According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, infertility affects 6.1 million American women and their partners: about 10% of the reproductive age population. About one-third of infertility cases can be attributed to male factors, and about one-third to factors related to the female partner. For the remaining one-third of infertile couples, infertility is caused by a combination of problems in both partners or, in about 20 percent of cases, is unexplained.
The most common reasons for male infertility include azoospermia (no sperm cells are produced) and oligospermia (few sperm cells are produced). Sometimes, sperm cells are malformed or they die before they can reach the egg. Many people do not know that acupuncture has been shown to improve sperm quality.
The most common female infertility factor is an ovulation disorder. Ovulation is the process which occurs 13-14 days after the first day of bleeding. In this part of the menstrual cycle, the high level of estrogen secreted by the ovaries triggers a release of luteinizing hormone (LH). This surge in LH causes the egg to be expelled into the fallopian tube. Other causes of female infertility include blocked fallopian tubes, which can occur when a woman has had pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis (a sometimes painful condition causing adhesions and cysts). Congenital anomalies (birth defects) involving the structure of the uterus and uterine fibroids are associated with repeated miscarriages.
A normal menstrual cycle ranges from 25-30 days, with the average cycle lasting 28 days. During the first 5 days (with Day 1 being the first day of bleeding), the estrogen level is low and the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) level rises, stimulating a dominant follicle that later ruptures and releases an egg during ovulation. As estrogen rises, FSH falls, and LH peaks to cause ovulation on Day 14. During the last 14 days of the cycle, called the luteal phase, the walls of the follicle collapse and form the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum secretes large amounts of progesterone, which helps prepare the uterine lining for implantation of the fertilized egg. Acupuncture before and after embryo transfer can significantly improve the pregnancy rate in women undergoing Assisted Reproduction Therapies (ART) such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
Chinese medicine, which consists of primarily acupuncture and herbal medicine, can treat infertility in women due to its effects on progesterone, FSH, LH, and estrogen levels. For female patients, an acupuncturist will ask detailed questions about your menstrual cycle, such as whether it is typically early, late, or alternates between being early and late. Another question will be about pre-menstrual symptoms. For male patients, questions may focus on genitourinary issues. For men and women, other questions relate to how your body is working in general, such as your digestion, breathing, and temperature preference. The answers to these questions will allow your acupuncturist to make an accurate diagnosis in terms of Chinese medical theory. Once the diagnosis is made, the acupuncturist will choose specific points in which to insert the needles, and will choose specific Chinese herbs to make your customized herbal formula.
Finding a qualified acupuncturist that can also recommend herbal medicine may help you attain a healthy pregnancy. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine administers examinations to acupuncture school graduates upon completion of their master's degree. Upon passage of these exams, state licensing boards then scrutinize each applicant before awarding the acupuncture license.