Acupuncture and blood flow to uterus and ovaries

Encouraging blood flow to the uterus and ovaries is the cornerstone to effective treatment of infertility, aiding in IVF success, and preventing miscarriage.

In order to assess whether electro-acupuncture (EA) can reduce a high uterine artery blood flow impedance, 10 infertile but otherwise healthy women with a pulsatility index (PI) ≥3.0 in the uterine arteries were treated with EA in a prospective, non-randomized study. Before inclusion in the study and throughout the entire study period, the women were down-regulated with a gonadotrophin-releasing hormone analogue (GnRHa) in order to exclude any fluctuating endogenous hormone effects on the PL The baseline PI was measured when the serum oestradiol was ≤0.1 nmol/1, and thereafter the women were given EA eight times, twice a week for 4 weeks. The PI was measured again closely after the eighth EA treatment, and once more 10–14 days after the EA period. Skin temperature on the forehead (STFH) and in the lumbosacral area (STLS) was measured during the first, fifth and eighth EA treatments. Compared to the mean baseline PI, the mean PI was significantly reduced both shortly after the eighth EA treatment (P < 0.0001) and 10–14 days after the EA period (P < 0.0001). STFH increased significantly during the EA treatments. It is suggested that both of these effects are due to a central inhibition of the sympathetic activity.

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The utility of acupuncture in the treatment of infertility has been demonstrated in two controlled studies. The first study determined the effect of reducing the Pulsatility Index (PI) of the uterine artery on reproductive outcomes; the second study described a Pre/Post embryo transfer protocol that enhanced overall pregnancy rates (PR).

There are no studies that have utilized both techniques.

Objective: The purpose of the study was to determine the influence of these two acupuncture protocols on IVF outcomes and secondly to identify the appropriate patient groups that would most benefit from this adjunctive therapy.

Materials and Methods: In this retrospective study, data was extracted from medical records of patients RE&I clinic & acupuncture clinics be- tween January 2001 and November 2003. All patients completing an IVF cycle with transfer were included.

One RE&I provided the IVF care and a consortium of acupuncturists overseen by the author provided the strict acupuncture protocols. PR per transfer were the endpoints measured. Data was analyzed by student’s t test and Multiregression with Wilcox ranking (MRW).

Results: 147 patients were included in the study and of those 53 had Acupuncture (Ac) and 94 did not (Non-Ac group). Demographic data between these Ac and Non-Ac groups respectively indicated remarkable equity (Table 1). Fertility Factors also demonstrated equity and there were no differences in Diagnoses, IVF Protocols and type of Gonadatrophin protocols used.

Factors that demonstrated significance were: Length of time infertile, Peak FSH, PI for total group without MRW; PI for MRW groups reversed this (Table 2) and finally average: Sperm Morphology, Peak E2, Peak P4 prior to HcG: and endometrial thickness. PR before Wilcox ranking were the same: 40% v 38%. MRW analysis revealed FSH, Length of time trying to get pregnant, Sperm Morphology and E2 levels as significant: 6.5, 4.1, 4.0 and 1.6 respectively.

When the Ac group was modified (15 Ac patient dropped), PI was elevated from 1.76 to 1.94 resulting in a significant elevation compared to the Non-Ac group, p

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The purpose of the present study was to investigate changes in ovarian blood flow (OBF) in response to electro-acupuncture (EA) stimulation at different frequencies and intensities in anaesthetized rats. Whether the ovarian sympathetic nerves were involved in OBF responses was elucidated by severance of the ovarian sympathetic nerves. In addition, how changes in the systemic circulation affected OBF was evaluated by continuously recording blood pressure. OBF was measured on the surface of the left ovary using laser Doppler flowmeter. Acupuncture needles with a diameter of 0.3 mm were inserted bilaterally into the abdominal and the hindlimb muscles and connected to an electrical stimulator.

