Edmonton Acupuncture Center  
Edmonton Acupuncture Center
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Edmonton Fertility Clinic


   Jump to:  Infertility & TCM  |  Benefits  |  IVF: East Meets West  |  Frequently Asked Questions

What's behind the curtain: Infertility and TCM

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, it is often said that there is no such thing as “infertility.” That is because TCM is founded on a theory of balance. One's inability to conceive is not a fact condition of infertility, but considered to be an imbalance that could be treated.

Generally, the TCM practitioner treats the body’s root imbalances and then the body’s symptoms will be alleviated. This theory applies to fertility as much as to any other condition. A woman’s natural balanced state, from the time she begins menstruating to the time she begins menopause, is a state of "potentially conceiving." Deviations from this state—an imbalance in TCM theory—do not necessarily imply “infertility;” it simply means a shift from one's optimum reproductive health.

Stress is the biggest enemy.

A study done at Harvard University showed that stress reduces the hypothalamic-anterior pituitary-ovarian axis function, and should thus be considered in the infertility workup. Acupuncture releases endorphins that mitigate one’s response to stressful stimuli, thus enhancing the possibility of conception. Biologically, since the hypothalamus regulates both stress responses as well as the sex hormones, it’s easy to see how stress could cause infertility in some women.

When activated by stress, the pituitary gland also produces increased amounts of prolactin, and elevated levels of prolactin could cause irregular ovulation. The female reproductive tract contains stress-hormone receptors, stress can affect fertility. Research has shown that the brain produces special molecules called neuropeptides in response to emotions, and that these peptides can interact with every cell of the body, including those of the immune system. In this view, the mind and the body are not only connected, but inseparable, so that it is not surprising that stress can have a negative influence on fertility. Similarly stress can reduce sperm counts as well.

The stress factors that acupuncture addresses stems from both psychological and emotional factors as well as physical ones. For example, extremely painful premenstrual or mid-cycle pain can be debilitating. This type of physical stress no doubt produces emotional stress as a result of missed work, interference in activities, and the pain itself, which in turn can compromise the function of the reproductive system.

The hormone ACTH, which is released as a response to acupuncture needle stimuli, has an anti- inflammatory effect that may improve fertility (for example, by improving with tube factor–based infertility as a response to pelvic inflammatory disease). In addition, the insertion of acupuncture needles has been shown to effectively increase blood circulation. Enhanced blood flow to the uterine lining undoubtedly contributes to a healthier and more growth-oriented endometrium.

One TCM diagnosis that exists which helps to explain male or female infertility due to stress factor is called Liver Qi stagnation. Key identifiers of an individual with this condition are anger, rage, frustration, depression, and anxiety. Dr. Secondo Fassino (University School of Medicine, Turin, Italy) and colleagues recorded the personal characteristics of 156 infertile and 80 fertile couples, and measured their degree of psychopathology. When the researchers divided the couples according to the nature of the infertility—organic, functional, or undetermined—they found that anxiety, depression, and a tendency toward anger suppression could predict the diagnosis of organic or functional infertility in women with 97% accuracy. For infertile men, anxiety was also an important independent predictor of functional infertility, increasing the likelihood of having this form of infertility five-fold, while depression was more predictive of organic infertility.

Traditional Chinese Medicine holds that a human's body must be gently nourished and encouraged to produce health eggs and bear fruit. It works to rebalance the delicate interplay of energies that occur each month and to prepare her uterine lining to receive that fertilized egg.

Practicing TCM and applying its principle to treat infertility, we found that most hormonal imbalances which are considered untreatable by Western medicine respond to our TCM methods of treatment. Many patients came to us having been diagnosed with high FSH levels, luteal phase defect, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, unexplained infertility and so on. Most of them have gone through months or years of trying to get pregnant using ART. And many of them are delighted to discover that after three to ten months of Chinese herbal remedy and acupuncture treatments that we prescribe, they become pregnant with no further effect.
Chinese Medicine seeks to restore balance to the body. Many hormonal problems occur because of slight imbalances in the endocrine system. Even a slight aberration can throw the entire system off so Qi no longer functions smoothly. Not only physical obstructions in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus and hormonal problems but also the levels of stress can be the cause of a woman to have a minuscule chance of conceiving that month. TCM treatments are designed to stimulate the body's own natural production of hormones while restoring the health and harmony of the entire system. Once the body is in balance and its hormones are restored, conception can occur.

If you want to enhance the chances of natural conception or you are looking for a highly effective complementary treatment to in vitro fertilization (IVF), acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine are right for you. Trained in a form of medicine that has more than 5000 years of history, our doctors can help you reach your body’s natural balance, thus, not only improving your chances of getting pregnant and carrying to term, but also enhancing the health of your baby.

Everyone is a unique individual. No person’s imbalances are identical to those of anyone else. Using TCM diagnosis, your practitioner will determine your body’s current imbalance at your first visit. This will include looking for certain physiological changes on your tongue, taking your pulse, learning your complete health history, and asking many questions about your body and habits. Once your imbalance is determined, a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs tailor-made treatment for your body will be preceded. No matter whether your practitioner primarily uses acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine or some combination of both, the focus will be on eliminating the root imbalance that is causing your infertility.

