More women are turning to alternative treatment to improve fertility

Inserting tiny needles into the skin may not seem like an obvious solution to infertility, but according to experts, more women are turning to acupuncture as a pathway to pregnancy.

“Acupuncture is becoming more and more popular. There are many
practitioners in the Orange County area, many of whom have special treatment regimens that focus on fertility, which appeals to many of our patients,” said Dr. Nidhee Sachdev, a physician at OC Fertility in Newport Beach.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of hair-thin needles into the skin to stimulate specifc parts of the body. Numerous studies have shown that acupuncture can provide relief for pain in the neck, back and knees as well as decrease the frequency of headaches and migraines, according to the National Center for Complementary
and Integrative Health.

In the United States, about 10 percent of women ages 15 to 44 have trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I have defnitely seen an increase in women turning to acupuncture
to improve their fertility,” said acupuncturist Lauren Messelbeck, owner of Life Point Acupuncture in Newport Beach. “I would say that this is due to the combination of women having children later in life, the high cost and invasive nature of Western medical treatments and the increase in accessibility to acupuncture.”

During the frst acupuncture appointment, Messelbeck takes the patient’s pulse and examines the color, shape and coating of her tongue to identify health issues.

“There are 12 primary channels that are mapped out on the skin that connects to the internal organ it is named for… i.e. the stomach channel,” Messelbeck said. “Acupuncture improves a patient’s fertility by lowering stress on the patient’s body, increasing circulation to the uterus, regulating the patient’s menstrual cycle and decreasing overall infammation in the body.”

In addition to encouraging a plant-based diet and identifying underlying medical conditions, Sachdev counsels patients about other options.

“I discuss the benefts of acupuncture,” she said. “However, given the lack of clarity in the data in regards to its effects on improving pregnancy outcomes, I advise patients to pursue acupuncture if they find the treatment enjoyable or relaxing. If the treatment itself causes pain, anxiety or stress (mentally or fnancially), then I feel the benefts may not outweigh the cons in the situation.”

Despite its popularity, acupuncture as a means to improve fertility lacks complete support from the scientifc community. A 2018 Western Sydney University study found that acupuncture was ineffective for IVF birth rates. Researchers compared the outcomes of more than 800 Australian and New Zealand women. Half of the women in the study received acupuncture while the others received
a fake version of acupuncture. The findings did not point to an increase in pregnancy due to acupuncture. However, the lead researchers noted the effectiveness of the “placebo” effect of acupuncture and encouraged further research.

“The consensus amongst the data evaluating acupuncture and fertility has not shown a clear benefit in improving clinical pregnancy rates, however, it has not been shown to cause any adverse effects on fertility,” Sachdev said.

Acupuncture as a means to regulate the stress and anxiety of trying to get pregnant does have promising research behind it. A meta-analysis by George Washington University Hospital found high-level evidence to support the use of acupuncture for treating major depressive disorder during pregnancy.

“Fertility treatment is mentally, emotionally, physically and financially taxing,” Sachdev said. “It’s a long process filled with anxiety, and often patients feel a lack of control during the treatment process. Many patients want to do anything and everything to help their chances of success, leading them toward non-Western medicine treatment options.”