Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), or complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), has been used therapeutically in China for thousands of years and is growing in prominence in Europe and the United States. Chinese medicine works by reestablishing balances within the body, the balances between yin and yang, between Qi and blood, and so on. The main professional methods are Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. Recent studies indicate that more and more couples in the U.S. are seeking Chinese medicine for fertility care.
Infertility, inability to conceive or carry a child to delivery, is usually limited to situations where the couple has had intercourse regularly for one year without using birth control. About one in every eight couples is infertile. Most cases involve the female partner, 30-40% involve the male, and 10% are caused by unknown factors. In women, the most common problems are failure to ovulate and blockage of the fallopian tubes. In men, low amount and activity of sperm is the most common problem.
Acupuncture has been used to treat infertility extensively, including ovulatory dysfunction, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer (IVF-ET), and male infertility. One recent review in the Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine concluded that most of the existing studies suggest a positive effect of acupuncture in infertility treatment. Firstly, acupuncture may improve ovulation by modulating the central and peripheral nervous systems, the neuroendocrine and endocrine systems, the ovarian blood flow, and metabolism. Secondly, acupuncture can improve the outcome of IVF-ET, and the mechanisms may be related to the increased uterine blood flow, inhibited uterine motility, and the anesis of depression, anxiety and stress. Its effect on modulating immune function also suggests helpfulness in improving the outcome of IVF-ET. Finally, the studies suggest that acupuncture plays a positive role in male infertility, the mechanism of which is not yet clear.
Recent studies demonstrated that traditional Chinese medicine could regulate the gonadotropin-releasing hormone to induce ovulation and improve the uterus blood flow and menstrual changes of endometrium. In addition, the recent research also suggests that it has impact on patients with infertility resulting from polycystic ovarian syndrome, anxiety, stress and immunological disorders.
However, according to the Journal of the British Medical Acupuncture Society it seems that acupuncture has a positive effect and no adverse effects on pregnancy outcome. It is vital to select a well-trained professional acupuncturist for ideal outcome.