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Acupuncture and Invitrofertilisation (IVF)

The material presented below is mainly concerned with acupuncture support for IVF, as used in Australia, UK, China, etc and how acupuncture seems to be used in certain clinics to support IVF treatment. Acupuncture clinics in Australia have less restrictions on advertising, and have no restriction from the NZ Medicines Act (1981).

Although there cannot be double-blind (even single-blind research studies) comparing Acupuncture with other assisted reproduction technology and IVF, according to some research it appears that Acupuncture can and does achieve results in a higher rate of conception and full-term successful pregnancy. Studies have shown that acupuncture at the time of egg retrieval and embryo transfer during IVF does result in a significantly higher viable pregnancy rate.

There are many factors contributing to poor fertility — generally inability to fall pregnant after one year or so without any method of contraception. According to some estimates (Jane Lyttleton, see reference below) IVF alone tends to have a variable rate of around thirty percent, yet IVF supported with concurrent acupuncture treatment may even be as high as fifty percent.

IVF seems to be a numbers game, in that it increases the numbers of eggs produced. The thickness of the lining of the uterus is the only other measurable parameter. The general health of the couple seems to be of little concern in IVF clinics (in the absence of any significant illnesses). Conjecture here (again according to certain specialists, e.g. Jane Lyttleton, see reference below) appears to be that acupuncture aims to enhance the quality and vitality of the eggs and sperm, in the months leading up to conception. We certainly know that sperm quality (as well as quantity) can be variable, and can be enhanced by good nutrition, lifestyle changes, avoidance of toxins, etc. According to the protocols suggested by certain acupuncture specialists (e.g. Jane Lyttleton, see reference below) ideally an acupuncture treatment course should be between four to six months (rather than the four to six weeks of an IVF treatment cycle.)

Some research appears to show increased blood flow to the uterus and endometrium, and that acupuncture and herbs may increase the thickness of the lining of the uterus (women with poor endometrium appear to have unexplained IVF failure or early recurrent miscarriage). Acupuncture appears to promote corpus luteal function in producing high levels of progesterone and increasing blood flow to the uterus. More importantly, increased blood flow to the uterine lining (which herbs and acupuncture may be able to achieve) encourages implantation (aspirin can also have this effect — which is why it is now prescribed as part of many IVF protocols.)

Traditionally in Asian countries Chinese medicine (acupuncture and herbs) is also given in the early stages of pregnancy if there is any sign of the mother's body weakening and threatened miscarriage. Acupuncture has also traditionally been employed if the baby's growth is not optimal, and later, if overdue or labour proves difficult.

What I can say here, without fear of censure, is that osteopathy, massage, and other manual therapy (e.g. physiotherapy or chiropractic) may be helpful both to prevent and treat any back pain during the later (or any) stage of pregnancy, and even muscle pain (often due to ligamentous laxity) after birth.

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