Why the increase in alternative therapies for infertility?
Carolyn Huffman, a Tampa-based acupuncturist who specializes in infertility, has been practicing acupuncture for more than15 years. Over the past five years, Huffman finds that acupuncture fertility treatment has become a more accepted method with about 80 percent of her practice devoted to it now.

“Most of my patients come to me after trying everything else, or they want to try acupuncture in conjunction with assisted reproductive technology (ART),” Huffman says.

She believes that the increase in infertility is because women are more career-oriented, and they wait to start their family. As women grow older, their ability to conceive decreases. Even the stress of daily living today may contribute to the rise in infertility, according to Huffman.

How does acupuncture fertility treatment work?
Hoffman explains to Attain Fertility that “this ancient Chinese medical practice works by using hair-fine needles that are placed along meridians in the body that correspond to the body’s organs”.

“These points stimulate vital energy flow or “qi” (pronounced “chee”),” Hoffman says. “The needle itself acts like a lightning bolt that taps into the body’s bioelectrical energy. This sends a message from the acupuncture point to the brain via the meridian pathway.”

In response to the message, the brain releases chemicals such as calming neurotransmitters and pain-relieving endorphins, the body’s natural opioid, to the area of pain or blockage.  The acupuncture needle also works locally to open up blood flow and reduce inflammation.

How does acupuncture boost fertility?
It is thought that the increased blood flow helps boost fertility by stimulating the ovaries to produce healthy eggs as well as enriching the endometrial lining in the uterus. The rich endometrial lining helps to ensure the eggs will be held to term.

Acupuncture also helps to relax the uterus and stop contractions, so blood flow increases and an embryo successfully implants. Huffman explains that acupuncture fertility treatment helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and  opens the pathways to the brain that play a key role in “emitting the proper hormones at the right time”.

Furthermore, as Huffman has experienced in her practice, couples experiencing infertility are under immense stress. Acupuncture helps to reduce stress and promote relaxation. In fact, she says that most people become so relaxed while receiving treatment that they go into an “alpha dreamlike sleep” as the body’s endorphins are released. This relaxation response may continue for up to a week.

What should I expect during an acupuncture fertility treatment?
For your first acupuncture treatment, you will be asked in-depth questions about your health, diet, and emotional state. The practitioner will ask for a description of your menstrual cycles, even the state of the blood during your period. Next, your pulse will be taken, and you will have a thorough tongue inspection.

Acupuncturists believe that the tongue can tell a lot about someone’s health and that each part of the tongue represents a different part of the body. The practitioner will examine the tongue’s color, coating, texture and creases.

Based on this information, the acupuncturist will establish a “pattern” and use “pattern discrimination” to determine where an imbalance exists in the body.

The actual puncture site depends on your particular pattern. Common acupuncture points on the body include the ear, head, feet, hands, legs and the abdomen. While any organ can be affected, most infertility problems stem from an underlying kidney weakness, Huffman explains.

In her acupuncture practice, Huffman recommends weekly treatments, typically lasting about 30 minutes, and twice a week if over age 40. She also recommends that all women get checked out by a reproductive endocrinologist before coming to see her.

Acupuncture cure or placebo?
Some critics believe the effectiveness of acupuncture is more of a placebo effect than anything else. If the brain believes something is going to work, then it will. However, many experts agree that there is no harm in acupuncture as long as a trained professional performs it.

If acupuncture fertility treatment is something you wish to consider, find a trained, licensed acupuncturist with experience in fertility.