Fertility Acupuncture for IVF/ICSI/IUI in Ottawa

How Does Fertility Acupuncture help me get Pregnant?

Acupuncture is an alternative adjunctive treatment which has gained a significant amount of recognition from the scientific community as it has proved useful in improving success rates for pregnancy if used concurrently during Assisted Reproductive Techniques (In Vitro Fertilization-IVF, Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection -ICSI, and Intrauterine Insemination-IUI). Acupuncture is utilized at various stages of the procedure to help support the likelihood of success. During the controlled ovarian hyper stimulation phase Acupuncture is utilized to help optimize egg quality, egg development, improve hormone production and reduce the likelihood of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Acupuncture should be performed immediately before and after the transfer to help reduce uterine spasms, improve blood flow to the uterus, increase relaxation, and decrease stress. Lastly, acupuncture may be beneficial when performed during the implantation phase, a couple days after the transfer, to improve blood flow to the uterus and decrease uterine spasms, supporting implantation.

Fertility Acupuncture may also be used when trying to conceive naturally by helping to balance hormones, supporting ovulation and ovarian health, improving blood flow to the reproductive organs, supporting follicle development, balancing the immune system, and more.

Scientific Review on Fertility Acupuncture for IVF Success

Zheng et al. in a meta-analysis of 24 Clinical Trials found that the use of Acupuncture from the period of Controlled Ovarian Hypserstimulation up to the time of Oocyte Aspiration improved IVF results. The Clinical Pregnancy Rate was increased during IVF by an odds ratio of 1.34 (34% Increase in Likelihood of Pregnancy) and Live Birth Rates were improved by and odds ratio of 1.63 (63% Increase in Likelihood of giving Birth). Overall, the use of Traditional Needle Acupuncture (but not Laser Acupuncture, Acupressure, and other forms of Acupuncture) is found to show improvements IVF outcomes when correct and inert control groups are used in Clinical Trials.

How Does Fertility Acupuncture Work?

Fertility acupuncture is a vital method to help improve your fertility treatments. It has been shown to help support fertility treatments by the following three mechanisms:

1. It increases blood flow to the reproductive organs, including the uterus. Blood flow is crucial to help support the quality of the uterine lining. If one is under chronic stress, the body limits the amount of blood it sends to the uterus to improve fertility and pregnancy rates. The increase in blood flow and its ability to increase the 'stickiness' of the uterus can support optimal implantation rates during a fertility treatment, such as IVF.

2. Fertility acupuncture can improve your chances for a healthy pregnancy by increasing the production of B-Endorphins in the brain, this stimulates the secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing-hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland of the brain. Both LH and FSH increase the production of estrogen and progesterone from the ovary, stimulate follicle/egg growth, and support a healthy endometrial lining.

3. Fertility acupuncture has an immunomodulatory effect on the uterine lining and supports a shift in the production of cytokines produced. It favours the production of compounds from the immune system on the surface of the endometrium that help support implantation of an embryo.

Updates in the Fertility Acupuncture Treatments

The first research paper on fertility acupuncture for IVF was published in the late 90's, and our protocols have come a long way since then. Over the last two decades the multitude of clinical trials have provided better insight on how we can provide better treatments with acupuncture to provide maximal benefit for those who are trying to get pregnant.

1. The use of electroacupuncture at key phases of the treatment cycle seems to be much more useful than traditional dry needle acupuncture. The electroacupuncture provides a gentle stimulation for the needles and helps to improve blood flow and and stimulates the positive hormone changes associated with fertility acupuncture.

2. The original trials that observed an improvement in IVF success rates used a specific combination of acupuncture points, which had been dubbed the Paulus Protocol. Improved research trials with larger groups that the original protocol is not very effective in improving success rates for IVF, although it appears to help reduce anxiety for patients before transfer. Instead, since 2014 we have seen newer acupuncture protocols used in Italy, Austria, China, and the United States which have shown much more promising results. These new protocols are called the Modified Paulus Protocols. They vary from different studies but there is a general trend and agreement on which points seem to be included across all the trials. When we perform fertility acupuncture in Ottawa to help support patients going through fertility treatments, we use the latest protocols that have been observed to help support positive treatment outcomes. Always check which protocol is being used by your healthcare provider, as some practitioners continue to use the original Paulus Protocol, which has been confirmed to have little impact on IVF success rates with larger and higher-quality studies.

3. Frequency of treatment can also make a difference in treatment outcomes. Instead of going for just pre-transfer and post-transfer acupuncture, the use of fertility acupuncture ahead of time and days after the transfer seem to provide the best results.

4. Small research trials looking at adjunctive therapies, such as, moxibustion in conjunction with acupuncture also report positive results on supporting positive fertility treatment outcomes.

Who can Fertility Acupuncture Benefit the Most?

A very important discovery with all of the research around fertility acupuncture over the last 2 decades is knowing who will benefit from fertility acupuncture the most (most improved pregnancy rates):

1. If you have a specific condition that causes problems with ovulatory function called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), fertility acupuncture is very beneficial because it has an excellent track record in improving chances for natural ovulation, supporting healthier and better quality follicle/egg growth during fertility treatments. It has also been shown to possible improve insulin sensitivity (an important pathogenic factor that reduces fertility in this condition).

2. Women who have had previously failed IVFs have a significantly decreased chance of success with their next IVF. The good news is that the use of fertility acupuncture significantly improved pregnancy rates for Women with their next IVF. The conclusion from important reviews on the studies for fertility acupuncture was that Women with a lower baseline success rate had a greater improvement in success rates when using fertility IVF acupuncture protocols when compared to Women who went for their very first IVF.

3. Women with low egg quality or advanced maternal age (35-40+ years old) see a greater improvement in pregnancy rates when adding fertility acupuncture protocol to their fertility treatment plan. This is also because at an age above 35, there is a lower baseline success rate (your chance of getting pregnant with just a fertility treatment alone is lower). 

4. Women with recurrent miscarriages (>3 consecutive miscarriages) also benefit from fertility acupuncture as early research has shown that it can help to reduce the symptoms, signs, and chances of a miscarriage in the first trimester. For this reason, it is frequently recommended to continue with acupuncture until at least week 10 of pregnancy!

Frequently Asked Questions

How many Acupuncture Treatments are Recommended?

A minimum of 6 sessions, and ideally 7-8 sessions is recommended during an IVF/ICSI/IUI cycle.

Do the Needles Hurt?

The sensation felt during Acupuncture Treatments can vary from a light pinch to a dull ache and rarely a transient pang that dissapears once the needle is in. An experienced Naturopath utilizes the best technique possible to minimize pain when inserting the needle.

Why Should I see a Naturopathic Doctor for Acupuncture?

Naturopathic Doctors are licensed Primary Health Care Providers in Ontario and are trained to utilize a combination of techniques to help fertility patients. Their 7-8 year Post-secondary education includes, but is not limited to, extensive training in Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture as well as Botanical Medicine, Clinical Nutrition (Including Prescribing of Pharmaceutical strength nutritional supplements), Pharmacology, Healthy Diet & Lifestyle, Clinical Diagnosis and Treatment, and Medical Sciences. This allows them to offer a comprehensive treatment protocol that includes more than Acupuncture alone. 

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