Never had acupuncture? How does it work? Is there research? Do Fertility Clinics support it?
Then and Now
Most people know that acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been around thousand of years. However, many are but are less aware that acupuncture is now used all over the world and integrated within Western Medicine. In Australia, acupuncture has been a registered profession (with AHPRA) since 2012. A Bachelor degree is now required to practice acupuncture and Masters and Doctoral degrees are offered at universities and private colleges.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Although acupuncturists are now required to study western medical subjects (such as pathophysiology, biology, pathology, biochemistry etc), most acupuncturists will base their understanding (and explanation) of how acupuncture works on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles. It can be tricky to summarise years of study and less familiar concepts into a succinct answer without this TCM understanding. A typical explanation is that we use acupuncture to activate Qi (energy) within the body and its meridian pathways to help the body heal itself.
However, when most people ask this question, it seems they are looking for more of a biomedical explanation. Whilst there are many theories on how acupuncture works, there is not one definitive answer. Some of the theories include biochemical actions, but the theories that speak to us most are those based on studies that demonstrate a direct effect of acupuncture on the central nervous system (CNS).
The CNS theories include spinal reflex effects, where acupuncture stimulates muscle relaxation and changes in visceral organs. The brain has been shown to change functional connectivity, decreasing activity in limbic structures associated with stress and illness while improving the regulation of the hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal axis. This is the primary system the body uses for regulating hormones and the physiological stress response (1).
Acupuncture has also been shown to modulate parasympathetic activity, helping you to get out of that fight or flight mode. The parasympathetic system is the branch of the nervous system associated with rest, relaxation, digestion and tissue healing (2).
In addition to drawing on thousands of years of tradition and historical literacy, modern acupuncturists can now also adopt an evidence-based approach thanks to the extensive clinical research that is available. There are now well over 15,000 acupuncture controlled clinical trials (2022) listed in the Cochrane database of clinical trials!
In 2017, a Comparative Literature Review “The Acupuncture Evidence Project” (3) was published and found evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture for 117 conditions. The review assessed acupuncture as safe in the hands of a well-trained practitioner and cost-effective for some conditions. The quality and quantity of research into acupuncture’s effectiveness is continually increasing.
Although this comparative literature review hasn’t been updated in the last 5 years, we have seen many other excellent studies and literature reviews specific to various conditions. Our blog article on Acupuncture and IVF Research is a great example of the evolution of research in the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and fertility space.
What Fertility Clinics say about Acupuncture
We regularly receive recommendations from Fertility Specialists, Obstetricians and Midwives. It is so heartening to see the general consensus of acupuncture changing from something that was once considered “alternative” to now being “complimentary” – and something that can work so well alongside treatments such as IVF.
In particular, we love this summary from City Fertility about acupuncture support for IVF.
“Mounting evidence indicates that acupuncture provides a benefit for a variety of disorders and may increase the efficacy of some conventional treatments, including IVF. The evidence suggests acupuncture prepares the uterine lining, improves hormone levels, reduces the stress and anxiety associated with IVF, and may increase pregnancy rates.”
1. Cho ZH, Hwang SC, Wong EK, et al. Neural substrates, experimental evidences and functional hypothesis of acupuncture mechanisms. Acta Neurol Scand 2006;113:370–7. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0404.2006.
2. Lund I, Lundeberg T. Mechanisms of Acupuncture. Acupuncture and Related Therapies Published Online First: 2016. doi:10.1016/j.arthe.2016.12.
3. McDonald J, Janz S. The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative Literature Review (Revised Edition). Brisbane: Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd; 2017. http://www.acupuncture.org.au/