Working within health and wellbeing I have learnt to become more conscious with my words.
For example, I prefer to use the phrase ‘fertility challenges’ instead of ‘infertile’ when working with patients who have come to me for treatment to help them or their partner become pregnant.
To me ‘Infertile’ in this context is too small a word to describe the multitude of underlying reasons that can prevent a family from growing, it seems to imply simply, that there is an absence of an egg or sperm.
The reality is only a small percentage of people who struggle to procreate don’t have a viable egg or sperm, the majority of men and women seeking to become parents DO have eggs or sperm, they also happen to have other challenges.
Infertility also feels like a final judgement. You are infertile. Oh, thanks.
Whereas the reality is that my patients have the capacity to procreate but are experiencing difficulties, the human body is not functioning as well as it’s designed to.
My Traditional Chinese Medical training indicates that there is imbalance in the system, perhaps some blockages which will benefit from acupuncture and other forms of treatment. That’s my challenge to overcome.
So what are the main fertility challenges that couples face?
- ovulatory disorders in 27% of couples;
- tubal damage in 14% of couples;
- low sperm count or low sperm quality in 19% of couples;
- In 30% of couples the cause of infertility remains unexplained.
Fertility challenges can also lead to stress, which painfully, can reduce the chances of conception further.
It comes as a huge shock to many when they realise conceiving ‘isn’t as easy as it should be’. Their beliefs and expectations are challenged in a fundamentally primal manner: ‘human beings are meant to procreate’.
There’s also the huge roller coaster of emotions, or as one patient said ‘there’s no light anymore’.
Both men and women are affected regardless of who has the fertility challenges; my experience of treating fertility challenges in both men and women is there’s often a conflict between what the mind says and what the body does and no two patients will be experiencing the same feelings and thoughts.
However, every person having acupuncture has a sense that their body has let them down in the most basic primal way.
Acupuncture works well alongside conventional medical treatment for infertility including the use of fertility drugs, IVF and ART strategies and it can be used as a stand alone treatment without any medical intervention or as a way to prepare the body for pregnancy.
There is evidence based research which supports the use of acupuncture in helping men and women conceive, as well as have successful pregnancies:
- One of the best known research studies published in the British Medical Journal in 2008 (BMJ 2008:336) evaluating the effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) showed that acupuncture given with embryo transfer improved rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation.
Women undergoing IVF were 65% more likely to become pregnant when they combined the procedure with acupuncture. The remarkable success rate occurred across seven acupuncture trials involving 1,366 women in a systematic review and meta-analysis and acupuncture was delivered either just before or just after embryo transfer – the moment when the embryo fertilized in the laboratory must attach itself to the wall of the womb to establish a pregnancy.
- Regulating fertility hormones – stress and other factors can disrupt the function of the hypothalamic pituitary-ovarian axis (HPOA), causing hormonal imbalances which can affect fertility.
Acupuncture has been shown to affect hormone levels by promoting the release of beta-endorphin in the brain, which affects the release of gonadotrophin releasing hormone by the hypothalamus, follicle stimulating hormone from the pituitary gland, and oestrogen and progesterone levels from the ovary.
- Increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs – stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which cause the arteries to the ovaries to tighten and constrict thereby reducing blood flow.
Acupuncture reduces and stops this from happening and actually improves the blood flow to the ovaries; this actually creates a better environment in which the ovarian follicles develop.
Acupuncture also the increases blood flow to the uterus improving the thickness of the endometrial lining and increasing the chances of embryo implantation.
- Helps balance and reduce the negative effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility.
By reducing sympathetic nerve activity and balancing hormone levels, acupuncture has been shown to reduce the number of ovarian cysts, stimulate ovulation, enhance blastocyst implantation and regulate the menstrual cycle in women with Polycystic ovary syndrome.
Acupuncture can most certainly be seen as a companion to couples on their journey to creating a family.