Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) works especially well when combined with Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ART) employed by Western Fertility Medicine to facilitate pregnancy, such as In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI), Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer (GIFT), and Zygote Intra-Fallopian Transfer (ZIFT). TCM prepares a woman’s reproductive system to be optimally receptive before, during, and following the process of ART, by correcting imbalances, reducing stress and clearing blockages.
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a process by which eggs obtained through retrieval are fertilized by specially prepared sperm within a laboratory setting. The process involves stimulating follicular development, retrieving eggs from the woman’s mature follicles and then fertilizing the eggs with donor sperm outside of the body in a laboratory. The fertilized eggs are then allowed to develop for three to six days before being frozen. At a later date when all other considerations are in line, the fertilized eggs are thawed and transferred into the woman’s uterus where implantaton takes place several days after transfer. Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI) is the process of injecting selectively optimized sperm from the donor father into the uterus just prior to ovulation in order to achieve a more natural fertilization and implantation. Western medicines are used in the process to control follicle maturation, uterine development, and ovulation. Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) introduces a single selected sperm into a harvested egg for a type of in-vitro fertilization. Zygote Intra-Fallopian Transfer (ZIFT) is the placement of a fertilized egg within the Fallopian tube, and Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer (GIFT) is the same for the placement of a non-fertilized egg along with specially selected sperm cells into the Fallopian tube where fertilization will take place before the then fertilized egg proceeds down the Fallopian tube to implant in the endometrium of the uterus. The specific ART procedure used will depend upon your infertility diagnosis and will be decided upon by your doctor and yourself.
When Traditional Chinese Medicine is used together with Western Medical Intervention for the treatment of infertility, it is optimal for the patient to receive consistent TCM treatment in the 2 to 3 months prior to the specific ART procedure in order to prepare the female body for that process. That being said, many of my clients begin Acupuncture treatment a month or less before their scheduled ART procedure with good results.
Consistency of treatment before the transfer cycle begins, throughout the transfer cycle, and following transfer is paramount for maximizing the potential for successful implantation and a healthy full term pregnancy. A commitment to a regular schedule of treatment should be made for results consistent with expectations.
Below are listed the many ways in which patients undergoing ART can benefit from Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture:
- Increased blood flow to the uterus and ovaries.
- Enrichment of the lining of the uterus.
- Regulation of reproductive hormones to improve the quality and quantity of follicles and eggs.
- Minimization of the unwanted symptoms of IVF and the medications used.
- Reduction in the stress leading up to and surrounding the transfer, and afterwards.
- Decrease in the chance of miscarriage and increase in the chance of a successful implantation and a healthy full-term birth.
- Prevention of post-transfer uterine contractions.
Scientific research on the supportive effects of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture when used with IVF continues to stack up. The cornerstone Landmark German Study in April of 2002 by Wolfgang E. Paulus compared pregnancy rates of two groups of women undergoing IVF. The group receiving acupuncture 25 minutes before, and 25 minutes after embryo transfer had a pregnancy rate of 42.5% compared to 26.3% for the non-acupuncture group. Another study in May of 2006 in the research journal Fertility and Sterility noted that acupuncture administered during the luteal phase of patients undergoing intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection increased the incidence of clinical pregnancy from 15.6% to 33.6%, and ongoing pregnancy from 13.8% to 28.4%. A very good article from WebMD summarizes the case made for the efficacy of acupuncture used in conjunction with IVF, and an article published in January 2012 on research conducted at Tel Aviv University, states that women with an average age of about 38 years who had received acupuncture in conjunction with IUI had a clinical pregnancy rate of 65.5% compared to 39.4% for the control group who received no acupuncture. For a link to an OB-GYN’s experience using acupuncture to help her conceive, click here. Here is an excellent article published by WebMD describing the “Standard Protocol” for pre- and post-transfer acupuncture, a protocol that I incorporate with my patients on the day that they undergo their ART procedure. Some fertility facilities will allow Acupuncture treatment to be delivered within their offices prior to and following an ART procedure. Check with your fertility specialist, and suggest it.
If you would like to check out the success statistics for different fertility clinics in your area, there are several sources available to you. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), and The Society for Reproductive Technology (SART) gather information from all fertility clinics in America and publish the results annually. The information is given in graph form, so you’ll need to spend a little time with the results to get a hang for understanding them. The CDC report is basic, whereas the SART reports break the various ART procedures into fine categories that give a more clear impression of the individual clinic. Resolve is a National Organization that is dedicated to support in the treatment of infertility. Resolve is an excellent resource and has information on support and advice groups local to your area. Another popular informational fertility website that includes blogs on various topics is The Bump.