Infertility is recognized as a disease by the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
It causes abnormal functioning of the female or male reproductive system, and is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse (six months if the woman is over age 35) or carry a pregnancy to live birth.
A report from the federal government earlier this year found that American birthrate has reached a record low. While a variety of social factors have contributed to the decline, infertility may have played a large role as well.
So, what causes infertility? Approximately one third of infertility is attributed to the female partner and one third to the male partner, with the final third resulting from a combination of problems in both partners. This brings us into a gray area, where “unexplained” problems affect fertility.
There is evidence to suggest that stress could be a major culprit. Researchers at Ohio State University recently found that by over-stimulating adrenal gland production and altering the central nervous system’s regulation of bodily functions, stress and the hormones it produces may double a woman’s risk for infertility.
This is where acupuncture can be immensely helpful, and can even make the difference between success and failure for fertility treatments. Acupuncture is generally known for treating pain, but can it work on stress the same way? Yes, partly, by stimulating the body’s release of naturally occurring pain-killing endorphins, which elevate mood. But there’s far more to it than that.
There are two ways that acupuncture can reduce stress in the body to boost fertility:
1. The body’s fight-or-flight response is interrupted with acupuncture treatment.
Stress causes immediate hormonal changes in the body, known as the fight-or-flight response, and chronic stress can alter the body’s hormonal patterns. Stress hormones like cortisol are released by the adrenal cortex, causing anxiety, depression, and over time, long-term effects on the body. Acupuncture has an ability to decrease the production of these harmful chemicals, and the immediate benefits that patients experience, restoring hormonal balance within the body.
In fertility, the body’s hormonal system has powerful effects, so maintaining this balance is crucial.
2. Acupuncture hits the reset button on the central nervous system.
When stress interferes with the central nervous system’s regulation of the body, normal functions such as digestion, circulation and fertility can suffer. Under constant stress, the networks and chemical switches used by the CNS to control the flow of hormones and other signals become dysfunctional.
Acupuncture can fundamentally recalibrate these pathways, thereby reducing the effects of stress and allowing the body to regain balance.
The beauty of acupuncture is that it can greatly support the fertility treatments of modern western medicine. Both approaches recognize that the body is a complex combination of systems, and that when one system is diseased or dysfunctional, others invariably become affected as well.
When a patient’s physiological systems are impaired by stress, for example, standard fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be fighting an uphill battle. By addressing this underlying problem, acupuncture can help restore healthy functioning, giving fertility treatments a better chance of success.
Of course, everyone is different. A good practitioner will diagnose your particular set of patterns according to traditional Asian medical theory, and choose a set of acupuncture points that will best suit your individual needs. Most acupuncturists are also well versed in western medicine, so they can work collaboratively with your MD to maximize your odds of having a beautiful bundle of joy!