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"Cultivate the Soil Before you Plant the Seed"

Gloria Moreira, Dipl. Ac., A.P.
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This old Chinese proverb most wisely describes how fertility and pregnancy should be approached. The most complete preconception care includes nutritional therapy, mind-body techniques, lifestyle counseling, acupuncture and herbal formulas. This kind of approach improves your fertility by balancing your hormones and boosting your overall health and vitality. By being in the best health possible at the time of conception, not only do you improve your chances of carrying a successful pregnancy, but you also affect the future health of your baby
(and generations down the line). Preparing your body can be the best gift you give to you and your family to be.

If you have been trying to get pregnant for at least one year without success, then reproductive endocrinologists, and doctors specializing in infertility, consider a couple to be infertile. There may be as many different causes for this as there are couples trying to conceive.  33% of the time it is the male; 33% of the time it is the female and in the other third of cases it is a combination of both partners. So, the idea of preconception care is not limited to the woman alone as her partner's state of health should also be addressed.

There has been an increase in "unexplained infertility" within this last decade and I think that our high stress lifestyles, nutritionally deficient diets and overwhelming amounts of environmental toxins are huge contributors to this phenomenon. By starting to make the necessary changes and addressing individual health issues and imbalances 6-9 months before conception, you can greatly increase your chances for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. The first thing to do is to find a holistic healthcare practitioner in your area with expertise in the area of treatment of infertility and identification of its causes(Miami Holistic Center)

If you have not yet had all the necessary preliminary testing, they may refer you to a collaborative clinic that can do such things as sperm analysis, and ultrasound studies of the reproductive tract. Many times all these tests yield little information and the couple receives a diagnosis of "unexplained infertility". This just means that the measuring devices could not detect the cause. The first thing to do is to find a holistic healthcare practitioner in your area with expertise in the area of treatment of infertility (
Miami Holistic Center) and identification of its causes. If you have not yet had all the necessary preliminary testing, they may refer you to a collaborative clinic that can do such things as sperm analysis, and ultrasound studies of the reproductive tract. Many times all these tests yield little information and the couple receives a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility”. This just means that the measuring devices could not detect the cause.

The three most common causes for “unexplained infertility are 1) hormonal imbalances, 2) nutritional deficiencies, and/or 3) toxic exposures. These can upset the delicate chain of events that lead to pregnancy. Each one of these factors by itself can prevent fertilization from happening, prevent a fertilized egg from implanting into the endometrium, or worse yet, prevent an already implanted fertilized embryo from staying attached. Many couples deal with a combination or all of these impediments to pregnancy.

It is important to identify the areas which need attention and address these one by one. For example, one of the first things I do in my practice is to have both partners do a full blood work which includes 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can impact both the ability to get pregnant and the health of the growing fetus if the mother is deficient during pregnancy.

I also use a variety of herbals that are customized to individual needs. For example, if I find that the issue is with the male sperm and they have poor morphology and motility, I will advise an herbal formula by the name of "Astragalus Complex" which contains Astragalus, Echinacea purpurea root and Eleuthero. Moreover, I recommend good nutrition which includes foods that help increase sperm production like liver, carrots, spinach, milk, wheat germ oil, almonds, strawberries, broccoli, and citrus fruits. Smoking and drinking alcohol and coffee can contribute to poor sperm quality and quantity, so I recommend quitting as soon as possible.

Reducing or eliminating toxic exposure is also key. A teratogenic substance is one that causes birth defects or interferes with the normal development of a fetus. Exposure to teratogens during pregnancy can affect people in different ways. Whereas one may have a miscarriage, another can have a baby with a congenital birth defect, and yet others have no effect at all. A father’s exposure to some teratogens may also increase the risk of miscarriage because of the higher level of chromosomal abnormalities in the sperm. I typically give both partners anti-oxidant support to protect the genetic material. If needed, I also place both on a  21 day detoxification program to clear out toxins.

Infertility is never simple. Couples should seek a practitioner that is integrative in her approach so that they receive the best natural treatments available and expert referrals when needed.

Gloria Moreira, L.Ac. FAAHP Candidate, M.S.

