If you are new to acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), you have come to the right place. Although you might have heard good things about these alternative therapies, you still have questions about what to expect, and you might even be a little skeptical. With extensive and successful experience in using TCM therapies to treat infertility, Dr. Zhou understands a great deal about her patients' desires, aspirations, and frustrations. At a meeting of the Dallas Fertility Nurses Society at Medical Center of Plano, Dr. Zhou was honored to be the first oriental medical doctor and acupuncturist invited by the group to give a keynote address on "Acupuncture and Infertility." She answers many of the questions and concerns below. Learn more about Dr. Zhou's approach and the benefits you'll receive. This information will help ease any concerns you might have and guide you down the path to improved health and fertility.
Dr. Zhou's goal is to get your body into the best possible shape to overcome infertility and conceive naturally. During the initial phase of her treatment, the preconception phase, her total focus is on optimizing your overall health and well-being by addressing underlying constitutional weaknesses, bringing your body into balance, and nourishing what TCM refers to as "the deeper vitality". To this end, Dr. Zhou prescribes a regimen of acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Acupuncture stimulates the flow of intrinsic energy in the body, enhances blood circulation to the pelvic region, and benefits vital organ function. Chinese herbal formulas restore energy and nourish the deeper vital essence to help the body produce a healthy egg.
Dr. Zhou carefully determines the right combination of these complementary therapies to boost your natural systems and work with your particular fertility makeup. In addition, she will advise you on optimal diet, proper exercise, and other healthy lifestyle practices. The overall treatment will promote the flow of specific meridians and remove existing inner psychological frustration to restore you to reproductive health. This integrated approach can not only help you to conceive, but also to deliver a healthy, full-term baby.
Acupuncture works by stimulating various points in the body, which are pathways through which "Chi" flows. Acupuncture affects the body in three specific ways, it:
Hormonal balance is essential for proper ovarian function and a healthy pregnancy. Studies have shown that acupuncture can normalize the secretion of some hormones known to regulate a woman's ovulation and fertility, such as gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH.), luteinizing hormone (LH), and estradiol. Acupuncture influences the production and circulation of hormones in the body, regulates the communication between the brain and ovaries, and balances hormonal changes at different phases in a woman's menstrual cycle. As a result, acupuncture can help regulate menstruation, improve ovarian function, and even restore an egg's ability to respond to hormonal cues.
Many women who have trouble getting pregnant have been told by their doctors that their eggs are unhealthy or unresponsive. Increasing blood flow to the ovaries promotes good egg quality by supplying vital nutrients, oxygen, and hormones to the ovaries. In turn, improving ovarian function and egg quality increases the likelihood of strong, healthy embryos.
Increased blood flow to the uterus is also considered valuable in assessing endometrial receptivity, which creates a thicker and healthier uterine lining and enhances embryo implantation and growth.
Stress disturbs proper blood flow to a woman's reproductive organs and interferes with hormonal balance. The overproduction of cortisol and adrenaline, two stress-related hormones, can inhibit the body's effective use of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, all crucial hormones in conception and implantation. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, women who had acupuncture experienced reduced levels of stress hormones compared to a control group of women who did not have acupuncture. Read about relaxed conception for more details.
Acupuncture is most effective for couples who have functional disorders, rather than structural reasons for infertility. The following groups may find some measure of relief and improved fertility from acupuncture and TCM:
Acupuncture cannot correct structural dysfunctions that cause female and male infertility, such as blocked fallopian tubes or blocked sperm ducts. However, in vitro fertilization (IVF) can bypass blocked tubes, so you can still choose acupuncture in conjunction with assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures.
The first visit includes a consultation and treatment. Dr. Zhou will sit down with you to create your own personalized fertility profile by
During this process, Dr. Zhou often discovers signs of imbalance that can influence both conception and pregnancy. Even though it has not yet surfaced as a symptom, an imbalance may lead to future illness. From all this, Dr. Zhou creates a composite personalized health assessment and optimal treatment plan.
Note: If you have never had an acupuncture experience and you think you have a complicated medical history, Dr. Zhou also offers a free phone consultation before your initial visit to help you determine whether acupuncture is right for you.
The initial phase of treatment, the preconception phase, typically takes three to six months or more depending on the nature of a patient’s particular complaint, age, toxicity (from environmental contaminants and/or medication), genetic influences, lifetime habits, and illnesses. You must dedicate the time and emotional focus and allow the treatment to bring your system back to its optimal function. Nature cannot be forcibly rushed into balance; having enough preparation time is essential for the body to adjust and for conception to succeed.
