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Beyond the Needle: Other Alternative Therapies in the Treatment of Infertility

By James Vitale, LAc, and Ronald Sandoval, LAc
Published in Resolve, for the Journey and Beyond

Acupuncture has gained quite a bit of popularity in the last few years as an effective treatment for infertility both for couples trying to conceive naturally and couples using assisted reproductive technology (ART). And that’s not surprising, given that since 2002 there have been numerous studies showing acupuncture’s effectiveness in reducing stress, balancing hormones and improving blood flow to the reproductive organs. It has been used in Asia for thousands of years and has stood the test of time. But acupuncture is just one part of the fertility wellness puzzle. There are many other therapies that are proving to be effective as part of a complete wellness approach.

Nutrition

The old axiom “you are what you eat” has never been truer. A proper diet can have a profound effect on reproductive health. From a conventional view of nutrition, the right combinations of protein, carbohydrates and fats play a vital role in fertility, as proven by a 2007 Harvard study on diet and nutrition.(1)

From an Asian view, the nature of foods plays a big part in fertile health. Foods can be cooling or warming, drying or moistening, and energizing or sedating; all of which may have positive or negative impact on fertility.

Abdominal/Uterine Massage

Abdominal/uterine massage originated in Central America many years ago and is often referred to as Mayan Abdominal Massage. Dr. Rosita Arvigo developed the technique, which applies a holistic approach to health care, including massage, anatomy and physiology, herbology, nutrition, and emotional and spiritual healing. The work is best known for the correction of the prolapsed, fallen, or tilted uterus as well as treating adhesions from prior invasive procedures involving the pelvic and abdominal area, including the removal of fibroid tumors, the treatment of endometriosis, and caesarean delivery. By shifting the uterus back into place, homeostasis, or the natural balance of the body, is restored to the pelvic area and the surrounding organs. Toxins are flushed and nutrients that help to tone tissue and balance hormones are restored to normal order. This is essential for healthy pregnancy, labor and delivery. Practitioners need special certification to perform these techniques.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis is often misunderstood. Many people picturea a hypnotist doing things like making someone quack like a duck. But clinical hypnosis can have powerful beneficial effects on the mind and body. An Israeli study showed that the success rate of IVF treatments doubled in a test group from 14% to 28%, when the subjects underwent hypnosis during implantation. Professor Eliahu Levitas conducted this study with 185 women.

According to psychologist Alice Domar, the director of the Mind-Body Center for Women at Boston IVF, research suggests that stress and the psychological symptoms associated with infertility are similar to those associated with other serious medical conditions. Domar’s research also suggests that mind-body techniques that elicit a relaxation response such as hypnosis and meditation can reduce stress and increase a couple’s chance of conceiving.(2)

Weight Management

A person’s weight can have a profound impact on their fertility. Men and women who are either under or over their ideal weight have a higher risk of experiencing infertility. Being underweight or overweight can disrupt the hormonal balance that is necessary for normal egg and sperm production.

Excess fat tissue can cause a woman to produce too much estrogen throughout her menstrual cycle, inhibiting fertility. Being overweight can also impact other hormones, cause menstrual irregularities and prevent ovulation. Infertility treatment can be affected by excess weight as well. For example, studies indicate that obesity can negatively impact embryo quality in women under 35 undergoing IVF. (3,4)

Losing a few pounds can often help you conceive if you’re overweight. As little as a five to 10 percent weight loss will significantly improve pregnancy rates for women.(5) There are many different components to the fertility puzzle and it’s hard to know which piece may be missing. But it can’t hurt to explore these and other avenues until you’ve found that missing piece.

James Vitale, LAc, and Ron Sandoval, LAc, are fertility acupuncturists and co-founders of The Huntington Wellness Center—a wellness center dedicated to the treatment of infertility. They can be reached at info@huntingtonhealth.com.

1 Jorge Chavarro, M.D., Sc.D “The Fertility Diet”
2 Domar, A., Seibel, M., & Benson, H (1990) The Mind/Body Program for Infertility: A new treatment program for women with infertility. Fertility and Sterility, 53, 246-249.
3 Cano F, Garcia-Velasco JA, Millet A, Remohí J, Simón C, Pellicer A. Oocyte quality in polycystic ovaries revisited: identification of a particular subgroup of women. J Assist Reprod Genet. 1997;14;254-261.
4 Metwally M, Cutting R, Tipton A, Skull J, Ledger WL, Li TC. Effect of increased body mass index on oocyte and embryo quality in IVF patients. Reprod Biomed. 2007;15;532-538.
5 Balen AH, Anderson RA; Policy & Practice Committee of the BFS. Impact of obesity on female reproductive health: British Fertility Society, Policy and Practice Guidelines. Hum Fertil (Camb). 2007; 10(4):195-206.