Acupuncture for Assisted Conception

Having worked with individuals and couples undertaking assisted reproduction therapy (ART) for a number of years in both complementary settings and within an IVF clinic, I understand the ins and outs of the various ART processes and how acupuncture can complement each of these, while keeping the mind and body as balanced as possible throughout.

I base my treatments on favourable clinical research protocols while tailoring them to the individual and any side effects that may arise from the ART medications.  

How exactly does acupuncture benefit ART/ IVF?

While the exact mechanisms of how it benefits ART outcomes are not fully understood, some possible factors include the ability of acupuncture to:

  • enhance blood flow to the uterus and ovaries (1), thereby increasing the delivery of drugs, oxygen and nutrients to the follicles and endometrial lining

  • enhance the structure of the endometrial lining (2), to create an optimal environment for embryo implantation

  • reduce stress hormones during IVF (3), known to inhibit both natural conception and IVF success

  • regulate hormones (4), creating a closer to natural hormonal state during ovarian stimulation

  • modulate the immune system to benefit implantation (5)

From my clinical experience, in addition to seeing frequently better clinical outcomes (as compared to previous IVF cycles where acupuncture was not used), clients report a greater sense of control and that the regular sessions bring a welcome calm and comfort during what can be a challenging process. 

What is the best time for IVF acupuncture?

A recent meta-analysis involving nearly 5,500 participants showed that clinical pregnancy rates had a statistically significant increase where acupuncture was administered not exclusively on embryo transfer day but also in the follicular and implantation phases (6). As such, it is often suggested that an optimal acupuncture schedule might be:    

  • 1-2 sessions per week 1-2 months before IVF

  • 1 session during down regulation

  • 2 sessions during ovarian stimulation

  • 1-2 sessions on the day of embryo transfer (either one before or one after or both)

  • 1 session approximately one week after embryo transfer

Sources:

1 - 'Acupuncture and blood flow: Effects of acupuncture on the endometrium in anovulatory cases treated by Clomiphene: A clinical observation'. Hu W et al. Journal of Taishan Medical College. 2016; (9):1029-1031.

2 - 'Effect of transcutaneous electrical acupuncture point stimulation on endometrial receptivity in women undergoing frozen-thawed embryo transfer: a single-blind prospective randomised controlled trial'. Shuai Z et al. Acupuncture in Medicine: British Medical Journals. 2015; 33(1):9-1.

3 - 'Effect of acupuncture on symptoms of anxiety in women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: a prospective randomised controlled study'. Isoyama D et al. Acupuncture in Medicine: British Medical Journals. 2012; 30(2):85-8.

4 - 'Changes in serum cortisol and prolactin associated with acupuncture during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer treatment'. Magarelli et al. Fertility and Sterility. 2009; 92(6):1870-9.

5 - 'Effects of acupuncture on Th1, Th2 cytokines in rats of implantation failure'. Gui J et al. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012; 2012:893023.

6 - 'The role of acupuncture in in vitro fertilization: A systematic review and meta-analysis'. Shen C et al. Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigations. 2015; 79:1-12.