Impact of electro-acupuncture and physical exercise on hyperandrogenism and oligo/amenorrhea in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial


Acupuncture on the Endometrial Morphology, the Serum Estradiol and Progesterone Levels, and the Expression of Endometrial Leukaemia-inhibitor Factor and Osteopontin in Rats

Acupuncture for infertility: Is it an effective therapy?

Acupuncture in clinical and experimental reproductive medicine: a review.

Self Growth - The Online Self-Improvement Community


New Study: For women with PCOS, acupuncture and exercise may bring relief, reduce risks - June 2009

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Acupuncture Shows Promise In Improving Rates Of Pregnancy Following IVF

Acupuncture shown to work on brain in pain relief - says BBC2 program

Acupuncture in Pregnancy

Acupuncture and Fertility

Pregnancy and Acupuncture - A Good Thing

Acupuncture Treatments Result in Higher Pregnancy Rates for Embryo Transfer

Acupuncture 'Boosts IVF Success'

What Caused Gwyneth's Spots? An Article About Cupping

Can Acupuncture Help you Conceive?

Acupuncture used as Infertility Therapy

Study: Acupuncture Better than Massage for Chronic Neck Pain


Acupuncture shown to work on brain in pain relief says BBC2 program. 24.01.2006

BBC2's program "Alternative Health" showed researchers carrying out brain scans on people having acupuncture.

The BBC Two show also featured heart surgery done using acupuncture instead of a general anesthetic.

The patient is conscious during the operation in China, but she was given sedatives and a local anesthetic.

In Alternative Medicine: The Evidence, volunteers were subjected to deep needling, which involves needles being inserted 1cm into the back of the hand at well-known acupuncture points.

A control group underwent superficial needling with needles placed only 1mm in.

The needles are then twiddled until the participants feel a dull, achy or tingling sensation. For those in the deep needling group this stimulates the nervous system.

During these two procedures, the volunteers underwent brain scans to see what, if any, effect there was in the brain.

The team, including leading scientists from University College London, Southampton University and the University of York, found the superficial needling resulted in activation of the motor areas of the cortex, a normal reaction to pain.

But with deep needling, the limbic system, part of the pain matrix, is deactivated.

The finding was surprising because experts had always assumed acupuncture activates the brain in someway.

Professor Kathy Sykes said: "The pain matrix is involved in the perception of pain - it helps someone decide whether something is painful or not, so it could be that acupuncture in some ways changes a person's pain perception.

"We have found something quite unexpected - that acupuncture is having a measurable effect on the human brain.

"We are not suggesting that it should be used during surgery, although it is in China, but just that it acts as a pain relief and should be taken seriously."


