The Physiology of Acupuncture
Acupuncture has been used for various conditions in China for thousands of years. It involves inserting hair thin, sterile needles into specific points in the body; these points are referred to as acupuncture points. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), these points are located along channels or meridians. When these points are compared human anatomy, they fall along small nerve bundles and blood vessels lying among fascial tissue. These nerve bundles can be sensory nerves, motor nerves or both.
Systemically acupuncture activates the peripheral nerves, and the body releases endogenous opioids and oxytocin, signalling molecules which are essential in regulating the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and Hypothalamic Pituitary Gonadal Axis (HPG). Locally acupuncture stimulates the release of substance P, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), and calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP) all which play a role in vasodilation and blood flow. 1, 2
These physiological effects are fundamental in supporting reproductive health.
Acupuncture and Fertility
Acupuncture has gained increased popularity in Western countries for its convenience, lack of side effects and therapeutic effects. There have been numerous published reports and clinical trials based around the efficacy of acupuncture on fertility rates in men and women. Recent research has indicated that the benefits of acupuncture can vary depending on the duration of treatment: short term or long term.2, 3
In short term treatment, the benefits of acupuncture include: improved blood circulation to the uterus and ovaries, lowered stress levels and relaxation, and amelioration of side effects if one is undergoing an IVF cycle (For example: abdominal bloating and discomfort, fluid retention, headaches and mood swings can occur while taking IVF medications). 3
However in long term treatment, patients notice benefits overall when receiving acupuncture during preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum phases. When acupuncture is received with the right treatment frequency and duration, it can help the body regulate the hormones and ovulation through modulating the sympathetic nervous system, endocrine system, and neuroendocrine system. These treatments can also be beneficial for pre-existing conditions (endometriosis, PCOS, adhesions, ovarian cysts, or fibroids) and work synergistically with biomedical prescriptions.3
Whether short term or long term treatment, one of the most significant benefits of acupuncture is its influence on the central nervous system. For instance, acupuncture has been shown to decrease urinary adrenaline, noradrenaline and serum cortisol levels in the body. Overall, acupuncture decreases the concentration of stress hormones in the body and induces a subjective feeling of greater relaxation and stress reduction. 4, 5 These benefits help increase clinical pregnancy rates and live birth rates.
Acupuncture can be done during the following phases to support reproductive health:
- Preconception Care for Men and Women
- General Health for Men and Women
- Cycle Monitoring
- IVF cycle
- IUI cycle
- IVF with ICSI
- Oocyte Retrieval
Given that fertility can be a complex issue, and infertility is often associated with other significant gynecological concerns/conditions, it is important to start acupuncture with enough time to obtain short term and long term benefits. Acupuncture dosing (treatment frequency and duration) depends on the nature and duration of any pre-existing conditions as well. For instance, acute conditions in younger patients can respond to smaller dosages of acupuncture, whereas chronic conditions will need a larger treatment dosage.
At Insight Naturopathic Clinic, the acupuncture system Dr. Lee implements is based on an individualistic approach which incorporates the two medical systems of traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and modern western medicine. She combines the principles and philosophies of TCM with updated clinical techniques and research to obtain the greatest treatment effect. For more information, questions about acupuncture, or when to start your treatments please contact us at 416-322-9980.
- Bowsher, David. Mechanisms of Acupuncture, In Medical Acupuncture: A Western Scientific Approach. Eds. Jacqueline Filshie and Adrian White, Churchill Livingstone London, 1998, Chapter 6, pp.69-82.
- Stener-Victorin, E., Wikland, M., Waldenstrom, U., Lundeberg, T. Alternative treatments in reproductive medicine: much ado about nothing. Human Reproduction 2002; 17(8): 1942-1946.
- Anderson, B., Rosenthal, L. Acupuncture and in vitro fertilization: critique of the evidence and application to clinical practice. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 2013; 19: 1-5.
- Magarelli, PC., Cridennda, DK., Cohen, M. Changes in serum cortisol and prolactin associated with acupuncture during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilizaiton-embryo transfer treatment. Fertility and Sterility 2009; 92: 1870-1879.
- Smeenk, J., Verhaak, C., Vngerhoets, A., Sweep, C., Merkus, J., Willemsen, S., et al. Stress and outcome success in IVF: the role of self reports and endocrine variables. Human Reproduction 2005; 76: 675-687.