Dr. Zhou sees you as a partner in improving your overall health and relies on your feedback and commitment to adhering to her guidance in areas that are within your control. She will make specific recommendations regarding your lifestyle choices, particularly in the areas of nutrition, exercise, sleep, and relaxation, and she will also ask you to chart your menstrual cycle. For those who want more extensive background information to prepare for treatment, Dr. Zhou can recommend reliable resources to better understand TCM’s approach to improving overall health and fertility.
Dr. Zhou regularly teaches her patients how to chart their menstrual cycles in order to help them determine their own fertility profiles. By recording your temperature, monitoring the texture of cervical secretions, and identifying the timing of ovulation, you can begin to recognize your own patterns, predict your most fertile days, and have a better chance of conceiving. Dr. Zhou believes the method of charting basal body temperature and cervical fluid indications to not only be a natural, scientifically validated aid to conception, but also one that can promote excellent overall gynecological health.
You will benefit by having regular ovulation and menstruation, bright red blood flow without clots, and minimal or no menstrual cramping and breast tenderness. Your FSH levels may be normalized, and your uterine lining may increase in thickness. Since acupuncture enhances the circulation of blood and energy throughout the body, you will have more energy, warm hands and feet, better sleep patterns, and more consistent emotional balance. It is not uncommon for patients to feel more in control and experience a greater sense of peace. All patients should see improvements within two to three cycles. Within the preconception phase, most women will become fertile and open for conception.
Once conception occurs, the second phase of treatment increases the probability of a full-term pregnancy and decreases the possibility of miscarriage. Acupuncture is a safe and effective option to nurture and support early pregnancy by providing relief for many common discomforts without drugs and their harmful side effects. See acupuncture for early pregnancy for more details.
Acupuncture has become a valued and increasingly mainstream method of enhancing an IVF cycle. It can strengthen and balance a woman's general health through improving the function of the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for the control of muscles and glands. Regular treatments can help relax reproductive organs and promote the circulation of blood in the ovaries and uterus. As a result, acupuncture can promote better follicle production and make the lining of the uterus more receptive to an embryo.
Several studies have shown that acupuncture can significantly improve the outcome of IVF. German researchers found that women undergoing acupuncture treatment the day of their embryo transfer had increased success rates by almost 50 percent compared to a control group. Further validating this therapy, another study showed that acupuncture increased IVF success rates regardless of whether the procedure involved “IVF poor responders,” such as women with elevated FSH levels or a longer history of infertility or men with poor sperm morphology. And more recently, the prestigious British Medical Journal found that acupuncture increased the odds of a live birth by 91 percent for patients undergoing IVF. These results indicate the exciting possibilities of combining acupuncture with IVF and effectively integrating Chinese and Western medicine.
For optimal results, Dr. Zhou recommends that women with elevated FSH levels, poor egg quality, failed IVF cycles, PCOS, or severe endometriosis should plan acupuncture treatments for a minimum of three cycles prior to an IVF cycle. Her treatment will emphasize restoring reproductive organs, nourishing the ovaries for better quality eggs, and creating a nurturing environment for embryo implantation and development. It is important to realize that healthy eggs can better respond to external hormonal stimulation from IVF medications, thereby maximizing the effectiveness of the IVF treatment.
Even if you are within the recommended three-month time frame of your IVF cycle, you can still receive some benefits from acupuncture, such as improved circulation, reduced stress and mood swings, and minimized side effects from the IVF medications.
Acupuncture can calm the mind and relax the cervix and uterine muscles. For optimal results, acupuncture is recommended for the day of embryo transfer and can also be important for relieving anxiety while waiting for the results.
Once patients get pregnant, we encourage them to continue their treatments through the first trimester to help avoid miscarriage and relieve morning sickness as well as other discomforts. Read about acupuncture for early pregnancy for more details.
About half the time, cases of difficult conception are due to male infertility. Men who undergo acupuncture can improve both sperm quality and quantity. Acupuncture can help increase sperm count and motility and, to a lesser degree, morphology. In addition, Dr. Zhou can customize Chinese herbal formulas to address specific problems and improve sperm health. Because sperm production takes about 70 to 80 days, she recommends that men should plan on acupuncture and herbal treatments for at least three months. Often, couples conceive naturally after following Dr. Zhou’s recommended course of treatments.
If you plan to have an IVF/Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) procedure, you should not ignore the realities of sperm quality and quantity. IVF with ICSI can bypass some male factor issues, but they are unable to correct the problems. In order to optimize your potential and your future baby’s health, you must do everything you can to ensure your sperm is as healthy as possible before you attempt medical reproductive assistance.
Having many years of experience in the treatment of fertility health issues, Dr. Zhou believes that women and men should always try the simplest, safest, and most natural approach first and, if possible, avoid complicated and often stressful, expensive, and intrusive medical procedures. Her goal is to offer new hope through natural, holistic fertility treatment and gynecological care, bringing experience and compassion to your quest to conceive and helping your dream to become a reality.