Acupuncture Treatment Results in Higher Pregnancy Rates for Embryo Transfer

Breaking news
The May 2006 issue of medical journal Fertility and Sterility presents several new studies that confirm the efficacy of acupuncture as an aid to IVF. Here are the study results:
Study #1: Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer (ET) significantly improves the reproductive outcome in infertile women: a prospective, randomized trial
In this study, Westergaard LG,, set out to evaluate how the use of acupuncture effected pregnancy rates in patients treated with IVF/intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
273 patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups:
One group had acupuncture on the day of the transfer, a second group had acupuncture on the day of the transfer and then again 2 days after the transfer, and a third control group did not receive acupuncture.
The results clearly showed that the first acupuncture group that received treatment the day of the transfer had a statistically significant higher rate of pregnancy than the control group (37 of 95 [39%] vs. 21 of 87 [26%]). Comparison of ongoing pregnancy rates also favored the acupuncture group (34 of 95 [36%] vs. 19 of 87 [22%]).
There was no improvement on the reproductive outcome by adding an acupuncture treatment 2 days after ET.
Fertility and Sterility Volume 85, Issue 5 , May 2006, Pages 1341-1346
Study #2: Effect of acupuncture on the outcome of in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection: a randomized, prospective, controlled clinical study
In this study, a joint collaboration between researchers in Germany and China, Stefan Dieterle M.D and his colleagues set out to determine the effect of luteal phase acupuncture on the outcome of IVF/ICSI.
225 IVF/ICSI infertile patients were randomly assigned to 2 groups. One group received Traditional Chinese acupuncture and the other half received sham acupuncture. As in the previous study, in the group that received true acupuncture, the clinical pregnancy rate and ongoing pregnancy rates (33.6% and 28.4%, respectively) were significantly higher than in sham acupuncture group (15.6% and 13.8%).
Fertility and Sterility Volume 85, Issue 5 , May 2006, Pages 1347-1351
Study #3: Influence of acupuncture stimulation on pregnancy rates for women undergoing embryo transfer
This study from Australia, lead by Caroline Smith Ph.D., examined 228 women and again compared a true acupuncture to a placebo group. The design of this study was to treat the women three separate times: the first session on day 9 of stimulating injections, the second session before ET, and the third immediately after ET.
They reported their results as follows:
The pregnancy rate was 31% in the acupuncture group and 23% in the control group. For those subjects receiving acupuncture, the odds of achieving a pregnancy were 1.5 higher than for the control group, but the difference did not reach statistical significance. The ongoing pregnancy rate at 18 weeks was higher in the treatment group (28% vs. 18%), but the difference was not statistically significant.
They did conclude that acupuncture was safe for women undergoing embryo transfer.
Fertility and Sterility Volume 85, Issue 5 , May 2006, Pages 1352-1358
Previous studies:
At the October 2004 meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) another study was presented that confirms the value of acupuncture to the success of IVF treatment. The research, done at Reproductive Medicine and Fertility Centre in Colorado Springs, studied 114 women undergoing IVF. Half of the women received acupuncture and the control group did not. The acupuncture group showed improved outcome in the following ways:
1. Acupuncture group 51% pregnancy rate compared to 36% in control group
2. Acupuncture group 08% miscarriage rate compared to 20% in control group
Acupuncture also was found to reduce the risk of tubal pregnancy and increase the live birth rate. The live birth rate for each IVF cycle was 23 % higher than the cycles for the control group. News Report
Below is the very first paper published on this research.
It is from the journal: Highlights in Fertility and Sterility
(Vol. 77, No. 4, April 2002)
Results from a recent study in Germany indicate that adding acupuncture to the treatment protocol of IVF patients greatly enhances their chances of becoming pregnant. While the physiologic mechanisms by which acupuncture may affect the uterus and reproductive system have not been identified, the researchers found that as a practical matter, at least among their small study population, the technique worked.
In a study of 160 patients undergoing in vitro fertilization, researchers utilized acupuncture, an important element in the 4,000-year-old tradition of Chinese medicine, before and after the embryo transfers of half their patients. The patients, who were all required to have embryos of good quality, were evenly and randomly divided into two groups similar in age and diagnosis.
The group receiving acupuncture treatments had one treatment before transfer and another after embryos had been transferred to their uteruses. Sterile needles were inserted into the patients' bodies at very specific points. According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, energy flows through the body along defined pathways, or meridians. Acupuncture is a means of influencing this energy to induce a desired physiological effect. Points were chosen for these patients along the spleen and stomach/colon meridians in an effort to positively influence blood flow and energy to the uterus and to provide a sedative effect. Additional needles were inserted in the patients' ears to influence the uterus and stabilize the endocrine system. Needles were left in place for 25 minutes while the patients rested. The control group also rested, lying still for 25 minutes after embryo transfer, as part of the IVF protocol.
The difference between pregnancy rates for the two groups was notable. Patients were examined using ultrasound six weeks after their IVF procedures. In the control group, 21 out of 80 patients became pregnant. Of the patients who had received acupuncture treatments, 34 of 80 became pregnant. The researchers plan to conduct further studies to try to rule out possible psychological or psychosomatic effects.
Sandra Carson, MD, President-Elect of ASRM, commented, "If these findings are confirmed, they may help us improve the odds for our IVF patients' achieving pregnancy."


Acupuncture 'boosts IVF success'

Women undergoing fertility treatment could have their chances of success boosted by acupuncture.

German researchers said they have increased success rates by almost 50% in women having in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The theory is that acupuncture can affect the autonomic nervous system, which is involved in the control of muscles and glands, and could therefore make the lining of the uterus more receptive to receiving an embryo.

