Colette Assor, a registered acupuncturist and well-being expert with 24 years experience helps us understand how acupuncture can support your IVF journey.
To start with, let me tell you how acupuncture works.
Acupuncture medicine is a complete system of health care. Our treatment approach to patient care is holistic. We integrate the mind body and emotional health. The root of traditional a Chinese medicine (TCM) is referred to as yang Shen or the nourishment of life. This is based on four key pillars of health:
- the cultivation of a healthy calm mind,
- a healthy body with the right exercise,
- dietary principles
- healthy sleep.
We aim to bring the body into a natural balance with a unique blend of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and western medical analysis and information.
For optimum health all four of these pillars need to be in balance and functioning well.
What to expect on your first visit for acupuncture
Your initial appointment is usually around 60 mins and will involve a discussion about all your body systems to try and establish how your body is functioning as well as what needs to be improved. An acupuncturist approach will often integrate traditional Chinese medicine and western medicine This leads us to a treatment plan.
During your acupuncture consultation the key areas covered are:
- Diet and digestion
- Menstrual cycle
- Medical history
- Clinic information and recent cycles,
- Scans and blood tests.
Understanding Male factor infertility
Male factor infertility is the presence of abnormal semen parameters and the functional inability to adequately deliver semen into the vaginal canal, by the male partner of an opposite-sex couple unable to achieve conception after 1 year of unprotected intercourse.
Male factor alone contributes up to 30% of cases of infertile opposite-sex couples and to an additional 30% to 40% in combination with other factors.
Male factor infertility has for many years been an overlooked part of the fertility diagnostic landscape. For decades fertility testing for men has solely relied on basic semen analysis, which examines, sperm morphology, concentration, and motility.
In clinic I often see women who have had every single fertility test available whilst their partners have had either no tests or the very basic semen analysis.
Some cases of unexplained infertility are referred for IVF without further sperm investigation just the basic motile and normal sperm tests. Research is clearly suggesting that this is a poor indicator of male fertility and a growing recognition for better quality sperm testing.
A man with normal semen can still have poor sperm DNA quality, which may result in a poor IVF outcome.
Optimising male fertility with further investigation can often leave the unexplained with an explanation and successful treatment pathway.
The vaginal microbiome
Research has shown that the dominance of lactobacillus in the vaginal microbiome plays a vital role in fertility outcomes. Women with a dominant Lactobacillus vaginal microbiota (≥ 90%) have a higher success rate in both term pregnancy and live birth rate. Whereas non-predominance (<90%) of the genus Lactobacillus has a direct correlation with miscarriage.
Several studies have shown that administration of Lactobacillus probiotics has the capability of restoration of vaginal microbiome to improve fertility, pregnancy outcome, and menopausal infection. Many health care providers are now investigating the health of the vaginal microbiome and your acupuncturist may refer for testing where appropriate. It is important to address diet, and lifestyle factors alongside treatment for long term change.
How many sessions do I need for my IVF cycle?
The number of acupuncture sessions needed during IVF treatment is unique to each individual and is dependent on age, ovarian reserve, previous response to IVF medication and reasons for needing IVF. In one study, it was found that women who received nine acupuncture treatments had a significantly higher IVF success rate compared to those who had fewer sessions.
The preparation phase
The biggest cause of IVF failure is poor genetic quality of eggs. The latest research shows that egg quality is strongly affected by follicular and ovarian environments. If the environment is good, eggs will be genetically healthier. Follicles that contain eggs take over a year to develop from their dormant stage. During the last 5 months of their development ovarian follicles grow tiny blood vessels and from this point on nutrients and hormones in the blood supply can affect follicular development. Treatment during this phase aims to improve blood vessels micro-development, balance reproductive hormones and ensure optimal nutrition to positively influence the ovarian and follicular environments.
Generally, it is recommended to have acupuncture at least 3 months in advance of your IVF cycle
One key point is that to feel relaxed and comfortable during IVF cycle it is good to get to know your acupuncture practitioner ahead of your cycle.
I recommend acupuncture as helpful at whatever stage you are at in your IVF journey. If you arrive at acupuncture late you can still benefit from relaxation and support
For IVF support research suggests acupuncture may help the following:
- Promote relaxation and reduce stress levels
- Improve well-being
- Optimise endometrial lining
- Improve blood flow to reproductive organs
- Offers a supportive helping hand pre and post IVF cycle
- Lessen side effects of medication.
- Decrease inflammation and pain
- Improve IVF outcomes
Colette Assor Lic Ac MBAcC is a senior acupuncturist practitioner in clinical practise for 24 years with special interests in fertility, menopause and women’s health. Colette serves on the member services committee at the British Acupuncture Council helping to raise awareness and standards of the acupuncture profession in the UK.
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