Some people choose to seek traditional and complementary treatments, such as acupuncture, to help treat fertility issues.
Medical professionals define infertility as being unable to conceive after having unprotected sex for 1 year. Women who are unable to remain pregnant may also have infertility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infertility affects about 12 percent of women ages 15–44.
In 35 percent of couples with fertility issues, both a male and female factor may play a role. Doctors identify male factors alone in around 8 percent of infertility cases in couples actively trying to conceive.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine that some people use to manage a variety of conditions. An acupuncturist inserts very small, thin needles into specific points of a body to stimulate blood flow to that area.
When used as a treatment for infertility, proponents of acupuncture say it can help by:
- boosting blood flow to reproductive organs
- balancing hormones
- relieving stress
In this article, learn about why some people use acupuncture for fertility, as well as what the research says about its effectiveness.
Does acupuncture work to increase fertility?
There is currently no conclusive evidence to suggest that acupuncture does or does not improve fertility.
Research from 2017 found that there was not enough evidence to support using acupuncture to treat infertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
A 2016 review found that scientists ran poorly designed studies or came to no solid conclusions when looking at the use of acupuncture for fertility problems in males.
One study examined the effects of acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture on live births among women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Half of the participants had real acupuncture treatments while undergoing IVF, starting between days 6 and 8 of follicle stimulation. The other half underwent treatment using noninvasive needles, which acupuncturists placed away from the trigger points.
Live births occurred in 18.3 percent of the women who underwent acupuncture versus 17.8 percent of the women in the sham control group.
The researchers concluded that the difference was negligible, and that acupuncture at the time of follicle stimulation and embryo transfer does not affect live birth rates. This study, which scientists conducted in over 800 women, does not support the use of acupuncture as a complementary therapy for infertility.
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According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, acupuncture is safe when practitioners use sterile, proper equipment.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) class acupuncture needles as medical devices. These regulations require the needles to be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use.
A person considering acupuncture should look for a practitioner with proper training and a license. Licensing requirements may vary from state to state.
Side effects and risks
When done properly, acupuncture has few side effects and risks. However, there is a risk that the acupuncturist may push a needle in too far, resulting in an injury or even a punctured lung. Other risks can include:
- bleeding or bruising at the needle sites
- infection from unsterilized needles
- excessive bleeding if a person has a clotting disorder or uses blood thinners
To minimize the risks, a person should always choose a qualified acupuncturist.
Some people experiencing infertility may consider alternative or complementary treatments, including acupuncture, to help them conceive.
However, scientists have been unable to prove conclusively that acupuncture does or does not help treat infertility. That being said, acupuncture is generally safe and has few risks. Anyone wishing to try using it to help treat fertility issues should speak to a doctor first.