(NaturalNews) Although dealing with invasive fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) can be highly stressful, acupuncture is a simple, risk-free way to help alleviate this burden. Significantly, acupuncture may also help boost fertility and increase the success rate of IVF.
IVF consists of extracting a woman's eggs, fertilizing them in a laboratory and then reimplanting them into her uterus. It is an expensive, highly invasive procedure that can produce intense feelings of stress in the women who undergo it, in addition to the stress caused by infertility itself. Indeed, studies have shown that most women who undergo fertility treatments have high levels of anxiety.
Traditional acupuncture gets results
Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine that consists of inserting needles into specific bodily locations ("meridians"), as designated by the health problems being treated.
In a 2012 study published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, Brazilian researchers assigned 43 IVF patients to undergo four weekly treatments of either traditional Chinese acupuncture or "sham" acupuncture, in which needles were inserted near but not at the appropriate meridians.
After four weeks, the researchers found that women in the traditional treatment group had significantly lower average scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale than women in the sham treatment group. In addition, far more women in the traditional treatment group experienced anxiety score reductions of more than 30 percent.
The researchers concluded that acupuncture shows great promise as an anxiety treatment for women undergoing IVF. They noted, however, that the study excluded participants with a history of psychiatric illness or who were taking antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs. Further research will be needed to confirm the effectiveness of acupuncture in those groups.
Yet many other studies have shown that acupuncture can have anxiety-reducing effects in a wide variety of populations. Research suggests that acupuncture helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system's "relaxation response," as well as boosting the nervous system's production of mood-improving endorphins and encephalins.
Acupuncture also boosts fertility
It is well-established that stress can have a negative impact on fertility, leading to disrupted hormone levels, irregular menstrual cycles and even the contraction of fallopian tubes or the uterus. Because of this, many researchers believe that the anxiety-reducing effects of acupuncture may also translate into fertility benefits for many women.
In addition, many researchers believe that acupuncture also increases blood flow to the uterus and promotes production of ovulation- and fertility-regulating hormones, both of which should increase conception rates.
Indeed, research supports the idea that acupuncture can improve the effectiveness of IVF. In a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2008, researchers from the University of Maryland reviewed seven prior studies on a total of 1,366 women. They found that the use of acupuncture alongside IVF increased the conception success rate of the fertility treatment by 65 percent. A later study, including more than 5,800 IVF patients, also found that complementary acupuncture resulted in not only more pregnancies, but also more live births.
A third study, published in the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology, examined the effectiveness of electro-acupuncture as a complementary therapy to IVF. The researchers found that the implantation success rate was significantly higher in patients who underwent electroacupuncture.
IVF is not the only fertility treatment that has been shown to benefit from acupuncture. Another study found that conception rates were significantly higher among women who combined acupuncture and the fertility drug clomiphene than among women who only took the drug.
Perhaps these findings should come as no surprise, since acupuncture has long been used in China as a therapy for improving female reproductive health.