What Does the Research Say About…
Clinical data has shown that acupuncture can improve fertility in the following ways (1):
- Acupuncture appears to increase uterine and ovarian blood flow, potentially improving the endometrial environment
- Acupuncture treatment pre/post IVF embryo transfer increases pregnancy success rates
- Acupuncture has been shown to improve the endocrine and metabolic disturbances in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
While the exact mechanism is not completely understood, it is hypothesized that acupuncture improves fertility through the following mechanisms (2):
- By increasing blood flow to the uterus and ovaries
- By affecting neuro-endocrine factors such as endorphins
- By affecting cytokine/immune system activity (reducing inflammation)
- By relieving stress, anxiety and depression
Acupuncture has also been shown to improve sperm quality and quantity. (3)
A recent meta-analyses (systematic reviews of collected clinical research outcomes) concluded that acupuncture prior to and after IVF embryo transfer improves rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilization. (4) Ongoing results of another meta-analyses, conducted by Reproductive Endocrinology specialist Dr. Paul Magarelli suggest an “astonishing” 15% increase in pregnancies and 23% increase in take-home babies in IVF patients treated with acupuncture. (5)
1. Sterner-Victorin et al. 2006 Acupunct Med Dec;24(4):157-63.
2. Anderson et al. 2007 Altern Ther Health Med. May-Jun;13(3):38-48.
3. Pei et al. Fertil Steril. 2005 Jul;84(1):141-7.
4. Manheimer et al. BMJ 2008 Mar 8;336(7643):545-9. Epub 2008 Feb 7.
5. Accessed 9/1/2008 (www.marketwatch.com/news/story/acupuncture-ivf-study-shows-early/story.aspx?guid=%7B0C863696-AA0B-459A-A6B4-164786851FED%7D&dist=hppr).
A new research model is emerging that suggests a mother’s wellbeing during pregnancy, including nutritional status and psychosocial stress, may have far-reaching effects on the mental and physical status of her offspring. Maternal prenatal cortisol (stress hormone) crosses the placenta and elevated prenatal cortisol levels are associated with miscarriage, delayed fetal growth and maturity, low birth weight, attention and temperament problems in infancy and chronic illness in adulthood. (1) Practices proven to lower cortisol levels (prenatal yoga, massage, acupuncture, meditation and visualization) are recommended to help women cope with the stresses of a modern pregnancy and improve health outcomes in their babies.
1. Field T et al. Int J Neurosci. 2008 Aug 1:1181-1205.
While few research studies have focused specifically on the benefits of massage for fertility, it is well accepted that massage can improve blood flow and lower levels of stress hormones.(1) Additionally, deep tissue massage has been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, signs of reduced stress.(2)
1. Field T et al. Int J Neurosci. 2005 Oct;115(10):1397-413.
2. Kaye AD et al. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Mar;14(2):125-8.
Body Weight and Fertility
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), nearly 12% of cases of unexplained infertility are related to weight. Over- and underweight are associated with infertility and in such cases a woman’s fertility can benefit from as little as a 10% weight gain or loss. Overweight can also affect the success of In Vitro Fertilization. Overweight and obese women have lower IVF success rates and increased risk for obstetric complications than normal weight women.(1)
The Fertility Diet
In addition, new data emerging from population studies suggest that there may be a “fertile” eating pattern that includes higher consumption of monounsaturated rather than trans fats, vegetable rather than animal protein sources, low glycemic carbohydrates, high fat dairy, multivitamins, and iron from plants and supplements (Chavarro et al. 2007).(2) Diet and exercise is also considered the first line of treatment for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a metabolic disorder that effects between 5-10% of women in their reproductive years and that is often associated with infertility. (3)
A tremendous amount of research exists on individual foods, probiotics, and specific nutritional supplements shown to be effective in improving both male and female fertility. Like any nutritional program, a fertility nutrition program should be tailored to an individual’s diagnosis and constitution. Personalized face-to-face or phone consultations are available with our nutritionists. Contact us here.
1. Dorkas A et al. 2006 Obstet Gynecol. Jul;108(1):61-9.
2. Chavarro G. et al. 2007 Obstet Gynecol. Nov;110(5):1050-8.
3. Hoeger KM et al. 2007 Clin Obstet Gynecol. Mar;50(1):277-94.
Among PCOS patients who are overweight or obese, weight loss is the most physiologic method of inducing ovulation (Minerva Endocrinol 2007).
The presence of obesity is clearly related to the infertility of PCOS, and increases the risk for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk factors in these women (Fertil. Steril 2007).
If overweight, weight loss leads to improved insulin sensitivity, which restores ovulation in overweight infertile women with PCOS. Lifestyle management is the best initial management for obese women seeking to improve their reproductive function (Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2004).
Modest weight loss of 5-10% appears to be very effective in restoring fertility in women with PCOS (Hum. Reprod. 1997).
Multiple studies recommend weight loss as a first-line therapeutic option for all women with obesity and PCOS (Rev. Reprod. 1996).
Fertility Foods and Vitamins
Compared with matched control women, women with PCOS exhibited a dietary pattern that was marked by consumption of a greater amount of specific foods (Fertility and Sterility 2006).
Regular use of specific supplements may decrease the risk of ovulatory infertility in PCOS patients (Fertil. Steril 2007).
Higher pregnancy rates are associated with specific B-vitamin treatment in women with PCOS. In this study, the pregnancy rates were higher with the vitamins than with metformin (Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2006).
Visit our PCOS Store to learn more about some of these supplements.
In a recent review of the biological and epidemiological (population-based) evidence supporting a link between stress and human reproductive failure, Nakamura et al. suggest a new theoretical model called the “Pregnancy Stress Syndrome Model.” In this review the authors evaluated all epidemiological studies published between 1980 and 2007 that investigated the link between stress exposure and impaired reproductive success in humans. In addition, published data from basic science research was assessed to provide an insight into the potential mechanisms by which stress may impair reproduction. (1)
These reviewers suggest that the human biological stress response – an evolutionary response that allowed human beings to fight or run in times of eminent danger – is no longer relevant in a world where stresses are pervasive and chronic rather than immediate. Today’s chronic stress leads to chronic elevation of stress hormones, which clinical studies suggest can impact reproductive function in the following ways:
- Elevated stress hormones can interfere with the timing of ovulation
- Elevated stress hormones may suppress progesterone production and/or speed metabolism of progesterone leading to a shortened luteal phase.
- Elevated stress hormones may create a “blighted uterine environment” by promoting an inflammatory response that is hostile to the developing embryo.
Techniques such as yoga and meditation have been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease levels of stress hormones and create significant improvements in subjects’ sense of well-being. (2-5)
Yoga has also been shown to increase levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). Low levels of GABA are associated with anxiety and depression.