FRIDAY, Jan. 27 (HealthDay News) -- When a couple is trying to
have a baby and can't, it can be emotionally and financially
draining. But help may be available in an unexpected form:
Medical experts believe that this ancient therapy from China,
which involves placing numerous thin needles at certain points in
the body, can help improve fertility in both men and women.
"Acupuncture has been around for almost 3,000 years. It's safe and there are no bad side effects from it," explained Dr. Lisa Lilienfield, a family practice and pain management specialist at the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Va. "It may not be the only thing that is done in isolation to treat infertility, but it helps get the body primed and maximizes the potential effects of fertility treatments."
Dr. Jamie Grifo, director of the New York University Fertility
Center and director of the division of reproductive endocrinology
at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said that "it's
not a panacea, but acupuncture does help some patients have better
"It's one non-traditional modality to help manage the stress of infertility, and it does improve pregnancy rates and quality of life in some people," he said.
In addition to relieving stress, Lilienfield said that
acupuncture can help increase a woman's fertility by improving
blood flow to the ovaries and uterus. This improved blood flow can
help thicken the lining of the uterus, increasing the chances of
It may also help correct problems with the body's neuroendocrine
system. Acupuncture can help activate the brain to release hormones
that will stimulate the ovaries, adrenal glands and other organs
that are involved in reproduction, according to Lilienfield.
Acupuncture's effect on the neuroendocrine system may also help
infertile men by stimulating sperm production, she said.
Studies that have been done on acupuncture and fertility have
had mixed results, with some showing benefits and others showing
none. Grifo said the differing results may have something to do
with the design of the studies. Two areas that appear to be more
consistently helped by acupuncture treatments are in vitro
fertilization and women who are infertile due to polycystic ovary
Two studies -- one in
Acupuncture in Medicine and the other in the
Journal of Endocrinological Investigation -- found a benefit
when acupuncture was used on the day an embryo was transferred into
a woman's uterus.
The study from the
Journal of Endocrinological Investigation also found that
women with polycystic ovary syndrome and men who had infertility
issues with no known cause also benefitted from acupuncture.
The actual treatment session involves placing very thin needles
at specific points in the body. In Chinese medicine, these points
are believed to be areas where a person's "qi" (pronounced chee),
or life force, is blocked, according to the U.S. National Center
for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In Western medicine,
it's believed that the needle placement may release the body's
Acupuncture is commonly used to treat pain, such as back pain,
headache and menstrual cramps, according to the center.
Lilienfield said that acupuncture treatment costs vary,
depending on where someone lives and the training of the
practitioner. In her center, a treatment costs about $135, and most
people receive six to eight treatments for infertility, she said.
Insurance reimbursement also varies, she noted, though many
insurance companies will pay for acupuncture.
In general, someone younger than 35 is often advised to try to
get pregnant for about a year before seeking treatment for
infertility. "But, if you're anxious to get going, six months is a
reasonable time to wait," Lilienfield said. And women older than 35
probably shouldn't wait more than six months, she added.
Grifo said he doesn't favor waiting that long to seek treatment.
"If you are trying to get pregnant and struggling with it, you
don't need to wait a year," he said. "And, if you're over 35, don't
wait six months to get worked up if it's causing you distress."
The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine has more on
Publication Date: Oct. 31, 2011