addition to standard medical treatments. All of these factors further affect study results.

In a systematic review, researchers analyzed data from multiple, randomized controlled trials. They found some evidence that acupuncture improves menstruation and ovulation in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome when used alone. Researchers also found slight improvements to hormone levels when acupuncture was used in addition to medications.

A small study found that acupuncture improved pregnancy rates in women receiving assisted reproductive technology treatments. However, a meta-analysis and systematic review found no evidence that acupuncture improves outcomes for women using in vitro fertilization (IVF).

A very small analysis of two men with varicocele, a common type of male factor infertility, looked at the use of acupuncture for the treatment of male infertility. The study results indicated that acupuncture may help reduce scrotal temperature when used with herbal medicine and other forms of traditional Korean medicine. This study was extremely small. More research is needed to understand the relationship between acupuncture and male fertility.

Acupuncture and stress

Infertility and treatment plans for infertility can be stressful. Chronic stress can negatively affect pregnancy outcomes. Acupuncture may help reduce stress, which, in turn, could improve pregnancy outcomes.

What to expect

Your acupuncturist should be a licensed professional. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine has a national database of licensed acupuncturists you can use.

Infertility clinics often have acupuncturists on staff. Others work in conjunction with licensed professionals they can recommend.

Acupuncturists use needles that they gently insert into acupoints. Acupoints are areas on the body where it’s believed that the body’s energy flow, or Qi, can be stimulated. Stimulating Qi is thought to promote healing.

The disposable, single use needles your licensed acupuncturist uses must:

  • be made from stainless steel
  • have a handle
  • be sterile
  • be used only once

A licensed acupuncturist will work in a very clean environment and will comply with all FDA regulations concerning needles.

At your first visit, your acupuncturist will do a holistic assessment and ask about your medical history and symptoms. They will ask more questions than you expect, and some may seem to be unrelated to fertility. Let them know about any blood work or medical tests for infertility you’ve had. The results from these tests will be taken into account when your treatment plan is determined. The number of visits you need will also be discussed.

If you’re having in vitro fertilization or any other type of assisted reproductive technology, your acupuncturist and current physician should coordinate treatment. Acupuncture treatments are sometimes timed to coincide with embryo transfer during IVF.

You may be asked to wear loose-fitting garments or a hospital gown during acupuncture. Your jewelry may also be removed. Some acupuncturists may ask that you refrain from eating or drinking anything that might stain your tongue or the inside of your mouth.

The needles used for treatment are almost as thin as hair and very flexible. You may feel them being inserted, but it shouldn’t be painful. During treatment, you may become very relaxed or fall asleep. Sometimes, dizziness or nausea may occur during the first treatment.

You may be asked to schedule one or more appointments a week initially. The frequency of visits typically decreases over time.

Risks

Choosing a licensed, experienced acupuncturist is the best way to reduce your risk for complications. It’s also important to discuss your full medical history with your acupuncturist. That includes medical concerns that are not related to infertility. Some conditions, such as bleeding disorders, may increase your risk for complications.

A reputable clinician will only use disposable, sterile needles. That reduces your risk of infection.

It’s possible that a practitioner may push a needle in too far, but there is little risk of injury. Be sure all needles are removed before you leave the office.

Takeaway

Acupuncture may help treat infertility. Research is inconclusive on how beneficial acupuncture is as a treatment for infertility, however. Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in learning more about acupuncture. They can help you determine if you’re a good candidate for this treatment.

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