Health Notes: Acupuncture can help fertility

Naturopathic physician Dr. Tina Garrison offers advice to couples who are thinking of having a baby

I am not the best gardener in the world. We have a small vegetable patch in our back yard and it provides enough fruit and vegetables so my two boys can wander into the garden and grab a ripe strawberry or a crunchy snap pea. I likely will never have a prize pumpkin at the fall fair or too many tomatoes. The reason or excuse I have is that I start to think about my garden in June, unlike those master gardeners who are preparing the soil soon after they harvest the previous year. By planning and preparing, those gardeners vastly improve their chances of having a fantastic harvest. The same goes for a woman and couples that are trying to have a baby.

Please do not consult your farmer’s almanac for fertility advice but here are a few things to keep in mind if you are planning on getting pregnant! Preferably you want to give yourself three to four months to prepare to conceive. This goes for men, too; keep in mind, it takes 100 days for a woman’s egg to mature and 116 days for a man’s sperm to mature and the health choices you make during this time can impact conception and pregnancy. If you are a woman over that age of 35 you likely will be bombarded by statistics, many of which clearly indicate the positive impact of preconception health care on avoiding certain age related, sub fertility and miscarriage risks.

A healthy and well-balanced diet coupled with exercise is the simplest and most effective health decision you can make at this time. Consider making a conscious decision to go organic‚ especially for meat and dairy products or making yourself aware of the “dirty dozen” list of produce that likely contain residual pesticides. Commonly, women will start taking a high quality prenatal vitamin as well as supplementing their folic acid. The use of folic acid supplementation is widely documented but it is also important to get enough of certain B vitamins, especially if you have just been on birth control pills. Equally important is ensuring your body has time to balance your hormones to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

If a couple feels they need additional support, studies have shown that acupuncture for the woman and man can have positive effects on the egg implanting in the uterus as well as the quality of sperm, respectively of course! Acupuncture stimulates the body’s hormonal system to secrete the right hormones at the correct time.

When used alone, though, acupuncture is probably most effective for those couples who are experiencing a functional problem, like irregular ovulation, rather than a structural problem, like a blockage in the sperm ducts. Some practitioners will also recommend Chinese herbs for infertility that will supplement the acupuncture and any other treatment you may be receiving. If you take herbs while receiving other medical treatments, be sure to tell your doctor. Some herbs can interfere with the function of fertility drugs and procedures.

Why acupuncture works for infertility problems is still debatable. However, it is thought that acupuncture stimulates blood flow to the reproductive organs and stabilizes hormone levels. This in turn will increase ovarian function in women as well as sperm production in men.

Used as a complementary form of therapy for women undergoing other fertility treatments, acupuncture has been proven to be especially beneficial. Some believe that acupuncture works by helping women stay more relaxed through stressful fertility treatments. In particular, studies have shown that acupuncture definitely increases the rate of pregnancy in women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF).

A German study done in 2002 showed that of the 80 women who underwent IVF and received acupuncture, 34 women got pregnant, a success rate of 42.5 per cent. Of the 80 women involved in the study who received IVF without any acupuncture treatments, only 21 women (26.3 per cent) became pregnant. More recently, an American study involving 114 women showed that 51 per cent of the women who had acupuncture and IVF treatments became pregnant versus only 36 per cent of the women who had IVF alone. Deeper analysis of this study revealed that, while eight per cent of the women in the acupuncture group miscarried, the rate of miscarriage in the IVF-only group was 20 per cent. Furthermore, women who received acupuncture also had lower rates of ectopic pregnancies.

Thinking of having a baby and trying to conceive can be a very exciting time as you are planning to grow your family and can’t help but think about it all the time. However when it doesn’t happen as quickly as you had hoped it can become very stressful. Creating a preconception health plan can help you get on the right track towards growing your family.

Dr. Tina Garrison is a naturopathic physician at Okanagan Natural Medicine in Vernon. Her passion, in her practice, is treating all aspects of fertility. She has had considerable success helping women get and stay pregnant, assisting and supporting the birth process and assisting new parents as their children grow.