Does Acupuncture for Infertility Work?
Cure is a strong word, but acupuncture might help increase your odds of getting pregnant, and the evidence it works is more than just word of mouth.
Several studies have found that women who get acupuncture treatments -- whether to treat conditions that can interfere with getting pregnant (such as polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS) or to increase the chances of a successful IVF -- have a higher rate of pregnancy and births. Some fertility doctors recommend acupuncture for their patients to help lower overall stress levels, because stress hormones can lower fertility hormones like progesterone. "I've referred patients to acupuncturists to do acupuncture in conjunction with a number of fertility treatments," says Kathleen M. Brennan, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist with the UCLA Fertility and Reproductive Health Center in Los Angeles.
So how does it work? Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves the placing of thin, stainless steel needles at certain spots on the body. From a Chinese medicine standpoint, the needles stimulate the body's meridians -- channels of energy -- along certain points. Depending on where the needles go, a person may feel calmer, sleepy, or more energized, or may experience subtle physical changes, like a drop or rise in certain hormones or increased blood flow to certain areas of the body, like the pelvis. "Acupuncture is thought to shift the body into a repair mode where it's better able to heal itself, as well as calming the nervous system," says Lara Rosenthal, a licensed acupuncturist who works with patients at the New York University Langone Medical Center Fertility Center in New York City. Does it hurt? "It feels a little like getting your eyebrow plucked, just for a few seconds, then you won't feel anything," Rosenthal says. And there are virtually no negative side effects, aside from occasional mild bruising.
Acupuncture can begin at anytime during the fertility treatment -- before you start taking any oral or injectable drugs to help "prep" your body; during drug treatment to help deal with side effects (nausea, moodiness, fatigue); or during IVF cycles. "Doing acupuncture before trying drugs or IVF might help you avoid those treatments altogether," Rosenthal says; she recommends several sessions for the best outcome. Some insurance companies cover acupuncture, though this varies by state and by insurance provider. The average cost between $100 and $300 for an initial visit and $75 to $150 for follow-ups.
Before you look into acupuncture, however, make sure you receive a medical evaluation by a physician. "There are certain conditions that can't be helped by acupuncture, such as blocked fallopian tubes, so you need to know what is going on with your body medically," Rosenthal explains. Ask your doctor for a referral to an acupuncturist who treats infertility, as not every practitioner will be trained in that area. Avoid taking Chinese herbs unless your doctor gives you the go-ahead -- some of them could potentially hurt your fertility, or endanger an existing pregnancy.
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