Acupuncture has been found to increase live birth rates for women receiving IVF, in vitro fertilization. Researchers discovered that acupuncture increases the chances of producing a successful pregnancy for women receiving acupuncture on the day of the embryo transfer of donor eggs. Normally, acupuncture point selection is customized to the individual patient’s biological needs. However, a set of standardized points were applied to all women in the study. Prior to the IVF procedure, a special set of acupuncture points were applied. Next, another set of points were applied after the embryo transfer of donor eggs. The results were tabulated and the researchers found a significant boost in fertility and live birth rates for women receiving this standardized acupuncture protocol.
IVF is the process of fertilizing an egg with sperm in vitro, in glass. This is distinguished from IUI, intrauterine insemination, which is artificial insemination by introduction of semen into a female’s vagina or oviduct. Success rates for IVF are measured by favorable outcomes: pregnancies and liver births. Eggs are either donated by another woman or harvested from the potential mother-to-be for use in the procedure. Donor eggs are either fresh or thawed. In general, fresh donor eggs have a significantly higher live birth rate compared with thawed embryos.
The acupuncture points applied prior to IVF were: DU-20, REN-6, ST-29, SP-8, P6, LIV-2. Auricular acupuncture was also applied. The left ear was needled at the Shenmen and Brain acupuncture points. The right ear was needled at the Uterus and Endocrine acupuncture points. After the embryo transfer, a different set of acupuncture points were applied. The body style points were: LI-4, SP-10, ST-36, SP-6, K-3. Auricular acupuncture to the left ear was applied to the Uterus and Endocrine acupuncture points and the right ear was needled at the Shenmen and Brain acupuncture points.
The research team comprised members of the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (Portland, Oregon), Northwest Center for Reproductive Sciences (Kirkland, Washington), and University of Washington (Seattle, Washington). The study design was a retrospective analysis using chart review and the research was conducted at a private infertility clinic. The researchers discovered that live birth rates are significantly increased for women using donor egg IVF when this specific acupuncture protocol, as outlined in this article, is followed.
Another recent study discovered that the application of acupuncture points SP6 (Sanyinjiao), CV4 (Guanyuan), CV3 (Zhongji) and Zigong (Ex-CA1) increases fertility in women. For men, it was recently discovered that electroacupuncture applied to GV20 (Baihui), CV4 (Guanyuan), ST36 (Zusanli) and SP6 (Sanyinjiao) for ten acupuncture sessions increases sperm motility. These are a small sample of the studies showing the effects of acupuncture on fertility.
The mounting evidence of acupuncture’s success led to a study of acupuncture experts. A survey was taken of prominent licensed acupuncturists to determine whether or not a consensus could be reached on acupuncture points of high priority for the treatment of infertility. The researchers discovered that consensus could be reached but that pre-embryo transfer and post-embryo transfer points varied. Consensus on pre-transfer points was on acupuncture points: SP8, SP10, Liv3, ST29, CV4. Consensus on high priority post-transfer points led to the selection of the following acupuncture points: GV20, K3, SP6, P6, K3. In addition, it was agreed that auricular points Shenmen and Zigong were of high priority.
A recent biochemical discovery demonstrated that electro-acupuncture improves pregnancy rates and live birth rates for women receiving IVF. This study was able to isolate a specific and measurable response in women’s blood as a result of electroacupuncture. The researchers found that electroacupuncture increases blood levels of HLA-G (human leukocyte antigen) “and the level of HLA-G secreted in embryos for the patients in the process of IVF-ET.” Presence of the HLA-G protein is predictive of higher pregnancy and live birth rates. For women with Kidney deficiency and Liver Qi stagnation, the HLA-G levels were significantly higher during embryo transplantation as a result of electroacupuncture and directly corresponded to improvements in the “high-quality embryo rate.” The researchers team noted that “the pregnancy outcome and the pregnancy rate are improved” for all women when electroacupuncture is applied.
A major cause of infertility is pelvic inflammatory disease, PID. Acupuncture and herbal medicine have long been used to resolve chronic pelvic region infections that result in conditions such as cervicitis, oophoritis, salpingitis, endometritis and broad ligament infections. The Centers for Disease Control, CDC, notes that approximately 100,000 U.S. women become infertile due to PID annually. One way that PID causes infertility is by causing scar tissue formation in the fallopian tubes that blocks healthy egg movement. In biomedicine, PID is inflammation of the female pelvic organ and/or connective tissues, usually caused by an infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. In Chinese medicine, PID is classified as the invasion of damp-heat and toxins causing Qi and Blood stasis in the lower burner. Deficiency syndromes often complicate this diagnosis when PID becomes chronic.
Common acupuncture points for the treatment of chronic PID are: ST36, ST25, ST38, SP10, SP9, GB26, GB27, GB28, CV6, CV4 and CV3. Chronic fallopian tube infections are often treated with a modification of the classic herbal formula Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan. The modified formula contains Gui Zhi, Fu Ling, Mu Dan Pi, Tao Ren, Chi Shao Yao, Huang Qi, Zao Jiao Ci, Xiang Fu, San Leng and E Zhu. If there is heat, add Bai Jiang Cao. This formula is never used when a woman is pregnant due to its blood invigorating properties. However, it is these invigorating properties that help to clear blockages in the fallopian tubes to help restore fertility.
There is an incredible wealth of modern studies, carefully documented case histories and classic texts that demonstrate that acupuncture and herbal medicine contribute to healthy pregnancies and enhanced fertility. The Healthcare Medicine Institute (HealthCMi) offers written texts with detailed information on the treatment of both infertility and PID for acupuncture continuing education credit. In addition, HealthCMi hosts live webinars on the treatment of PID and infertility. The goal is to create awareness and provide quality educational materials for licensed acupuncturists to ensure that reproductive health is optimized and that women may enjoy a happy, healthy pregnancy.
Below is a link to a youtube video featuring excerpts from a HealthCMi acupuncture continuing education course on the treatment of PID.
Hullender Rubin, Lee E., Michael S. Opsahl, Lisa Taylor-Swanson, and Deborah L. Ackerman. "Acupuncture and In Vitro Fertilization: A Retrospective Chart Review." The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2013).
Exploration of clinical regularities in acupuncture-moxibustion treatment for infertility. Qin-feng Huang. JOURNAL OF ACUPUNCTURE AND TUINA SCIENCE
Volume 10, Number 2. (2012), 72-76, DOI: 10.1007/s11726-012-0574-0.
Electroacupuncture enhances spermatogenesis in rats after scrotal heat treatment. Volume 2, Issue 1. 3-2012. Pages 53 - 62. Jing Gao, Yan Zuo, Kam-Hei So, William S.B. Yeung, Ernest H.Y. Ng and Kai-Fai Lee.
BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012, 12:88 doi 10.1186/1472-6882-12-88. 7 July 2012. Development of an acupuncture treatment protocol by consensus for women undergoing Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) treatment. Caroline A Smith, Suzanne Grant, Jane Lyttleton and Suzanne Cochrane.
Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2012 Feb;32(2):113-6. Effects of electroacupuncture on embryo implanted potential for patients with infertility of different symptom complex]. Kong FY, Zhang QY, Guan Q, Jian FQ, Sun W, Wang Y. Department of Reproduction, The Second Affiliated Hospital of Shandong University of TCM, Jinan, China.
Fertil Steril. 2005 Jan;83(1):30-6. Secretion of human leukocyte antigen-G by human embryos is associated with a higher in vitro fertilization pregnancy rate. Yie SM, Balakier H, Motamedi G, Librach CL.