Acupuncture Playing a Role in Fertility

Pregnancy is the result of a complex chain of events that doesn't occur easily for some couples. The causes of infertility are varied and standard medical treatments can be costly and invasive, but there are alternative treatment options that may make the dream of a family a reality.

Infertility affects one in six couples in the United States. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, that corresponds to 6.1 million women and their partners in the U.S. or 10 percent of the reproductive population. This figure continues to rise due to higher levels of toxicity in our environment, electromagnetic exposure, greater obesity in younger people and consumption of processed foods (leading to serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies). The American Fertility Society states that one-third of infertility cases can be traced to the woman, one-third to the man, and the remaining third to either a combination of the two partners or to no identifiable cause.

Men are fairly simple reproductively: Issues include reduced sperm count, problems with sperm motility (movement) or morphology (development to full maturity), or a combination of these that can be measured accurately in a semen analysis. Something as simple as a vitamin deficiency can lead to male sterility. A selenium deficiency will reduce sperm production, vitamin C will limit motility, vitamin E will disturb hormone production and zinc will impair function of the testes.

In by James and Phyllis Balch, they recommend the following supplementation for both partners:

  • Selenium: 200-400 mcg/day
  • Vitamin C: 2,000-6,000 mg/day in divided doses
  • Vitamin E: 200 IU/day
  • Zinc: 80 mg/day (zinc gluconate absorbs the best)
  • L-Arginine (specifically for men): to increase sperm count/motility. Take as directed on package or after talking to your health care provider

Both herbal medicine and acupuncture have been used for more than 30 centuries to improve male and female reproductive health. A 2002 study performed at Tongji Hospital in China involved 22 patients with idiopathic (unknown cause) male infertility. They were treated with acupuncture two times a week for eight weeks. Researchers evaluated sperm concentration, motility, morphology, fertilization rates and embryo quality. Sperm motility and ratio improved significantly after eight weeks of treatment c and fertilization rates were higher (66.2 percent) after acupuncture than before treatment (40.2 percent), representing an increase of 65 percent.

In a more recent study (2006) performed at Jinan university in Guanzhou, China, 85 men with abnormal sperm were treated with acupuncture.  The total rate of pregnancy of their wives was 78.8 percent after treatment. The study conclusion was, "Acupuncture can significantly improve and regulate endocrine function, increase quality of semen and elevate pregnancy rates of wives of men with abnormal sperm."

Women, by comparison, are extremely complex reproductively. They have countless hormones that have to be in fairly narrow concentrations to get pregnant, stay pregnant and carry a baby to term. Some common causes of infertility can be categorized as environmental (e.g., heavy metal toxicity, electromagnetic influences), emotional, structural (Fallopian tube occlusion [blockage]), and organic (anti-sperm antibody production, sexually transmitted diseases, endometriosis, polycystic Ovarian syndrome, etc.) Interestingly enough, no emotional causes are cited in modern medical texts beyond "stress" - a woman's concern over having a baby will actually inhibit her from having one.

Pregnancy is a multi-step process. First, a woman must be capable of producing a viable egg (ovum). Then, the egg must be able to be fertilized by the sperm, travel down the fallopian tube and successfully implant into the wall of the uterus (endometrium). At this point, the fetus must be nurtured in that environment until birth. Trying to get pregnant is an emotionally charged topic, with well-meaning family members adding to the already high pressure to reproduce.  Anxiety, anger, disappointment with one's reproductive system and shame are all emotions common with partners trying to conceive. Those couples who have tried conscientiously for years to have children and finally adopt, have a surprisingly high rate of pregnancy after the adoption paperwork is complete and the pressure is off.

Tai chi and meditation are two exceptional ways for a couple to decompress and return to a state of balance in a world of high-powered careers and chronically overscheduled lives.  Practitioners of Chinese medicine do not use the term "infertility", we recognize an imbalance is present and need to work with the patient to restore balance and harmony resulting in healthy parents and subsequently healthy offspring. Focusing on optimal health is the key to conception, according to Chinese doctors.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has identified four common disorders (in order of prevalence) that contribute to infertility or increased chance of miscarriage: polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, fibroids, and premature ovarian failure (POF) or ovarian insufficiency.