Professional Integrated Healthcare
In an ideal world I like to treat patients prior to them even trying for a baby. Patients come for acupuncture at this stage because they want to make sure they are in great shape before they start the process. It allows me to address any underlying imbalances, but without patients experiencing the stress of “have I conceived this month?” which can inhibit treatment.
Most often I see patients who have been trying to conceive for several months and are staring to find the process stressful. They might have come off contraception to find their cycle is inconsistent, or they may be dealing with an irregular cycle, no periods (amenorrhea), heavy or painful periods, or debilitating PMS symptoms. They may have a diagnosis of endometriosis or PCOS, or they may be slightly older and are feeling the pressure of time.
At this stage acupuncture is aimed at regulating the cycle, reducing symptoms, balancing hormones, boosting fertility, and helping to sooth the stress some feel if conception is taking longer than anticipated.
Frequency of treatment at this stage can vary depending on condition. Treatments are usually received weekly or twice monthly at pivotal times of the cycle, and acupuncture should be received through at least 3 cycles. In my experience most people first notice a reduction in their PMS symptoms, and a more regular cycle, both of which are a good indication that acupuncture is having the desired effect.
The acupuncture points used are adjusted for the stage of the menstrual cycle, and for the symptoms you are experiencing, and so points may vary treatment by treatment.
There are many reasons why people seek acupuncture to aid in conception. Some simply want to be in optimal health for conception, some struggle with hormonal issues that may be impacting on their ability to conceive, and others might have been trying to conceive for a while but want to have acupuncture prior to trying more invasive techniques and procedures. Others want to boost the success rate of their IVF cycle and have read the studies showing how much acupuncture can help.
Whatever your reason acupuncture can be used to help with a multitude of conditions, as a standalone treatment, or in conjunction with assisted reproductive techniques (ART).
Trying to conceive can be an exciting, but also a stressful time, and so I have written a clear guide, detailing how acupuncture can help you, no matter what stage you are at.
"Sorry I’ve not been in for an appointment recently….. however we have had some good news….am currently 15 weeks pregnant! I had been to get the IVF medication and we decided to take a test ‘just to make sure’ before we started the treatment the next day- to our huge surprise the test was positive! We were lucky enough to conceive naturally on a trip to Scotland - I remember seeing you just before we went.
I just wanted to say a huge thank you for my treatment. I whole heartedly believe this helped a great deal. It also helped me to listen a little more to my body and trust my gut instinct. I also wanted to thank you for the support and the listening ear you provided. You have such a lovely calming and reassuring way about you - I always felt so much better after I’d been to see you.
I just thought you’d like to know and I will of course be in touch for any acupuncture needs in the future, as well as recommending you to anyone who is thinking of this".
Transform Acupuncture Patient: Leah
People can struggle to conceive naturally for several reasons. Often there is a medical reason why, such as PCOS, but in some cases the cause remains unknown.
Whether you are undergoing ovulation induction, or full IVF, acupuncture can be used to assist you throughout the process.
Acupuncture can be beneficial the week prior to beginning the stimulation phase. This is because follicular recruitment begins in the luteal phase of the last cycle, and so acupuncture is targeted at improving follicular recruitment.
Acupuncture during this phase may increase the thickness and quality of the endometrial lining. Acupuncture can be repeated twice a week until your trigger injection or LH surge.
At this time, follicles grow rapidly in response to ovarian stimulation, and acupuncture may improve ovarian response to stimulation.
This can be a stressful time as you’re expected to administor medication which can disrupt your delicate hormonal balance. It is not uncommon to suffer symptoms of anxiety, nausea, headaches, bloating and fatigue. Acupuncture can be beneficial in reducing these symptoms, benefitting overall wellbeing.
Final Egg Maturation/Trigger Injection
Acupuncture administered shortly after the hCG trigger injection or LH surge is thought to help with the final maturation of the egg(s)
After your trigger injection/ implantation
I recommend acupuncture treatment 4 days after this time to help increase the chances of implantation.
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Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically help with symptoms of PCOS by:
Impacting on beta-endorphin production, which may affect gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) secretion (Lim 2010; Stener-Victorin 2009; Feng 2009; Manneras 2009);
Regulating follicle stimulation hormone (FSH), luteinising hormone ( LH) and androgens (Lim 2010; Feng 2009);
Modulating the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and improving blood flow to the ovaries (Stener-Victorin 2006, 2009);
Regulating steroid hormone/peptide receptors (Feng 2012);
downregulating the expressions of serum levels of testosterone and oestradiol (Zang 2009);
Controlling hyperglycaemia by increasing insulin sensitivity and decreasing blood glucose and insulin levels (Lim 2010);
Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the analytical brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010; Hui 2009);
Increasing the release of adenosine, which has antinociceptive properties (Goldman 2010), and;
Reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kavoussi 2007).
Acupuncture treatment may specifically be of benefit in people with endometriosis by:
Providing pain relief – by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Zhao 2008, Han 2004, Zijlstra 2003, Pomeranz 1987).
Reducing inflammation – by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors Kavoussi 2007, Zijlstra 2003).
Regulating levels of prostaglandins (Jin 2009)
Research has established plausible mechanisms to explain how acupuncture may benefit fertility:
Regulating fertility hormones – stress and other factors can disrupt the function of the hypothalamic pituitary-ovarian axis (HPOA), causing hormonal imbalances that can negatively impact fertility. Acupuncture has been shown to affect hormone levels by promoting the release of beta-endorphin in the brain, which affects the release of gonadotrophin releasing hormone by the hypothalamus, follicle stimulating hormone from the pituitary gland, and oestrogen and progesterone levels from the ovary (Ng 2008, Huang 2008, Lim 2010, Stener-Victorin 2010).
Further details of these processes are emerging, for example mRNA expression of hormones, growth factors and other neuropeptides (He 2009)
Increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs – stress also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which causes constriction of ovarian arteries. Acupuncture inhibits this sympathetic activity, improving blood flow to the ovaries (Stener-Victorin 2006, Lim 2010), enhancing the environment in which ovarian follicles develop. It also increases blood flow to the uterus (Stener-Victorin 1996, Huang 2008), improving the thickness of the endometrial lining and increasing the chances of embryo implantation.
Counteracting the effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility. By reducing sympathetic nerve activity and balancing hormone levels, acupuncture has been shown to reduce the number of ovarian cysts, stimulate ovulation, enhance blastocyst implantation and regulate the menstrual cycle in women with PCOS (Stener-Victorin 2000, 2008, 2009, Zhang 2009). It may also help to control secondary effects such as obesity and anorexia (Lim 2010).
Increasing egg production (Jin 2009) and improving oocyte quality (Chen 2009), which could increase the chance of fertilisation.
Enhancing luteal function (Huang 2009)
regulating follicle stimulation hormone-receptor expression (Jin 2009).
Normalising cortisol and prolactin levels on IVF medication days (Magarelli 2008);
Reducing stress (Anderson 2007)
promoting embryo implantation (Liu 2008).