Guest blogger: acupuncture and fertility

Go Ovaries Go!!! How acupuncture may help.

by Alyssa Wittenberg, MD
Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 9.51.54 AM

Image by iheartguts.com (pick the organ of your choice!)

Ok, so many of us spend a good portion of our 20s trying to avoid pregnancy.  And then one magical day…it’s game on!  For the fortunate majority of couples, conception occurs in the first several cycles (or months of trying) with about 85% of couples conceiving within in the first year.  But what about the other 15%?

One reason couples have difficulty getting pregnant is due to anovulation.  This means your ovaries don’t release an egg every month.  Unfortunately if you don’t release in egg, it doesn’t matter how often you have sex…you won’t be baby making…at least for that cycle.

Most women who are anovulatory have irregular periods but may also have long cycles (greater than 35 days between periods) or short cycles (less than 25 days between periods).  They may also have very heavy periods which last longer than 7 days.  The good news is, just because someone is anovulatory, doesn’t mean they never ovulate, it just doesn’t happen every month.  This decreases your fertility but doesn’t make you completely “infertile”.

So what can we do about this?  
Anovulation can be due to many factors including stress, weight gain or loss, or a condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (which Dr. Twogood has blogged about previously).

Stress relief – if you’ve just experienced a death in the family, changed jobs, moved, or are in the middle of any other life event that is stressing you out, don’t be surprised if your ovaries don’t want to behave themselves.  Once you’re feeling more stress free, get back on the baby making train and you may find you are more successful   Acupuncture can certainly help with stress relief and makes you feel like you’re doing something good for yourself.

Weight management – women who are overweight are more likely to be anovulatory.  Research shows that weight loss of 10% can dramatically improve ovulation rates.  I know it can be incredibly hard to motivate yourself to lose weight but wanting a baby is one of the biggest motivators out there.  So if this is you, get that booty to the gym!  Or better yet, go with your partner to the gym and then have hot sweaty sex afterward.
This is another way acupuncture can potentially help (not in the sweaty sex department).  Recent research from China showed that obese women who had 6 weeks of acupuncture treatments along with a low calorie diet lost more weight and had more improvement in their cholesterol compared to women who had a low calorie diet alone.
On the flip side, women who are extreme exercisers (I’m talking to you crazy marathoners out there) can have problems with ovulation as well.  If this is you, consider cooling it on the workouts a little and see if your periods become more regular.

PCOS – this is probably one of the most frustrating diagnoses when it comes to trying to conceive.  The good news is there are many women with PCOS who become pregnant with minimal to no intervention.  If you are overweight and have been diagnosed with PCOS, losing weight can often still make a big difference.
Once again, good old acupuncture has shown to be helpful for PCOS too.  Acupuncture improves ovulation and lowers testosterone levels (one of the hormones often elevated in PCOS).

And lastly, if you’ve been trying to conceive for 6 months and have irregular or heavy and long periods, make an appointment with your doctor so you can be evaluated.  Afterall…you gotta take care of those lady parts!

Next time…how can acupuncture help with chronic pelvic pain?

Sources:
UpToDate – improving ovulation, evaluation of the menstrual cycle, optimizing fertility
Scientific World Journal. “The effects of body acupuncture on obesity: anthropometric parameters, lipid profile, and inflammatory and immunologic markers.”
American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism. “Acupuncture for ovulation induction in polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial.”

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