Is there any scientific research that substantiates the claims of Chinese medicine?
There have been numerous studies done in China examining the efficacy of different variations of treatment: acupuncture only; Chinese herbs only; combination of herbs and acupuncture; and the use of traditional Chinese medicine in combination with Western medicine techniques such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Historically, the infertility rate in China has been about 3%. Combining Chinese medicine with Western techniques has lowered the infertility rate even more. Unfortunately these Chinese studies are rarely translated into English, and English-language medical journals generally publish only the studies which have been done in the United States and Europe. In April, 2002, Fertility and Sterility, a publication of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, published a study which was widely covered in the media, and was presented by Dr. Nancy Snyderman on "Good Morning America." This study examined the use of acupuncture treatments in combination with IVF on a group of 160 women. The acupuncture group was given an acupuncture treatment before and after the embryo transfer was done, and the control group had the same procedure but no acupuncture. Ultrasound was performed six weeks after the embryo transfer, and clinical pregnancy was found in 26.3% of the control group, and in 42.5% of the acupuncture group. In the study cited above, only two acupuncture treatments were given. It is highly probable that if more acupuncture treatments had been given prior to IVF, there would have been an even higher success rate. At TCM Health Centers, we use a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas for many weeks. Most of our patients have already tried all the Western medicine approaches to infertility treatment including IVF, and have failed to get pregnant. Some were turned down for treatment by their doctors because their cases were "too difficult." In general, the majority of our patients have significant improvement in their conditions with treatment, especially for the most common causes of infertility such as endometriosis, irregular periods, poor-quality eggs, and low sperm motility. Even when a patient fails to conceive, there is generally an improvement in their overall health and well-being with treatment. It has been our clinical experience that the combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, plus dietary changes, can dramatically increase the chance of pregnancy.
What about diet? Do you include nutritional consultation in your treatment, and would I have to change the way I eat?
Scientific studies have shown that certain nutrients which we get from foods can significantly affect fertility. We always work closely with patients regarding their diet. We advise every patient on what kinds of grains, beans, meat, fish, nuts, oils, vegetables, fruits, and dairy will have the optimum effect on their ovulation, menstrual cycle, sperm count, etc. We also often recommend some nutrition supplements after we evaluate a patient's diet. A good diet will increase your success rate for conceiving.
I am undergoing IVF now; when should I start acupuncture?
It depends on your medical history, age, and current condition. If a woman is young and healthy, and conception is difficult because of the male factor, she can wait until shortly before the IVF process to begin receiving treatment. In that case, the male should receive longer-term treatment. If a woman has had numerous failures with artificial insemination or several failed IVF procedures, or she has a condition such as poor egg quality which inhibits conception, she needs to come in a few months ahead of the IVF procedure to start acupuncture treatments. One of the most crucial aspects of receiving acupuncture in relation to IVF treatments is to receive a pre- and post-IVF acupuncture treatment. In addition to receiving your regular acupuncture treatments and following your herbal protocol, insist on getting the pre- and post-IVF treatments, which need to be scheduled very close to the actual procedure. Many practitioners do not like to offer pre- and post-IVF acupuncture treatments because the timing for IVF procedures is highly variable and it is difficult to schedule around them. However, we do not recommend any patient to miss it.
I have seen a lot of scientific literature that shows acupuncture can help women who are undergoing IVF to conceive, but can it also help those who are trying to conceive naturally?
Absolutely. In our experience, acupuncture is just as effective for women who are trying to conceive naturally. The reason there is a relatively small amount of scientific literature about natural conception is because IVF clinical trials are easier to control and apply scientific techniques to.
Would I continue acupuncture treatments after I get pregnant?
Acupuncture can decrease the chances of miscarriage and reduce morning sickness. If you have a history of miscarriage, we normally recommend that you continue with your acupuncture treatments until the end of the first trimester.
I am 42 years old. Do I still have a chance of conceiving with acupuncture?
We all know the older we get, the more difficult it is for us to conceive. Today women get married or want to start a family much later than the last generation. In our practice, the majority of our infertility patients are over 38 years old, and many of them are over 40. Luckily, many of them have successfully conceived. We just received a photo of a cute baby boy whose mom received treatment at our clinic for a few months and got pregnant naturally (first pregnancy) at age 43.
Will my insurance pay for acupuncture treatment?
Some insurance companies or HMOs will cover acupuncture treatment. You should always check your health plan benefits for specific coverage details.
How many treatments would I need?
There are a lot of variables. We may see you a few times or many times. It totally depends on how complex your condition is. For example, if your infertility is due to ovulatory dysfunction or polycystic ovarian syndrome, we would recommend you to get regular treatments for several months. If you are younger and in good health, you may just need a few treatments to boost your chance of getting pregnant.
Would acupuncture help my stress, anxiety and depression?
Coping with infertility can be extremely stressful, especially for people who have failed many times with artificial insemination and IVF. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs help many people to reduce their stress, anxiety and depression, and take their difficult journey more easily. Studies indicate that 30% of infertility can be attributed to stress. Therefore, many couples are put in the situation of going through a stressful situation and being told they must keep their stress levels down. We often recommend that our patients practice tai chi, qi gong, yoga, or some form of meditation in addition to receiving acupuncture treatments. Tai chi and qi gong classes are offered regularly through TCM Health Centers.
Do you work with Western infertility specialists? Will my doctor understand if I tell him I am working with an acupuncturist?
Actually, we often have patients referred to us by Western infertility doctors and clinics. Infertility specialists are up-to-date on the research being done in their field, and they are aware of the studies cited above about the increased success rates for conception using acupuncture. At this point, many infertility clinics have acupuncturists on their staff. On the other hand, most Western infertility specialists are not so familiar with Chinese herbs. Although many scientific studies have been done in Asia proving the effectiveness of herbal formulas in infertility treatment, these types of studies have not been funded in this country. Therefore, most Western doctors will accept the evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture, but many are not so sure about Chinese herbs. In China, herbs are considered to be at least as effective in treating infertility as acupuncture, and both are used consistently. Most of our patients say their doctors are fine with them taking herbs, but if the doctor does not approve, we follow the wishes of the doctor.