5 Ways to Use the Best of Chinese Medicine to Boost Your Fertility

This post was originally published on the Women's Health and Lifestyle site Mother.ly. For the full article, click here!

By Mary Sabo, L.Ac DACM

For a pregnancy to occur, there are many factors in a woman’s body that must be balanced and healthy.  Men must also have normal strong sperm, which can be affected by diet, lifestyle and overall health. When we are young, we are typically naturally more fertile and resilient, but as we age and are exposed to…you know, life (stress, environmental toxins, poor dietary and lifestyle choices, the progression of disease processes, the natural decline of cellular quality), it can become more challenging.  Couples struggling to conceive, however, have many options for improving their odds of conceiving and almost all couples become pregnant or have a child as long as they keep pursuing their options. 

Western medical techniques for fertility are typically focused on targeted intervention in the uterus and ovaries involving manipulating ovulation, surgical procedures (to remove polyps, cysts, endometriosis, or fibroids), and artificial reproductive technologies like intrauterine insemination and in vitro fertilization. The Eastern medical approach, however, focuses on helping the body self-correct and improves the function and health of the reproductive organs as well as the entire system. Both approaches have limitations, but studies have shown that when done together, they can work better than either alone. 

For 5 tips on boosting your fertility naturally, read the rest of the article HERE!

Finding the Best Fertility Doctor for You

By Mary Sabo, L.Ac. DACM

When it comes time to seek medical help for your fertility, finding the right specialist can make a huge difference in your experience. Fertility doctors are called Reproductive Endocrinologists (RE) and depending on where you live, there may be many or only a few from which to choose. In Manhattan, where I practice, there are hundreds of doctors in dozens of clinics in the region and it can be confusing to figure out where to go.  

When I am working with a patient who I suspect may need Western medical fertility support and who does not yet have an RE, I carefully consider their case, their needs, and their preferences for intervention. I see patients from most of the fertility clinics in the region and have over time learned the nuances in their approaches, success rates, bedside manners and areas of expertise. I use this knowledge to help guide my patients to an RE who might be the best fit for them.  

Those of you who don’t have a fertility-savvy acupuncturist in your neighborhood may need to do a bit more research. Lucky for you, a new website exists that is collecting information, reviews, and statistics on fertility clinics in cities around the US.  FertilityIQ is a wonderful tool that empowers couples to learn more about their options when it comes to choosing an RE and fertility clinic. It was created by a San Francisco couple who experienced their own frustrating fertility journey and dreamed of making it easier for others. The site includes a summary of each clinic’s reported statistics compared to the national average, as well as lots of other details such as the responsiveness of the nursing staff, how often patients see their doctor, and personalized (and verified) reviews. It’s a great place to start if you are searching for a fertility doctor. 

Here are some other things to consider when looking for an RE:

1.     Success rate. All fertility clinics are required to post statistics of their success rates. Most have them on their websites, but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has them all on this website.

2.     Do they accept your insurance? Let’s face it; fertility treatments can be expensive (some clinics charge upwards of $20,000 for one IVF cycle). If you have many choices in your area, narrow it down by who accepts your insurance and then research those options. 

3.     Get a referral. Talk to your OB GYN, your primary care physician, your acupuncturist or friends who may have gone through the fertility process. 

4.     Schedule a consultation (or a few). The consultation is where you will sit down and chat with your RE in order to make a fertility plan. He or She will take a history of your case and may want to do a pelvic ultrasound, some blood work and other tests in order to make a firm plan. Once these tests are done, the RE will have a better sense of the best course of action to help you achieve your goals.  If you are comfortable with this treatment plan, proceed! If not, discuss your concerns with the doctor. You can also take the information from the tests to another RE for review and ask their opinion on the best course of action. Some clinics will want to repeat tests, but it may be worth it to see your options. You should always proceed with a doctor you trust at a clinic where you feel very comfortable. 

Complementary and Alternative Therapies Assist in Easing Anxiety During Assisted Reproductive Technology Treatment.

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By Mary Sabo, L.Ac DACM and Joseph Lee, B.A.

Heighted stress and anxiety is a common hardship for couples finding it difficult to conceive. It can be a daunting process as they understand the reason for their infertility and navigate therapy options. As patients begin this process, it is important for them to find ways to cope as their physiological and psychological well-being directly influences the quality of their life and treatment outcomes during the patient journey. [i]

We recently presented a study at a national conference for The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (Washington D.C.) on patient perception when Acupuncture and other Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) techniques are utilized in tandem to Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) treatment[ii].  Conducted in collaboration with The Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York and the YinOva Center; the study included a 40-question survey that focused on patient demographics, medical history, lifestyle choices, CAM experience, and stress levels. Findings from the study demonstrate a reduction in patients’ stress levels and increased comfort when pursuing CAM therapies while engaged in IVF cycles.  Patients noted that there was a significant reduction in workplace strain and enhanced partner relationships.   

