Gynaecological and fertility related issues seem all too commonplace in today’s society. In fact one in six couples in Australia experience infertility. Infertility is the inability of a couple to achieve conception after a year of unprotected intercourse, or the inability to carry pregnancies to a live birth (Fertility Society Australia). Infertility often is shared equally among women and men. Although many cases can be adequately diagnosed, numerous cases still remain “unexplained” which can be frustrating for many couples.
Whether it be due to lifestyle, diet, environment or other indeterminable factors acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) may be beneficial for some gynaecological and fertility related conditions (Jo,J et al 2017; Qian,Y et al 2016; Huang, St et al 2008; Ng,Eh et al 2008). Indeed, once a diagnosis is determined by a Fertility Specialist or Gynaecologist, acupuncture and TCM can be used as an adjunct therapy to complement and support conventional treatments.
Pre-conception care the TCM way
According to TCM, ‘a healthy body is a fertile body’ and ‘healthy couples make healthy babies’. Hence TCM fertility protocols focus on getting both partners to an optimal state of health, so as to maximise the quality of both the sperm and egg. As it takes approximately 3 to 4 months for sperm and eggs to develop, it is important to spend this time before conception adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle incorporating acupuncture and supplementation where necessary. Preparation usually involves the female charting their cycle and a dietary and lifestyle assessment of both partners. Once an assessment is conducted a therapeutic plan for both partners is established.
Acupuncture and Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a chronic condition characterised by growth of endometrial tissue in sites other than the uterus, most commonly in the pelvic cavity, but also in other parts of the body .Although the condition may be asymptomatic, common symptoms include dysmenorrhoea, dyspareunia and non-cyclical pelvic and abdominal pain (RCOG 2006). For many it can be an extremely painful and debilitating condition which often requires surgical intervention. Apart from the extreme pain associated with this condition, it may also may impinge upon a female’s fertility. Indeed, often endometriosis is diagnosed as part of a Fertility Specialists testing to uncover causal factors in a couple’s infertility. Diagnosis is usually as a result of laparoscopic surgery.
In a 2008 randomised controlled study acupuncture was evaluated for its abilities to have a positive therapeutic effect for endometriosis patients. Positive outcomes for the participants and favourable therapeutic changes ( in estrogen levels, haemoglobin and platelet counts) were observed (Yan et al 2008). Further to this another study conducted in 2009, concluded that both auricular and body acupuncture with electrodes can effectively relieve endometriosis induced dysmenorrhoea which may be closely related to their effects in reducing plasma PGE2 and raising the 6-Keto-PGF1alpha level (Jin YB et al).
Acupuncture and PCOS
PCOS is the most common reproductive disorder in women. It is characterised by the presence of cystic growths on the ovaries that are often accompanied by wide range of symptoms. These include amenorrhea, anovulatory cycles, hirsutism, acne and infertility just to name a few. These cysts develop due increased amounts of androgenic hormones being released by the ovaries. This is usually in response to either high serum insulin levels or an excess of luteinising hormone (LH).
Acupuncture may be a useful adjunct treatment for women with PCOS . Indeed, it may have a regulating effect on the ovaries and therefore androgen production. It may also have a similar effect on the pituitary gland, blocking the release of excessive levels of LH.
A literature review conducted in 2010 (Lim et al 2010 ) further attests to the value of Acupuncture for women suffering PCOS. It determined that acupuncture significantly increases beta-endorphin levels for up to 24 hours and may have regulatory effects on FSH, LH and androgen production via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. They also concluded that Acupuncture’s benefits for this condition may be due to its capacities to:
- increase blood flow to the ovaries and decrease ovarian volume and cyst numbers
- regulate insulin levels and addressing insulin resistance
- regulate cortisol levels.
Huang ST, Chen AP. Traditional Chinese medicine and infertility. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Jun;20(3):211-5.
Ng EH, So WS, Gao J, Wong YY, Ho PC. The role of acupuncture in the management of subfertility. Fertility and Sterility. 2008 Jul;90(1):1-13.
Yan H, Huang XH and Deng GF. Observation on therapeutic effect of acupuncture and moxibustion on disorders of myometrial gland. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu 2008; 28(8): 579-81.
Jin YB, Sun ZL and Jin HF. Randomized controlled study on ear-electroacupuncture treatment of endometriosis-induced dysmenorrhea in patients. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu 2009; 34(3): 188-92
RCOG, 2006. The investigation and management of endometriosis. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Lim CE, Wong WS. Current evidence of acupuncture on polycystic ovarian syndrome. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2010 Mar 16.
Fertility Society Of Australia online at www.fertilitysociety.com.au
Jo,J and Lee, YJ. Effectiveness of acupuncture in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome undergoing in vitro fertilisation or intracytoplasmic sperm injection: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Acupunct Med. 2017 Jun;35(3):162-170. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2016-011163.
Qian Y, Xia XR, Ochin H, Huang C, Gao C, Gao L, et al. Therapeutic effect of acupuncture on the outcomes of in vitro fertilization: a systematic review and meta-analysis Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2016 Dec 19.