The Relationship Between Stress and Fertility
Couples who are having trouble getting pregnant are likely to experience stress and anxiety. This stress may increase the longer the couple keeps trying without success. While there may be no link between short term stress and infertility, ongoing stress may hinder the conception journey. For some women, long-term stress may interfere with ovulation, thereby creating difficulties with conception. When a woman is stressed signals to the hypothalamus may be altered thereby interfering with hormones that trigger monthly egg release by the ovaries. Ovulation cycles thus become more inconsistent. This makes planning for conception more stressful, completing a vicious cycle. Women experiencing higher levels of stress while undergoing IVF may have a smaller success margin as discovered in a study by the University of California.
The infertility struggle is a heavy burden to bear. Depending on the cause of infertility, various conventional treatments are available such as surgery and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). However these options may be financially unavailable to a lot of people. There are alternative treatment methods available, either instead of, or to support conventional treatments. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) may significantly improve conception rates. TCM may also be useful in treating stress during fertility treatment, thereby increasing the chances of success, and making the journey easier to cope with.
In TCM, the human body is a system of interconnected and interdependent organs. Stress hormones affect each of the organs including those in the reproductive system. Stress disrupts the delicate balance that exists in the endocrine system. Stressful states use up progesterone which is needed to thicken the uterus wall. This disruption in balance is capable of stopping a woman from ovulating. For men, stress affects sperm count and quality. Fertility drugs that attempt to restore this balance for women may be successful to an extent, but come with side effects like weight gain and fluid retention.
Acupuncture for Fertility
Acupuncture is a treatment method in which tiny needles are inserted into the skin at various points on the body to stimulate Qi (energy) flow. These points are along the meridians (paths) through which Qi flows. Acupuncture takes an holistic approach towards addressing health issues. TCM practitioners know that physical and mental health are linked, so the patient’s whole wellbeing needs to be treated together. Health issues are caused by energy blockages and imbalances within the body, so acupuncture aims to restore balance and energy flow.
Acupuncture may be performed on women anytime from pre-conception all the way to up to the end of pregnancy. One aim in acupuncture for fertility is to increase blood flow to the ovaries and uterus. Acupuncture and TCM aim to restore the organs to a state of balance so that the body is better able to conceive and sustain a healthy pregnancy. Couples who are stressed about failed conception attempts may also benefit from acupuncture to help in relaxation and balancing of physical and mental health. Less stress may mean a better chance of conception.
Women undergoing IVF treatment may find acupuncture helpful alongside IVF to help improve the chance of success and to help relieve the stress involved. Acupuncture may also be used to treat the side effects caused by drugs or medical procedures.
For men, general energy levels, cardiovascular health, and reduced stress are all important pre-conception and acupuncture may help with all of these. Acupuncture may help to improve sperm count, quality and motility.
A study by Yoon Frederiksen et al., Efficacy of psychosocial interventions for psychological and pregnancy outcomes in infertile women and men, aimed to assess how interventions helped with reducing stress and improving pregnancy rates. 39 studies were assessed and significant effects were found for both clinical pregnancy and combined psychological outcomes. The study showed that greater reductions in anxiety and stress were associated with an improvement in pregnancy rates.
Another study, The relationship between perceived stress, acupuncture, and pregnancy rates among IVF patients: a pilot study (Judith Balk et al.), studied 57 infertile patients undergoing IVF in order to determine the effect of acupuncture on stress levels correlated with pregnancy rates. 64.7% pregnancy was achieved by those who received the acupuncture treatment while only 42.5% was achieved by those who did not. There was also a lower stress score on the former, with a decrease in stress correlating to higher pregnancy rates.