IVF complementary medicine is diverse and provides a supportive, personal and holistic approach. The range of therapies available includes acupuncture, yoga, meditation, hypnosis, massage therapy, aromatherapy and herbal medicine. Each offers a different method of help and can be used in conjunction with conventional and evidence-based treatments, providing many benefits as part of an integrated health plan.
Couples who combine their IVF treatment with complementary medicine frequently report becoming calmer, emotionally stronger and more able to cope with the demands of the IVF regimen – and importantly, they also feel more hopeful about the outcome.
Acupuncture is underpinned by the notion of an energy flow known as “Qi”, which circulates continuously throughout the body via channels or meridians. According to Chinese medicine, disease arises due to either an imbalance of the channels or from internal factors that cause a disruption to the Qi flow. Acupuncture seeks to re-establish the flow by balancing the channels and bodily systems and promoting health and wellbeing (homeostasis). It has been used for centuries to regulate the female reproductive system.
Mounting evidence indicates that acupuncture provides a benefit for a variety of disorders and may increase the efficacy of some conventional treatments, including IVF. The evidence suggests acupuncture prepares the uterine lining, improves hormone levels, reduces the stress and anxiety associated with IVF, and may increase pregnancy rates. More than 10 studies support the use of acupuncture with IVF to “improve rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation”. This is in contrast to only one study claiming acupuncture had little effect.
In the scientific literature, two separate 2008 meta-analyses of reliable studies so far suggest that combining acupuncture with IVF is beneficial. In all studies, the IVF patients received acupuncture before and after embryo transfer for 25-30 minutes each session. All studies used the same points.
One of the meta-analyses published in the British Medical Journal combined the results of seven previous studies and involved a total of 1366 women. It found that acupuncture increased the odds of falling pregnant by 65%. The benefits of acupuncture include better implantation results as well as increased rates of clinical pregnancy and live births. There are three potential reasons for these improved outcomes.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that another benefit of acupuncture for IVF patients is the reduction of the side effects of the fertility drugs. Acupuncturists treating IVF patients report a reduction in abdominal pain, better sleep and less emotional fragility.
Male-factor sperm problems are implicated in almost 40% of infertile couples. Several studies suggest that acupuncture can benefit men who have low sperm readings. For example, a 2005 study published in Fertility and Sterility concluded that acupuncture provides a general improvement in sperm quality.
There are usually no side effects associated with acupuncture and there is little discomfort from the procedure itself.
In conclusion, both meta-analyses indicated that combining IVF with acupuncture, before and after embryo transfer, may increase the chance of achieving a pregnancy.
If you are interested in having acupuncture as part of your IVF treatment, contact the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA) for a list of qualified practitioners in your area.
Free call: 1300 725 334 or visit www.acupuncture.org.au.
Yoga is thought to enhance the general reproductive health of women trying to conceive, increasing the blood flow to the pelvis, toning and strengthening the muscles that support reproductive organs, improving spinal alignment, enabling better circulation and boosting the capacity and quality of respiration. It can also be said that the most powerful impact of regular yoga practice on a person’s fertility is through the calming, restorative effects on the mind and body.
A researcher at Harvard Medical School conducted a study that enlisted infertile women (who had been trying to fall pregnant for at least a year) and placed some of them on a 10-week mind-body program that included yoga, meditation, nutrition and exercise to try to help change negative thought patterns. Fifty-five per cent of participants conceived within the first 12 months, compared with 20% of women in a control group.
One of the most pervasive mind-body challenges for couples undertaking fertility treatment is stress and feeling “out of control”. Stress hormones generate chemicals that weaken the body’s immunity and suppress fertility hormones, which may impair conception. Yoga, because of its use of relaxation and breathing techniques, provides an antidote to the negative emotional and physical impacts of stress, anger and depression resulting from infertility or fertility treatments.
Although there is little direct evidence to suggest that practising yoga will guarantee pregnancy, the known benefits of relaxation and reducing emotional and physical stresses can be a useful adjunct when undertaking fertility treatments.
Hypnosis, meditation and relaxation exercise can serve as empowering processes that can be used while undergoing fertility treatment. The relationship between stress and infertility is complex. There is minimal evidence that anxiety contributes significantly to infertility, but increasing research that depression may.
Several studies have shown that infertile women who learn a variety of stress-reducing practices, including relaxation, have higher pregnancy rates than women who do not adopt such techniques.
Physiologically, hypnosis, meditation and/or relaxation exercises are known to lower blood pressure, heart rate and the production of stress hormones. The connection between stress and decreased fertility is thought to be directly related to our biological evolution. The mind-body connection knows that in situations of extreme tension our sex organs are our most expendable parts. The mind-body link knows that stressful times do not lend themselves to making a baby.
Meditation also stimulates the pineal gland. This gland produces several hormones, two of which are serotonin (necessary for libido and wellbeing) and melatonin (another hormone connected with feelings of relaxation and wellbeing), which in turn stimulate the pituitary gland. The pituitary is the gland that predominantly regulates female reproductive hormones such as FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone, which matures the eggs in the ovaries), estrogen, progesterone and oxytocin in labour.
It is possible for hypnosis, meditation and relaxation techniques to enhance and/or change the level of certain hormones in your body. If you are interested in consulting a qualified hypnotherapist within your area, contact the Australian Hypnotherapists Association (AHA) on (free call) 1300 552 254 or go to www.ahahypnotherapy.org.au.
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to help promote health and wellbeing. Specific essential oils in aromatherapy may help in the following ways: inducing relaxation, calming the mind, counteracting stress, and easing tension and frustration.
Selected essential oils used in conjunction with massage therapy may help by:
Couples may find that using essential oils at home and regular aromatherapy massages help to provide physical and emotional support when planning for a baby. Always consult a qualified therapist for advice and guidance before using essential oils. Some oils may not be safe to use while trying to conceive and during pregnancy.
Many herbal remedies are considered beneficial to overall wellbeing and can be taken safely before or between treatments. However, at City Fertility Centre we advise you to stop using herbal remedies when you start taking medications during treatment. Many herbal remedies will cause a hormonal action that may interfere with or counteract the effect of your fertility medications.
Herbs should be used with the same caution you would adopt with any other drug. If you are taking herbal supplements, or your partner is, please advise your clinician. If you are interested in making herbal therapies part of an integrated health plan before or in between IVF treatments, contact the National Herbalists Association of Australia (NHAA) for a list of qualified practitioners in your area.
Phone: (02) 9797 2244 or go to www.nhaa.org.au.
To learn more, please read our Complementary Therapies and IVF Fact Sheet.