Patients noted they “highly valued” this integrative approach to treatment.  Of the 49 patients who responded, 71.47% felt it was "highly important" for their ART doctor and CAM practitioner to work together during their treatment.  It was "very important" to 81.3% of 48 answering participants for their doctor to accept the use of acupuncture during their treatments. Study participants reported feeling "empowered and reduced anxiety" with the addition of acupuncture and nearly all patients (98.1%) who answered recommend CAM treatments during ART cycles.  

Qualitative studies like this one show the value of combining conventional fertility treatments (ART) with more holistic therapies like acupuncture.  Patients can benefit by feeling empowered to seek extra support through their fertility journey to help manage stress and anxiety.  Doctors can use this information to understand how greatly their patients may benefit from an integrative approach, which might benefit their treatment outcomes.  

 

[i] Frederiksen Y, Farver-Vestergaard I, Skovgård NG, Ingerslev HJ, Zachariae R. Efficacy of psychosocial interventions for psychological and pregnancy outcomes in infertile women and men: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2015 Jan 28;5(1)

[ii] Kelly Zafman, MS, Mary Sabo, L.Ac., Emma Thake, BA, Joseph Lee, BA, Alan B. Copperman, MD, Tanmoy Mukherjee, MD.  Patients undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments seek integrative approach to infertility.  ACOG annual meeting: Washington DC, 2016 – Poster ID#27F

The Benefits of Combining Acupuncture with your IVF & IUI

Photo by ktsimage/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by ktsimage/iStock / Getty Images

By Mary Sabo, L.Ac DACM

There are many scientific studies demonstrating the benefits of combining acupuncture with Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Let’s look at the current research so you can understand how to optimize this integrative approach.

Going through ART cycles can be incredibly stressful and anxiety provoking.  Almost all women undergoing IVF report some level of anxiety. These cycles are costly, not always covered by insurance, and statistically results can range from 3.5% to 36.6% success per cycle depending on maternal age[i]. One study found that stress and anxiety levels were high whether patients were experiencing their first IVF or were on subsequent cycles. However, women in this study who reported lower stress and anxiety levels on the day prior to oocyte retrieval had higher pregnancy rates.[ii] Another study showed that techniques to reduce stress in couples struggling to conceive resulted in improvements to both pregnancy outcomes and quality of life.[iii]  Acupuncture has not only been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, but has also demonstrated positive impacts on reproductive health.[iv] 

Many fertility doctors are becoming aware of the benefits their patients experience with the addition of acupuncture to their ART cycles. Some clinics have even made acupuncturists available onsite. Receiving acupuncture treatments during an IVF (including during oocyte hyperstimulation phase, before retrieval, and before and after embryo transfer) has shown improved pregnancy rates in several different studies. However, a more recent study showed that working regularly with an acupuncturist who gives customized care, including prescribing appropriate herbs and supplements in the months leading up to and during an IVF, resulted in even higher live birth rates. [v] 

If you are struggling to conceive or have just started the process and are feeling anxious about it, you should consider adding acupuncture and Chinese medicine to your care. It can not only increase the odds of conceiving, but can also improve your quality of life by reducing stress and anxiety while you try to get pregnant.

 

TIMING TREATMENTS WITH YOUR ART CYCLES:

In most cases, weekly acupuncture sessions are recommended. If you start using ART, you can speak with Mary about the ideal schedule to support you during your cycle. During an IVF the following schedule is typically most helpful:

  • weekly acupuncture leading up to the start of your medications
  • twice a week during the ovarian stimulation phase, timing one before the retrieval
  • before and after embryo transfer
  • a session one week after the transfer to support a potential pregnancy

During an IUI, weekly sessions are recommended with one timed around the day of the IUI. This schedule is a bit more flexible as the cycle is not as controlled.  

If you have any questions, please contact us!

 

[i] Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology statistic. (June 15, 2016) https://www.sartcorsonline.com/rptCSR_PublicMultYear.aspx?ClinicPKID=0

[ii] Kathy TurnerMargaret F. Reynolds-MayEmily M. ZitekRebecca L. TisdaleAllison B. Carlisle, and Lynn M. Westphal, Stress and Anxiety Scores in First and Repeat IVF Cycles: A Pilot Study PLoS One. 2013; 8(5): e63743.

[iii] Frederiksen Y, Farver-Vestergaard I, Skovgård NG, Ingerslev HJ, Zachariae R.  Efficacy of psychosocial interventions for psychological and pregnancy outcomes in infertile women and men: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2015 Jan 28;5(1)

[iv] Suzanne Cochrane, Caroline A Smith, Alphia Possamai-Inesedy, Alan Bensoussan. Acupuncture and women’s health: an overview of the role of acupuncture and its clinical management in women’s reproductive health. Int J Womens Health. 2014; 6: 313–325. Published online 2014 March 17

[v]Lee E. Hullender RubinMichael S. OpsahlKlaus WiemerScott D. Mist, and Aaron B. Caughey Impact of Whole Systems Traditional Chinese Medicine on In Vitro Fertilization Outcomes Reprod Biomed Online. 2015 Jun; 30(6): 602–612.