But the scientists admit they do not know for certain why the complementary therapy helped, and plan to carry out more studies in a bid to find out.

If these findings are confirmed, they may help us improve the odds for our IVF patients achieving pregnancy


Dr. Sandra Carson, American Society of Reproductive Medicine

Fertility techniques are used to help couples who cannot conceive naturally.

The theory of acupuncture is based on pathways called meridians. Research has shown it can help relieve nausea caused by anesthetics during surgery or chemotherapy and to relieve dental pain.

It may also help relieve other conditions including headaches and menstrual cramps.

'A useful tool'

A report published in the journal Fertility and Sterility found the pregnancy rate in the group receiving acupuncture group was 42.5%, compared to the group which did not receive the therapy, where the rate was 26.3%.

The German researchers worked with doctors at the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, China.

Of 160 women undergoing IVF, half received standard in vitro fertilization, while half were given acupuncture treatments before and after.

The researchers chose acupuncture points which traditional Chinese medicine says relax the uterus.

They also used needles to stimulate meridians involving the spleen, stomach and colon, to improve blood flow and create "more energy in the uterus."

Key relaxation points were also stimulated.

The research team, led by Dr. Wolfgang Paulus and colleagues at the Christian-Lauritzen-Institut in Ulm, Germany, wrote in the journal: "Acupuncture seems to be a useful tool for improving pregnancy rate after assisted reproductive techniques.

They add: "To rule out the possibility that acupuncture produces only psychological or psychosomatic effects, we plan to use a placebo needle set as a control in a future study."

Such a study would involve people having needles inserted in the same way as in acupuncture, but not at the acupuncture points.

Dr. Sandra Carson, president-elect of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, which publishes the journal, said: "If these findings are confirmed, they may help us improve the odds for our (in vitro fertilization) patients' achieving pregnancy."

What caused Gwyneth's spots?
By Michelle Roberts
BBC News Online health staff
Her low-cut top revealed the cupping bruises
Gwyneth Paltrow caused a stir at a New York film premiere this week in a low cut top revealing a back covered in large circular bruises.
At first glance they looked like large love bites, but in fact they were caused by a form of alternative therapy.
Gwyneth had cupping, a kind of acupuncture.
It involves placing heated cups over the skin to encourage blood flow and ease stress, aches and pains.
What is cupping?
Cupping has been practiced for thousands of years for the treatment of disease and pain.
There have certainly been satisfied customers for 3,000 years
Professor Edzard Ernst, University of Exeter
It is a form of acupuncture that focuses on the movement of blood, energy - called qi - and body fluids, such as lymph - which circulates around the body's tissues.
Oriental medicine states pain is due to stagnation of these systems. This stagnation can be a result of injury or stress.
Cupping is believed to stimulate flow of blood, lymph and Qi to the affected area. Its uses include relieving pain in the muscles, especially back pain from stiffness or injury, and clearing congestion in the chest, which can occur with colds and flu.
How it's done
The therapist takes a number of glass cups, which look like small fish bowls. Each cup is heated with a naked flame. The cup is then quickly applied to the skin. This creates a vacuum.
The suction anchors the cup to the body and the area of skin covered is drawn up a few millimeters into the cup.
The cups are then left on the body whilst the area beneath is treated and the energy, or qi, is moved.
Cupping is usually used on its own, but can be combined with other therapies.
Tim Handley had conventional acupuncture and cupping therapy for a painful shoulder.
He told BBC News Online: "I had four treatments and it really knocked it on the head. It was brilliant. After the first time I had it I felt absolutely fantastic. The difference was so tangible. It was wonderful.
"It felt quite strange because the suction was enormous. It was intense but not painful. You could feel the blood being drawn into the muscle."
Like Gwyneth, he was bruised afterwards, but the marks vanished quickly.
It is important to seek out a registered practitioner
Mike O'Farrell, CEO of the British Acupuncture Council
"It looked hilarious. They were deep purple, amazing bruises. But it's not damage as such. They are 'healthy bruises' and they disappeared very quickly - within a week. I would have it done again."
Mike O'Farrell, CEO of the British Acupuncture Council said: "Although cupping does leave noticeable marks that can look alarming, it is not painful during or after treatment.
"This is a successful method as seen by the thousands of patients who use it. However, as with all medical treatments it is important to seek out a registered practitioner."
But Professor Edzard Ernst from the department of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter said, while cupping was relatively safe, it could cause burns.
He added: "There is no evidence for its efficacy. It has not been submitted to clinical trials, but there have certainly been satisfied customers for 3,000 years."

