The Ancient Art of Infertility Treatment
When it comes to getting pregnant, old world techniques may be just what today's high-tech doctors will order.
If headlines are any indication of what's hot and what's not,
it's easy to believe that infertility treatment is strictly a modern day
science, made possible solely through the courtesy of high-tech medicine.
But as good as modern science is, many couples trying to get
pregnant find themselves turning to an age-old treatment for help -- one so
steeped in tradition it's about as far from life in the 21st century
as one can get.
That treatment is acupuncture, and today, even high-tech
reproductive specialists are looking to the somewhat mysterious world of
Chinese medicine to help those fertility patients for whom western science
alone is not quite enough.
"Most of our patients are referred to us by reproductive
medicine specialists -- they are usually women who have failed one or usually
more than one attempt at IVF (in vitro fertilization), and their doctor is
looking for something to help implement the success of their treatment, over
and above what the protocols alone can accomplish," says Raymond Chang, MD,
the medical director of Meridian Medical and a classically trained
acupuncturist as well as western-trained medical doctor.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine treatment that
relies on the painless but strategic placement of tiny needles into a
"grid-like" pattern that spans the body, from head to toe. The needles
are used to stimulate certain key "energy points" believed to regulate
spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical balance. And, for many women, it's
often just what the doctor ordered.
"It can allow you to cross the line from infertile to
fertile by helping your body function more efficiently, which in turn allows
other, more modern reproductive treatments, like IVF, to also work more
efficiently," says James Dillard, MD, assistant clinical professor,
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and clinical adviser to
Columbia's Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Indeed, in a study of 160 women, published April 2002 in the
reproductive journal Fertility and Sterility, a group of German
researchers found that adding acupuncture to the traditional IVF treatment
protocols substantially increased pregnancy success.
In this study one group of 80 patients received two, 25-minute
acupuncture treatments -- one prior to having fertilized embryos transferred
into their uterus, and one directly afterwards. The second group of 80, who
also underwent embryo transfer, received no acupuncture treatments.
The result: While women in both groups got pregnant, the rate
was significantly higher in the acupuncture group -- 34 pregnancies, compared
with 21 in the women who received IVF alone.
But increasing the odds of IVF is not the only way acupuncture
can help. Chang says it can also work to stimulate egg production in women who
can't -- or don't want to -- use fertility medications to help them get
"When you compare the pregnancy rates for an egg producing
drug such as Clomid to acupuncture alone, the rates are equal -- a 50% chance
of pregnancy in three months for general patients -- to those not undergoing
IVF," says Chang.
Unfortunately, however, Chang says that because acupuncture
generally stimulates the growth and release of just one egg, it can't be
substituted for fertility drugs used in IVF, since they work to produce the
multiple eggs necessary to achieve success with this treatment