Infertility, especially when underlying anatomical systems appear to be functioning normally, can be a stressful situation for those individuals hoping to conceive. In these situations, hormonal imbalances are often the culprit. The body requires a complex and precise cycle of various hormone changes to take places in order for successful conception.
The Female Hormone Cycle and Fertility
At the start of a woman’s menstrual cycle, the brain signals the pituitary gland that it is time to prepare eggs for possible fertilization. In response, the pituitary gland produces follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which in turn signals the ovaries to begin maturing eggs for this cycle. Meantime, the ovaries release more estrogen into the body, signaling that an egg is ready. The whole process, known as the follicular phase, takes about half of the menstrual cycle. During the second half of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase, high estrogen levels in the body triggers the pituitary gland to produce a luteinizing hormone (LH), which prompts the ovary to release the mature egg. Ovulation usually occurs about 24 to 48 hours after this LH surge. As soon as ovulation occurs, the ovaries begin to dramatically increase the levels of progesterone, which helps to prepare the uterine lining for potential pregnancy. If the egg becomes fertilized and implants, the body will continue to produce progesterone to sustain the lining as a hospitable environment for the growing fetus. If no fertilized egg implants, progesterone levels will fall, allowing the uterine lining to shed and the menstruation begins. If during this monthly cycle, timing or hormone levels are not appropriately maintained, ovulation may be interrupted and cause seemingly persistent fertility issues. In fact, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a systemic problem where a woman’s hormone levels may become imbalanced due to inappropriate interactions between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and ovaries, is one of the most common causes for infertility.
How We Treat Hormone-Related Infertility
To treat infertility, acupuncture, sometimes combined with a therapeutic regimen of Chinese medicinal remedies, aims to adjust and regulate the body’s hormone levels, stimulating circulation to the womb, and reducing stress levels. Since the appropriate hormonal production processes must happen at the exact right times during the menstrual cycle for ovulation and implantation to be successful, a systemic regulation of possible imbalances between the endocrine glands involved in the process is necessary. Compared to conventional Western medicine approaches in administering hormones to regulate this process, because it is difficult to adjust dosage levels to individual needs to correct imbalances, some women will find Western treatments to be ineffective. Acupuncture, however, maintains a balance of these hormones that are specifically tailored to the individual by stimulating correct hormone production and suppressing excessive hormone levels all at the same time. In addition, reducing stress levels can also help to get hormone production back on track. Stimulating blood circulation to the womb also helps to maintain the health of the uterine lining, creating more favorable conditions for fertilized eggs to achieve implantation and for the pregnancy to be successful.
Research Literature on Acupuncture for Infertility
- Dieterle, S., et al. Effect of acupuncture on the outcome of in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Fertility and Sterility. May 2006.: Clinical pregnancy rate and ongoing pregnancy rate (33.6% and 28.4%) were significantly higher in acupuncture-treated group compared to control group (15.6% and 13.8%).
- Cochrane S., et al. Role of Acupuncture in Women’s Reproductive Health. International Journal of Women’s Health, 2014-03-17.: “There is preliminary data indicating acupuncture may improve menstrual health and coping for women experiencing delays falling pregnant… data shows that acupuncture can influence female reproductive functioning.”