Can Acupuncture Help You Conceive?

NEW YORK, July 24, 2004

Acupuncture involves placing tiny hair-like needles in the skin as a way of stimulating energy points. (AP)


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese treatment that involves placing tiny hair-like needles in the skin as a way of stimulating energy points that are thought to be central to your spiritual, mental, emotional and physical balance.

(CBS) It's estimated that after a year of trying to conceive, 10 percent of American couples are unable to get pregnant on their own.

The vast majority of them turn to traditional fertility treatments for help, but a growing number are also trying alternative therapies, including acupuncture, says
Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall.

More and more women are delaying childbirth into their late 30s and early 40s than ever before. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Report on Fertility in America, about 20 percent of women ages 35-39 are childless in 2002. In 1976, only 10 percent of women in that age category had never given birth.

Because a woman's fertility declines as she ages, more and more women are having trouble getting pregnant.

What are the traditional options to battle infertility?

Marshall says it depends on the underlying cause of the infertility, whether it's a male factor (such as a low sperm count), or it's a matter of egg quality in the woman, or whether the woman has blocked Fallopian tubes or trouble ovulating.

But depending on the case, your fertility doctor may recommend taking drugs to stimulate ovulation, or intrauterine insemination (where the sperm is placed directly in the woman's uterus) or in vitro fertilization (where a sperm and egg are united outside the uterus and later placed in the womb after fertilization).

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese treatment that involves placing tiny hair-like needles in the skin as a way of stimulating energy points that are thought to be central to your spiritual, mental, emotional and physical balance. Acupuncture is used to treat a variety of maladies such as headaches and back pain. For fertility, the needles are placed in energy points linked to the reproductive organs to improve energy flow to those areas.

Why should you try it?

Most women who choose acupuncture are doing it together with traditional infertility treatments. But some couples have undergone multiple cycles of IVF or other fertility treatments and nothing seems to be working. And they hope that acupuncture might improve their chances.

Also, fertility treatments can be incredibly expensive. For example, intrauterine insemination can cost hundreds of dollars and a single cycle of IVF can cost $10,000-$20,000. So couples are looking for other options that could possibly give them a greater chance at success.

Does it hurt?

No, not really, says Marshall, who has had acupuncture before. The needles sting a bit the first time you have it done, because you don't know what to expect. But then you get used to it and it's nothing. So if you have a needle phobia, don't automatically dismiss acupuncture. It's very relaxing.

How acupuncture works

It's still not entirely clear how the technique works, but there is some evidence that it increases the production of endorphins, or brain chemicals that make you feel good and help reduce stress. It may also improve blood supply to the ovaries, which improves their function, and the uterus, which can make it easier to nourish a fetus and reduce the risk of miscarriage.

The research

Marshall cites a 2002 German study suggesting that acupuncture may, in fact, work. The study looked at 160 women undergoing IVF, half of whom received acupuncture along with IVF, and the other half who received IVF alone. They found pregnancy rates among the women undergoing acupuncture were significantly higher.

The cost

Acupuncture can cost a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars depending on where you go and how long you need treatment. And it's often not covered by insurance.

What should you do if you're interested on pursuing acupuncture for infertility?

  • First, you want to see a traditional fertility specialist to see what your underlying fertility issues are.

  • You can then get a referral from your fertility doctor to a reputable acupuncturist that may be affiliated with a major medical center.

  • You want to find someone who is trained and licensed in acupuncture and has a lot of experience.

    Other alternative therapies used by women trying to conceive are yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, and massage therapy. Some people are also trying herbal remedies, but as with any of these alternative therapies, you should talk to your fertility doctor before trying any of them.

