Medical Research on Acupuncture for Infertility
History and Understanding in the West
Although acupuncture is based on theories that differ greatly from traditional Western science and medicine, it has become increasingly more popular due to its success with patients.
Acupuncture: A Holistic Approach to Health
One difference between Eastern and Western medicine is that Eastern medicine (including acupuncture) focuses on a holistic approach to health. This means acupuncture treats illnesses by looking at many aspects of an individual’s life, and not only the illness in question. You might compare acupuncture and Western medicine by thinking that acupuncture treats the individual, while Western medicine treats the illness. For example, an acupuncture practitioner will likely ask you about your environment, nutrition, emotional and psychological status, and medical history before determining the most appropriate treatment. Besides asking questions, many practitioners also perform tests on patients, such as taking pulses at different points of the body and analyzing the color, coating and teeth marks on the tongue.
Skepticism in the West
Because every patient has a different nature, there aren’t established standards based on a scientific model—this aspect of acupuncture and Eastern medicine in general is hard for scientifically minded Western practitioners to accept. The idea of chi is built off of Eastern spiritualism and can even have several interpretations. However, more and more Western practitioners are accepting acupuncture since the success rate is strong and the phenomena can be explained by science – remember our section on endorphins and hormone levels?
Because acupuncture’s use in treating infertility is new in the West, there aren’t many studies; however, the few results have been encouraging.
Studies have shown a high success rate
Most studies on acupuncture for infertility have been performed with groups of women who are simultaneously undergoing In Vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. This combination has shown to increase the success rate for pregnancy, with a 40-50% fertility rate compared with the 25-35% average success rate for patients who undergo In Vitro fertilization without acupuncture. Keep in mind, though, that egg-producing drugs have shown similar results.
Acupuncture’s primary positive effect is relaxing uterus contractions
Studies have shown that acupuncture doesn’t seem to actually increase the quality or quantity of eggs; rather, the therapy’s primary advantage is that it can relax uterus contractions, thereby increasing blood flow and creating a more fertile environment.
Acupuncture can reduce risk of miscarriage
Other studies show that acupuncture may also reduce the risk of miscarriage in women who undergo In Vitro with acupuncture by about half. A possible reason for this benefit is that by increasing the absorption of nutrients and hormones, acupuncture can help strengthen the lining of the uterus. In addition, acupuncture can strengthen the immune system, which also helps to prevent miscarriage.
Many acupuncture studies, while successful,
have been criticized for not adhering
to Western scientific standards.
Although these studies have received their share of criticism for failing to be properly conducted and meet standards such as double-blindness and randomization, the nature of acupuncture does not permit these rules. The same is true for other, more widely accepted treatments such as physical therapy. So although these initial positive results are not “proven,” they offer hope to those willing to take a chance.
Safety and regulations
When performed correctly and cleanly, acupuncture is a painless and low-risk experience in terms of safety and side effects. However, because acupuncture has not been embraced by the Western medical field as a whole, much variation is involved with the procedures and regulations. Here’s some information on the most common side effects and the progression of regulations governing acupuncture.
- When undergoing acupuncture, most people feel a slight tingling when the needles are inserted and a few days afterward.
- The most common negative side effect is minor bruising.
- Sometimes yours muscles can feel heavy after treatment.
- Some people are allergic to needles (especially non-stainless steel).
- Some people experience “needle shock” (nausea, queasiness, fainting).
- With unprofessional practitioners, the chance of puncturing organs and transmitting infectious diseases is increased; otherwise, these risks are minimal.
- Professional certified practitioners know the limits with electrical stimulation, but prolonged stimulation may permanently damage nerve cells.
- A rare risk is that needles inserted into an undetectable hole in the breastbone (which is predicted to exist in about 10% of people) can be fatal.
With the increasing popularity of acupuncture by Americans, regulations and practice guidelines have increased, making it safer to find a reliable practitioner.
- The World Health Organization (the medical branch of the U.N.)has issued a list of 41 diseases amenable to acupuncture treatment (which include female infertility but not male infertility).
- The American Medical Association has approved acupuncture for certain illnesses.
- In 1996, the FDA removed acupuncture from the “experimental” list, and currently regulates acupuncture needles just like any other medical device.
- To date, 40 states have laws or regulations governing the practice – although laws vary greatly by state.
- The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine must approve practitioners in most states.
- There are more than 50 schools of acupuncture in the U.S. which train acupuncture specialists and doctors interested in using acupuncture in their treatments