Your acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments will start working right away to get your body back to its optimum balance and ready for conception. Typical changes you may sense quickly include: reduction in the stresses that interfere with ovulation, regulation of menses, and a general feeling of good health. More subtle changes may eventually include a normalization of the hormones that regulate ovulation and allow an egg to be released, an increase in uterine blood flow improving chances of a fertilized egg implanting, or an improvement in ovulation cycles in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, to name a few. Altogether, TCM will work to get your body in a healthier and more balanced state which will better lend itself to conception.


Acupuncture, the traditional Chinese medicine technique that uses hair-thin needles to treat pain, allergies, and nausea, is showing promise as a treatment for female infertility. Researchers from New York Weill Cornell Medical Centre reviewed existing studies and found that acupuncture helps:

  • Reduce stress hormones that interfere with ovulation
  • Normalize hormones that regulate ovulation so an egg is released
  • Increase blood flow to the uterus, improving the chances of a fertilized egg implanting
  • Improve ovulation cycles in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which makes getting pregnant difficult
  • Improve pregnancy rates in women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • Lower FSH level by improving ovarian condition

When East Meets West: IVF and Acupuncture

One of the most common forms of Assisted Reproductive Therapies is In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). During the course of an IVF treatment, the ovaries are stimulated with medication to produce multiple eggs. Those eggs are then retrieved from the body, fertilized with healthy sperm, allowed to develop into a viable embryo, and then transferred back into the uterus.

Patients can prepare for this process by optimizing their reproductive health using general principles of TCM. TCM can regulate hormones and lower elevated FSH levels, increase ovarian function and the quality of eggs produced, reduce the side effects of hormone treatments, and increase blood flow to the endometrial lining and thereby enhance the chances of a successful implantation.

A German study of 160 women undergoing IVF found that the women who had acupuncture before and after the embryo transfer had a significantly higher pregnancy rate: 42.5% compared to 26.3% of the women who did not have acupuncture.

Another study by Cornell University, published in the December 2002 issue of Fertility and Sterility, reported, “The peripheral impact of acupuncture in improving uterine artery blood flow and hence endometrial thickness ..... provides encouraging data regarding its potential positive effect on implantation." the study concluded, "Because acupuncture is nontoxic and relatively affordable, its indications as an adjunct in assisted reproduction or as an alternative for women who are intolerant, ineligible, or contraindicated for conventional hormone induction of ovulation deserves serious research and exploration."

Currently, about half of our infertility patients use acupuncture in conjunction with IVF (in vitro fertilization, where egg and sperm are united in a petri dish and the growing embryos are transferred into a woman's uterus.) or artificial insemination. Others use acupuncture and our herbal medicine only. Among these using acupuncture and herbal medicine only, either they already tried IVF treatment several times with no luck to get pregnant, then they turned to us as the last resort, or they financially cannot afford IVF or simply they want to try these none invasion, no chemical, all natural therapies before considering IUI or IVF. A small group of our patients in their late 30s or early 40s were turned down for IVF by their fertility doctors, and then they turned to a recipe of acupuncture and herbal medicine as an alternative.

If you have already begun IVF treatments, you should begin your course of TCM therapies right away. This will ensure the significant emotional and financial investment you've made in your IVF therapy is given the best possible landscape for success.

Today’s patient seeks to combine the world’s collective knowledge to achieve good health. At Acupuncture Care Holistic Centre, we will work to integrate the benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with your doctor’s Assisted Reproductive Therapies (ART). Together, we will work towards your goal: a healthy pregnancy and birth.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will I have to take treatments?
Typically 3-6 months, 1-2 weekly visits. However, treatment terms inevitably vary patient to patient.

Is it ok to do IVF at the same time?
Yes it is. If you haven't started IVF yet, however, it is recommended you begin your TCM treatment first.

What are the benefits of TCM during ART?
Your acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments work to bring your body back to its optimum balance and ready for conception. Typical changes you may sense quickly include: reduction in the stresses that interfere with ovulation, regulation of menses, and a general feeling of good health. More subtle changes may eventually include a normalization of the hormones that regulate ovulation and allow an egg to be released, an increase in uterine blood flow improving chances of a fertilized egg implanting, or an improvement in ovulation cycles in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, to name a few. Altogether, TCM will work to get your body in a healthier and more balanced state which will better lend itself to conception throughout your other Assisted Reproductive Therapies

When should I have Pre-/Post- Transfer Treatments?
One of the most important implementations of TCM during an IVF treatment is what is commonly referred to as Pre- and Post- Transfer Treatments. The chances of conception increase when reproductive-specific Acupuncture is administered prior to and shortly after the embryo is transferred to the uterus during an IVF treatment. Post-transfer treatments can be done even the following day. A recent German study showed that conception rates increased to 51% when acupuncture is administered before and after transfers, as compared to only 36% when transfers are done without acupuncture. Given the financial and emotional investment of an IVF treatment, you owe it to yourself to explore this option before your next transfer.


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--Lao Tzu