  • ©MMIV, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

    Acupuncture Used As Infertility Therapy
    by Julia Sommerfeld

    Sara Cook, a stylish brunette with a Snow White complexion, lies face down as hair-thin needles are gently slipped into her ankles, the backs of her knees, her lower back and ears.

    A dull, warming sensation creeps over her as the small examination room with its sweet menthol smell fades away, as do worries about ovulation schedules, hormone shots and what's next after four failed attempts at in-vitro fertilization.

    Since October, Cook, 34, has been needled once a week by Seattle acupuncturist Stephanie Gianarelli in hopes of improving her chances of getting pregnant.

    Used for 2,500 years in traditional Chinese medicine and best known in Western circles as a New Age pain zapper, acupuncture has gained a following among women - and couples - as an infertility therapy.

    Some, like Cook, have left no stone unturned, combining the ancient remedy with the best that modern medicine has to offer, including fertility drugs and test-tube technology. Others eschew the expensive and emotionally draining tactics of fertility clinics and place their hopes on the head of a pin.

    "Western medicine uses the sledgehammer approach to infertility," says Gianarelli, who specializes in the problem. "But acupuncture coaxes the entire body into balance and better health so it's ready to conceive."

    Even mainstream physicians are hard-pressed to completely dismiss acupuncture, at least when used in conjunction with their high-tech methods. In fact, many of the women who slip away from their downtown offices for half-hour sessions with Gianarelli each week were referred by their infertility doctors.

    That's because two years ago a German study found acupuncture boosts the success rate of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), where egg and sperm meet in a laboratory dish and resulting embryos are transplanted to the womb. The study of 160 IVF patients found that women who had acupuncture right before and after the embryo transfer increased their chances of pregnancy from 26 percent to 43 percent.

    "It's only one study," Dr. Lori Marshall, an infertility doctor at Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center, cautions her patients. "But it's enough to say, 'Hey, there could be something there.' "

    It's also enough to persuade 20 to 30 percent of her clinic's IVF patients to go under the needle.

    Because acupuncture isn't likely to do any harm and, at about $60 to $100 a visit, is relatively inexpensive compared with mainstream fertility help, many women are willing to take their chances.

    Plus, because of a Washington state law, insurers must pay for acupuncture treatment for problems that they cover.

    "It used to be people just came as a last resort, after they've failed everything else. Now we're more often seeing women trying this before they go down those other roads," says Greg Bantick, academic dean at Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine.

    With more patients asking if they should get needled, Dr. LaTasha Craig at the University of Washington Fertility and Endocrine Center wants to be able to provide a more definitive answer. So she's about to put the German findings to the test. Starting this summer, she plans to enroll 200 women in a trial comparing IVF plus acupuncture to IVF alone. She anticipates her biggest challenge will be recruiting enough women to agree they won't get acupuncture.

    After eight years of trying to get pregnant and three failed rounds of IVF, lingerie merchandiser Sara Cook and her husband, Jason, a firefighter, were willing to try anything. "I wanted to know I did everything I possibly could to make this work," she says.

    Although their insurance covers most of the costs of IVF, they've spent about $15,000 out of pocket. In October, to prepare for her fourth and final attempt at an embryo transfer, Cook began seeing Gianarelli once a week, with the blessing of her physician.

    "These patients are going down a pretty rough road. Anything that makes them feel better, I'm for," says Dr. Lee Hickok, her IVF doctor at Swedish Medical Center.

    Although the embryos implanted in January didn't result in pregnancy, Cook hasn't given up on acupuncture. She's considering having a surrogate carry her embryo, so she and her husband come in for weekly acupuncture sessions aimed at fortifying her eggs and his sperm.

    Acupuncture can do more than bolster IVF's success rate, says acupuncturist Kerong Xie, who works out of a converted house in Seattle's University District. Along with Chinese herbs, it can cure most cases of infertility, she says matter-of-factly.

    Needless to say, this is where acupuncturists and mainstream doctors part company.

    Rifling through a stack of Christmas-card photos and birth announcements from grateful patients, Xie tallies her recent successes. She estimates about 17 or 18 pregnancies since October.

