By Jose Ruiz
Women struggling with infertility who find themselves of “advanced maternal age” often wonder whether acupuncture might be helpful to them. Acupuncture may be effective for women trying to conceive in a number of ways, especially in improving blood flow to the reproductive organs and correcting underlying imbalances that could be distracting the body from its reproductive activities. Here is an example of how Chinese medicine was able to help one particular patient.
An Example of Success: Reducing Elevated FSH Levels
In this case, a 39 year-old woman sought treatment after being diagnosed with primary ovarian insufficiency (also known as premature ovarian failure). She had an FSH level of 35 and was told by her reproductive endocrinologist that her only option for achieving pregnancy would be through donor egg.
The patient wondered if her elevated FSH levels could be reduced through Chinese medicine. In the Chinese medicine approach, the practitioner does not specifically treat FSH levels, but rather focuses on treating imbalances in the body. The body takes care of the rest, which generally can lead to an FSH reduction.
After an initial evaluation, three major issues were discovered:(1) She was only having 1 to 2 bowel movements per week and extreme bloating (to the point where she had no appetite). (2) She had severely painful periods. (3) She had tremendous anxiety. She was an accountant who was going through her ART testing during tax season—stress on top of stress.
The recommendation was that she do acupuncture and herbal treatments once a week for 3 months and then have her FSH levels rechecked. She was also advised to manage her anxiety through meditation CDs with guided imagery specific to infertility. After two weeks of treatment, the patient got her period and had almost no pain. Also within that time, her bowel movements increased to 1 to 2 times a day and her bloating resolved.
After 6 six weeks of treatment, the patient had done four home pregnancy tests—all of which were positive. She wondered, “How is this possible?”
Making the Impossible Possible by Correcting Imbalances
Advanced maternal age patients need to allow some time for their bodies to prepare before entering their next in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI) cycle. What is vital to understand is that, 90 to 100 days before ovulation occurs, follicles enter a major growth phase. This 3-month period is critically important because the environment that the egg is bathed in during this time will affect the quality of the egg at ovulation.
I recommend to my patients that they receive a minimum of 3 months of weekly acupuncture and herbal treatments and follow my comprehensive lifestyle recommendations. During this time, I focus on regulating imbalances that may be occurring elsewhere in the body, which is a different approach from western medicine. While underlying issues like anxiety or IBS might not be of primary concern to a reproductive endocrinologist, they are vitally important to me.
Simply put, imbalances—which might be digestive, menstrual, emotional or dietary—need to be corrected to maximize a person’s fertile potential.Of course, every patient responds differently, and no practitioner can guarantee results. What we do offer is an alternative and complementary approach to addressing infertility that might just be the sort of change of pace that advanced maternal age patients need for success.
About the Author
José Ruiz is an acupuncturist at Family Acupuncture & Herbs of Reading in Massachusetts. His work with Randine Lewis and a local area fertility clinic has given him a tremendous amount of experience in treating women’s health and fertility related issues. A professional member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, he is very experienced and comfortable treating patients undergoing IUI and IVF procedures and believes that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can significantly increase the success rates of these procedures.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 RESOLVE New England newsletter.