Why Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture Make You More Likely to Conceive & Get Pregnant
Chinese medicine has long been utilized as a tool to support fertility. Infertility, the inability to conceive after 12-months of unprotected sex, is increasing in the United States. Approximately 15% of couples are unable to conceive within the first year.
A wide range of factors may contribute to infertility. Therefore, a holistic assessment is vital to helping support fertility.
Chinese herbs and acupuncture are two modalities that approach an individual’s whole body – not just the symptom of being unable to conceive and get pregnant. For example, acupuncture may help promote fertility by addressing stress, hormonal imbalances, and/or blood flow to the uterus & ovaries.
Research is ongoing to further pinpoint these effects however, the data does support the involvement of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis.
How Acupuncture Works With In Vitro Fertilization
A prospective randomized study in 2002 found acupuncture to increase the rate of pregnancy in patients receiving assisted reproduction therapy (ART). 160 patients undergoing ART were randomly divided into two groups. One group received acupuncture treatment shortly before and after embryo transfer while a control group received no acupuncture.
42.5% of the patients in the acupuncture group became pregnant while 26.3% of the participants in the control group became pregnant.
A prospective randomized study in 2006 built upon the previous study’s results. In addition to acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer, this study additionally added acupuncture two days later, which would be closer to the day that implantation could occur.
The study included three groups: a control with no acupuncture, a second group where acupuncture was performed immediately before and after embryo transfer, and a third group where acupuncture was performed before and after an embryo transfer in addition to two days later.
The study found acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer to significantly improve the reproductive outcome of the patients. All these patients notably were receiving in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) treatment.
The addition of acupuncture two days after embryo transfer did not provide a statistically significant benefit.
A randomized controlled study in 2020 attempted to determine whether acupuncture immediately before or after embryo transfer was more beneficial to patients. 186 participants undergoing IVF were randomly divided to receive acupuncture 25 minutes before embryo transfer, acupuncture 25 minutes before and after embryo transfer, or embryo transfer without acupuncture (control group).
The study found the acupuncture before embryo transfer to significantly increase the pregnancy outcomes compared to those that did not receive acupuncture. The addition of acupuncture therapy after embryo transfer did not produce an additional benefit.
A systematic review in 2019 gathered data from 31 studies with a total of 4,450 women. The included studies were randomized controlled trials with intervention groups using acupuncture and control groups without acupuncture or sham acupuncture. All participants were receiving IVF therapy.
The review found acupuncture to be especially beneficial to those with low ovarian reserve or to those who had experienced previous unsuccessful attempts of IVF egg transfer.
Acupuncture as a Stand-Alone Therapy for Infertility
A meta-analysis in 2019 analyzed data from 22 randomized controlled studies where patients were receiving acupuncture as a stand-alone therapy or as an adjunct to conventional medicine. These conventional therapies were notably not assisted reproductive techniques, as included in the populations of the previously mentioned studies.
Many of these patients had infertility due to polycystic ovary syndrome, tubal infertility, or ovulatory disorder.
The analysis concluded that in comparison to control groups with no treatment, all groups receiving acupuncture therapy had statistically significant increases in the pregnancy rate.
The study did not have enough data from similar studies to directly compare the conventional treatments to acupuncture therapy.
A randomized controlled study in 2019 evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture in combination with conventional medication for hormone levels and ovarian reserve. These measurements are indicators of fertility. For example, poor ovarian reserve is associated with low fertility.
This study placed 100 patients with poor ovarian reserve to either receive a placebo, conventional medication, acupuncture, or acupuncture + conventional medication prior to their 2nd cycle of IVF embryo transfer. The conventional medication included Climen, a hormone replacement therapy.
The researchers found the number of high-quality embryos to be significantly higher from the combined treatment group than the medication group. Therefore, the study concluded that acupuncture may enhance the therapeutic effects of conventional medication.
Chinese Herbs in Comparison to Conventional Medications for Fertility
A randomized controlled trial in 2014 assessed 433 subjects less than 42 years of age with infertility due to fallopian tube or male-related factors. The study randomly allocated patients to either receive Chinese herbs or a conventional treatment control group.
The Chinese herbs prescribed to the patients in the intervention group varied depending on other therapies they were engaging in to promote fertility.
The study found the fertility rate in the intervention group to be significantly higher than the control group. This study supported the personalized usage of Chinese herbs for fertility. However, for a general recommendation, further research on specific Chinese herbs or formulas are necessary.
A randomized controlled study in 2016 combined dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) treatment with Chinese herbs. DHEA is a conventional medication to boost ovulation. The patients were all aged 36-42 years old and undergoing in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer.
Participants either received DHEA in combination with Chinese herbs before an IVF cycle for 8 weeks or only received DHEA before an IVF cycle for 8 weeks. The study measured the number of retrieved immature eggs (oocytes), the quality of embryos, the clinical pregnancy rate, and more fertility indicators.
The study concluded that the addition of Chinese herbs to the DHEA could improve the quality of embryos. However, further studies are necessary to evaluate whether the Chinese herbs could produce a statistically significant difference in the other factors.
A Chinese herbal medicine formula may be the key to increasing the effectiveness of IVF therapy. A meta-analysis in 2015 with 40 randomized controlled studies involving 4,247 women look at Chinese herbal medicine’s effect on pregnancy rate.
The analysis found a 2-fold increase in pregnancy rate with a 3-6 month period with Chinese herbal medicine as an adjunct therapy than with conventional therapy alone.
Summing It Up: Infertility From a Chinese Medicine Perspective
The research behind these therapies supports their utilization as part of infertility therapy. Like many chronic health conditions, utilizing an integrative or holistic approach often produces better results than just conventional care alone.
And rather than just focusing on the symptom of infertility, Chinese medicine works to resolve the underlying imbalance in the first place. So whether there’s also insomnia, or digestive problems, or anxiety, or an irregular cycle, Chinese herbal formulas and acupuncture can help regardless.