    In traditional Chinese medicine, conditions such as infertility are fundamentally seen as blockages or imbalances in the body's "qi" (pronounced chee), a vital force or energy that flows throughout the body along channels called meridians.

    Xie diagnoses a patient by examining her tongue, asking a list of personal questions and taking several pulses. She then strategically sticks needles so tiny they hardly can be felt into points of the body that she says act as valves to manipulate qi, disperse it when it's blocked, stimulate it when it's stagnating and, in general, get the body's qi humming along.

    Treating infertility is a standard part of acupuncture training, says Steve Given, who heads the acupuncture clinic at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle. "Oriental medicine excels at identifying individual patterns of disharmony. If you lined up 100 different women with infertility, an acupuncturist could have a slightly different treatment for each of them."

    What's seen in Western medicine as a blocked fallopian tube is blocked or stagnating qi to Xie.

    "I prepare the body for pregnancy - how do you plant seeds when the dirt is very thin?" she asks.

    Many doctors don't know what to make of such mystical adages.

    "There's just no Western medical equivalent to this stuff," Hickok says. He'll grant that acupuncture may promote relaxation and reduce stress levels. At best, he could see this slightly improving a woman's chances of conceiving and, at the least, it can help patients feel better and more in control. Other doctors speculate acupuncture could increase blood flow to the uterus or boost production of endorphins, the body's feel-good chemicals that impact certain hormones.

    There's no scientific evidence that needling alone improves pregnancy rates, so most doctors discourage women who are having trouble getting pregnant from relying solely on acupuncture.

    "I would hate to see women who are 35 and up get hung up in alternative therapy that may not be all they need," says Dr. Kevin Johnson, an infertility doctor at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue, Wash. He worries that women who could be helped with more-aggressive therapies could be squandering their final fertile years.

    He urges a fertility checkup before pursuing acupuncture. "A totally blocked fallopian tube won't be helped by acupuncture, nor will bad eggs," he says. And no amount of tinkering with a woman's qi is going to help if the problem is actually her partner's low sperm count.

    The other sticking point for Western doctors is the cornucopia of herbs that acupuncturists often prescribe to be boiled up in a pungent tea.

    "That's where I draw the line," Hickok says. "I tell my patients, don't take the herbs; I don't know what they do or how they'll interact with IVF drugs, and they haven't been tested for safety or purity. With acupuncture, I don't think there's a potential for harm, but there could be with the herbs."

    At 40, wedding photographer Janet Klinger had been trying to get pregnant for almost two years. She and her husband knew that IVF wasn't for them. "I didn't really want to go through that emotional roller coaster with the possibility of spending 20 grand and not succeeding," she says.

    After hearing about Xie from a pregnant client, she began visiting her twice a month. For three months, she would lie quietly, with needles scattered up her torso, along her "conception channel," and think "baby thoughts." She's now 28 weeks pregnant.

    "Whether it's for scientific reasons or just because I felt so relaxed and cared for, I don't know, but I totally believe she helped me get pregnant," Klinger says.

    Anecdotes like Klinger's don't make for strong medical evidence. Doctors are quick to point out there's no way of knowing whether she would have gotten pregnant anyway. But such accounts do make the rounds in infertility circles and among women friends.

    That's why, despite not advertising, Xie's nondescript clinic draws a steady stream of well-heeled women, some IVF patients, some looking for an outright miracle.


    If you are considering going under the needle, experts offer these tips:

    -Only visit acupuncturists licensed by the state. Look for the letters L.Ac. after their names. To verify that an acupuncturist's license is in good standing, plug the name into the state's health-provider-credential search engine at

    -Make sure your acupuncturist uses only single-use, sterile needles.

    -Visit a reproductive specialist for a conventional diagnosis first. "You'll want to rule out frank structural problems, like a scarred fallopian tube or tipped uterus," says Bastyr University's Steve Given.

    -If you are already seeing a fertility doctor, discuss your plans. Don't take any herbs without your physician's approval - they could interfere with fertility drugs.

