Although acupuncture is fast becoming an accepted fertility protocol, not everyone agrees on how -- or why -- it works.
According to the traditional Chinese medicine explanation, acupuncture stimulates and moves Qi (pronounced "Chee") a form of life energy that ancient wisdom says must flow through the body unhampered from head to toe, 24/7. When it doesn't, illness or malfunctions such as infertility arise.
"Acupuncture works to restore the flow of Qi -- your essence, your body energy -- so with regards to infertility, treatment has a calming, restorative effect that increases a sense of well- being and ultimately helps the body to accept the creation of life," says acupuncturist Ifeoma Okoronkwo, MD, a professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine.
By placing the needles at key energy meridians linked to the reproductive organs, Okoronkwo says acupuncture increases, and more importantly, moves the flow of Qi from areas where it may be too abundant, to areas that are deficient, all in a direction that encourages fertility.
To get your fertility Qi up to snuff, most experts say you will need about two, 30 minute treatments a week, sometimes for several months, before the effects can be seen.
However, a slightly more Western way of looking at the effects points less to the mystical Qi and more towards the solid science of brain chemistry.
In studies published in the journal Fertility and Sterility in 2002, Chang, along with noted Cornell University reproductive endocrinologist Zev Rosenwaks, MD, found a clear link between treatment and the brain hormones involved in conception.
More specifically their research noted that acupuncture increases production of endorphins, the body's natural "feel good" brain chemical that also plays a role in regulating the menstrual cycle.
Chang says acupuncture also appears to have a neuroendocrine effect, impacting a three-way axis between the two areas of the brain involved with hormone production (the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands) and the ovaries, a constellation that ultimately impacts egg production and possibly ovulation.
In still another research paper published in the journal Medical Acupuncture in 2000, Sandra Emmons, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health Sciences University, reports that acupuncture may directly impact the number of egg follicles available for fertilization in women undergoing IVF.
"My guess is that acupuncture is changing the blood supply to the ovaries, possibly dilating the arteries and increasing blood flow, so that ultimately, the ovaries are receiving greater amounts of hormonal stimulation," says Emmons, who also uses acupuncture in her traditional medical practice.
Chang says acupuncture may also help when the lining of the uterus is too weak to sustain a pregnancy -- a problem that is also known to increase the risk of chronic miscarriage.
By increasing blood flow to this area, the lining may be better able to absorb the nutrients and hormones necessary to help it grow strong enough to hold onto an implanted embryo, says Chang.
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