Infertility is the inability of a couple to get pregnant despite having regular unprotected sex. A couple is regarded as infertile if, after regular sexual intercourse, they have not conceived in two years. It is estimated that one in seven UK couples has difficulty conceiving (HFEA, 2006).
Identifiable causes of infertility include: ovulatory disorders in 27% of couples; tubal damage in 14% of couples; low sperm count or low sperm quality in 19% of couples. In 30% of couples the cause of infertility remains unexplained (NCCWCH, 2004). Female fertility declines with age, but the effect of age on male fertility is less clear (NICE, 2004). The difficulties couples encounter when facing fertility problems can lead to stress, which may further decrease chances of conception (Eugster & Vingerhoets, 1999). Acupuncture is a popular treatment choice for infertility (Smith 2010).
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be used to treat those who have been diagnosed with certain conditions or those who merely want some help to achieve natural conception.
Common factors that risk fertility:
- Emotional factors: depression and stress
- Environment/occupational factors: excessive and prolonged exposure high temperature, pesticide, toxic heavy metals, chemicals, radiation, heavy electromagnetic or microwave emissions, etc.
- Body mass index: being overweight and being underweight
- Medication: such as antidepressants, chemotherapeutic agents, ibuprofen (if taken chronically), etc.
How can acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine influence infertility?
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine affect the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian Axis, thus balancing hormones. Meanwhile, treatments help improve ovarian function, promote ovulation, increases blood flow to the uterus, thicken the endometrial lining, which also gives a better chance of embryo implantation.
For male, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have shown that they can affect hormone levels and testicular blood flow. Chinese herbal medicine, in particular, offers a significant improvement in sperm count, motility, morphology and liquefaction, it can also treat varicocele and anti-sperm antibody.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can treat infertility due to:
- Natural conception
- Support for IVF, ICSI or IUI
- Unexplained infertility
- Irregular periods
- Amenorrhea / Absent periods
- High FSH
- Low AMH
- Premature ovarian failure
- Luteal phase defect
- High prolactin / Hyperprolactinemia
- Uterine Fibroids
- Ovarian dysfunction
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Fallopian tube blockage
- Low sperm count
- Poor sperm motility
- Poor sperm morphology
- Liquefaction problem
- Low testosterone
- Anti-sperm antibodies
World Health Organisation (WHO 2010) guidelines for assessing male infertility
- Volume: 1.5 ml
- Concentration: 15 million/ml
- Progressive motility: 32%
- Morphology (normal forms): 4%
World Health Organisation (WHO 1999) guidelines for assessing male infertility
- Volume: 2 ml
- Concentration: 20 million/ml
- Progressive motility: 50%
- Morphology (normal forms): 14%
When should the treatment start?
It takes at least 3 months for immature eggs to mature enough to be released at ovulation, and it takes the same amount of time for sperm to be developed mature. Therefore, at least 3 months should be given to prepare for conception.