    New Study on PCOS

    For women with PCOS, acupuncture and exercise may bring relief, reduce risks
    Contact: Christine Guilfoy
    American Physiological Society

    Study finds acupuncture and exercise decrease a key marker for disease
    BETHESDA, Md. (June 29, 2009) Exercise and electro-acupuncture treatments can reduce sympathetic nerve activity in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), according to a new study. The finding is important because women with PCOS often have elevated sympathetic nerve activity, which plays a role in hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, obesity and cardiovascular disease

    The study also found that the electro-acupuncture treatments led to more regular menstrual cycles, reduced testosterone levels and reduced waist circumference.
    Exercise had no effect on the irregular or non-existent menstrual cycles that are common among women with PCOS, nor did it reduce waist circumference. However, exercise did lead to reductions in weight and body mass index.

    "The findings that low-frequency electro-acupuncture and exercise decrease sympathetic nerve activity in women with PCOS indicates a possible alternative non-pharmacologic approach to reduce cardiovascular risk in these patients," said one of the researchers, Dr. Elisabet Stener-Victorin of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. The findings regarding menstrual cycles and decrease in testosterone levels in the low-frequency electro-acupuncture are also of interest, according to the researcher.

    The study, "Low-frequency electro-acupuncture and physical exercise decrease high muscle sympathetic nerve activity in polycystic ovary syndrome" was conducted by Elisabet Stener-Victorin, Elizabeth Jedel, Per Olof Janson and Vrsa Bergmann Sverrisdottir, all of the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden and the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden. The study is in the online edition of the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, published by The American Physiological Society.

    Common endocrine disorder
    Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine disorders, affecting an estimated 10% of women of reproductive age. Among the problems associated with the condition are elevated levels of androgens (such as testosterone, the 'male' hormone found in both sexes), ovarian cysts, irregular menstrual cycles and infertility.

    PCOS is associated with increased sympathetic nerve activity in the blood vessels, part of the 'fight or flight' response that results in blood vessel constriction. Chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

    The Swedish researchers had previously found that PCOS is associated with increased sympathetic nerve activity and said it may arise from the elevated testosterone level that is characteristic of PCOS.
    Three groups

    The researchers wanted to find a long-lasting treatment for PCOS that would have no adverse side effects, and so they looked at whether acupuncture or exercise could decrease the sympathetic nerve activity in women with PCOS. The study included 20 women, average age of 30 years, divided into the following groups:

    low-frequency electro-acupuncture (9)
    exercise (5)
    untreated controls, (6)

    The acupuncture group underwent 14 treatments during the 16-week study. Acupuncture points were located in abdominal muscles and back of the knee, points thought to be associated with the ovaries. The needles in the abdomen and leg were stimulated with a low-frequency electrical charge, enough to produce muscle contraction but not enough to produce pain or discomfort.

    The exercise group received pulse watches and were told to take up regular exercise: brisk walking, cycling or any other aerobic exercise that was faster than walking but that they could sustain for at least 30 minutes. They exercised at least three days per week for 30-45 minutes, maintaining a pulse frequency above 120 beats per minute.

    The researchers instructed the control group in the importance of exercise and a healthy diet, the same instructions the experimental groups received, but were not specifically assigned to do anything differently.

    Key Findings:
    The researchers measured the muscle sympathetic nerve activity before and after the 16-week study. Following treatment, the study found the following:

    Both the acupuncture and exercise groups significantly decreased muscle sympathetic nerve activity compared to the control group.
    The acupuncture group experienced a drop in waist size, but not a drop in body mass index or weight.

    The exercise group experienced a drop in weight and body mass index but not in waist size.
    The acupuncture group experienced fewer menstrual irregularities but the exercise group's irregularities did not change.

    In the acupuncture group, there was a significant drop in testosterone. This is an important indicator because the strongest independent predictor of high sympathetic nerve activity in women is the level of testosterone.

    "This is the first study to demonstrate that repeated low-frequency electro-acupuncture and physical exercise can reduce high sympathetic nerve activity seen in women with PCOS," according to the authors. "Furthermore, both therapies decreased measures of obesity while only low-frequency electro-acupuncture improved menstrual bleeding pattern."

    The study has some limitations, including a small sample size, so further research is necessary, the authors wrote. To find the full study, click here or go to

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