Acupuncture, a form of alternative medicine is the stimulation of specific acupuncture points along the skin of the body using thin needles. It is commonly used for pain relief, though it is also used to treat a wide range of conditions. Acupuncture is rarely used alone but rather as an adjunct to other treatment modalities. In Western settings acupuncture is used as a primary intervention for fertility problems. Acupuncture is increasingly used as an adjunct to assisted reproductive technologies and more widely in the complementary health care system.

The Western medical acupuncture approach involves using acupuncture after a medical diagnosis. In traditional acupuncture, the acupuncturist decides which points to treat by observing and questioning the patient to make a diagnosis according to the tradition used. 

This method has always been applied to reproductive treatment in China. Western medicine may exert influence on neuroendocrine system, immunological functions and even signal pathway in consideration when discussing the efficacy of acupuncture and these still continue to be studied. The Chinese medicine evaluates the effect of acupuncture from an overall perspective. In Chinese medicine, reproductive function relates not only to reproductive organs, but also to the kidney, the liver, and the heart. 

Acupuncture can be used as an adjuvant treatment for unexplained infertility. Although acupuncture did not increase the cumulative pregnancy rate, it decreased the number of control ovarian hyperstimulation (COH) cycles and more patients got pregnant in natural cycles after receiving acupuncture  (Tab. 1).

Acupuncture treatment procedures should happen once or twice a week, and will continue for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Remember the process may take more time than just twice a week if you are combining it with medical infertility treatments, like IVF. In general, the acupuncture treatment can be completed in 12 appointments. At each appointment, your acupuncturist will most likely take additional time to discuss your current condition and answer any questions that you may have.

While acupuncture can be used to treat any type of fertility disorder, it treats functional problems best. These include treated spasmed tubes, repeated pregnancy loss and unexplained infertility. Acupuncture is often combined with herbs to treat the medical conditions including elevated follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteal phase defect, hyperprolactinemia, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) with annovulatory cycles.

The actual research suggests that acupuncture may have a beneficial effect in female infertility only as an adjuvant therapy. However, there are conflicting results on the success of the clinical pregnancy rates (CP). In several studies, acupunctuure significantly increased CP rates, either using electro-acupuncture (EAc) during oocyte retrieval and using conventional analgesia as controls (46-59% vs 28-34%), or during embryo transfer (ET) (39-43% vs 24-26%). On the contrary, other studies revealed non-significant increased CP rates either with EAc (31.1% vs 34.4%), or during ET, using as controls non-acupuncture, sham-acupuncture (Acupuncture in different acupoints) or in the same acupoints with a non-penetrating needle (Acupuncture-placebo) (31-45% vs 23-53%). At present, under evidence-based -medicine it is not possible to recommend to routinely incorporate acupuncture in the guidelines of IVF conventional treatments. Evidently, more studies are needed to clarify the clinical efficacy of acupuncture and its biological mechanism in female infertility.

If you decide to try acupuncture, be aware that it is not without risks. There have been reports of lung and bladder punctures, broken needles, needles left in after treatment, and allergic reactions to needles containing substances other than surgical steel. There is always the possibility of infection from unsterilized needles. The best guarantee of safety is to seek treatment from a properly trained and qualified practitioner who is licensed or certified. Always check their credentials.

If you are looking into infertility acupuncture, it is important to make sure that your acupuncturist specializes in treating infertility disorder. Your acupuncturist should also have appropriate training and certifications, which are mandated by the state or province. Having a certified professional reduces any risks that might come with fertility acupuncture. The one serious risk is that a miscarriage may occur if the acupuncturist hits the wrong point on a pregnant woman.

As acupuncture is still somewhat controversial in the medical profession, research has been done to prove its validity. Researchers from across the world, from the Center for Integrative Medicine to Germany have performed tests and studies. The German research study compared two groups of 80 women attempting to get pregnant – the first used acupuncture and the second acted as a control group. 34 women from the acupuncture group got pregnant, while only 21 from the control group got pregnant. Another study found that if the acupuncture takes place on the same day as embryo transfer, the statistical rates improved.

No significant difference of clinical pregnancy rate was found between the acupuncture group and the control group, however, numbers of control ovarian hyperstimulation cycles were significantly less and more pregnancies occurred in natural cycle in the acupuncture group. It can be concluded that acupuncture can be used as an adjuvant treatment for unexplained infertility. Although acupuncture did not increase the cumulative pregnancy rate, it decreased the number of control ovarian hyperstimulation cycles and more patients got pregnant in natural cycles after receiving acupuncture.

Inconsistent evidence suggests efficacy of acupuncture for the management of hot flashes, infertility, and PMS. But further research is needed.

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