Two frequencies—2 Hz (low) and 80 Hz (high)—with three different intensities—1.5, 3, and 6 mA—were applied for 35 s. Both low- and high-frequency EA at 1.5 mA and high-frequency EA at 3 mA had no effect on OBF or mean arterial blood pressure (MAP). Low-frequency EA at 3 and 6 mA elicited significant increases in OBF. In contrast, high-frequency EA with an intensity of 6 mA evoked significant decreases in OBF, followed by decreases in MAP. After severance of the ovarian sympathetic nerves, the increases in the OBF responses to low-frequency EA at 3 and 6 mA were totally abolished, and the responses at 6 mA showed a tendency to decrease, probably because of concomitant decreases in MAP.

The decreased OBF and MAP responses to high-frequency EA at 6 mA remained after the ovarian sympathectomy, and the difference in the responses before and after ovarian sympathectomy was nonsignificant.

In conclusion, the present study showed that low-frequency EA stimulation increases OBF as a reflex response via the ovarian sympathetic nerves, whereas high-frequency EA stimulation decreases OBF as a passive response following systemic circulatory changes.

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Endometrial thickness has been shown to be an important prognostic factor of successful embryo implantation. If the endometrial thickness is less than 9 mm there is a significant reduction in live birth rates. Though there is conflicting data, preliminary evidence suggests that the administration of vaginal Sildenafil can markedly improve endometrial thickness and result in increased live IVF births.

Our clinical observations are consistent with this. However, other clinics report inconsistent results. Therefore, we hypothesized that the difference in response between clinics may involve other factors. When we looked into this, we found that many of our patients were simultaneously receiving acupuncture treatments.

Studies on acupuncture have demonstrated positive effects on implantation rates, ongoing pregnancy rates and the number of live births. Acupuncture has also been shown, via measurements of pulsatility index, to significantly increase blood flow to the uterus. Decreases in pulsatility index have been shown to significantly improve pregnancy rates.

Researchers have also found that acupuncture has direct effects on the endometrium. Some of these include increases in progesterone receptor concentration, a reduction in COX-2, and an increase in the activity of nitric oxide synthase.

Therefore, the purpose of our investigation was to evaluate the effects of combining acupuncture and Sildenafil suppositories on endometrial lining.

Results All four subjects achieved endometrial lining thickness of greater than or equal to 10 mm following the administration of the combination of acupuncture and Sildenafil: including one patient whose lining did not exceed 5 mm in a previous cycle. Another patient, who had not responded to Sildenafil alone in a prior IVF cycle, responded to the combination of Sildenafil and acupuncture. We also noted that endometrial thickness in most patients continued to increase post-hCGadministration.

Conclusions This pilot study is consistent with previous reports that acupuncture improves uterine lining measurements over previous cycles. This preliminary data supports the potential for a synergistic action between acupuncture and Sildenafil. We hypothesize these effects may be due to acupuncture’s ability to upregulate nitric oxide synthase. However, we cannot rule out other mechanisms of action since acupuncture has also been shown to affect many other parameters. The results of this preliminary data may also suggest a role for a similar combination in treating erectile dysfunction. Further testing and data is necessary to verify these results.

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This pilot study showed that a significantly lower amount of gonadotropins (IVF drugs) was used when IVF was combined with standard acupuncture, ie the acupuncture appeared to make the ovaries more responsive to the drugs possibly due to increased blood supply to the ovaries. Increased ovarian responsiveness could be a useful effect for women who produce small numbers of eggs. This trial needs to be repeated with larger numbers of patients.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine if there are benefits of standard acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture as an adjunct to IVF.

Materials and Methods: A randomized, controlled, double-blind, cross- over pilot trial was performed using a needle-like device (sham acupuncture) as a control. Approval from GAMC's Investigational Review Board was acquired. Inclusion criteria were women aged 18 to 42 years with a history of failed IVF cycle(s); the presence of both ovaries; and a normal uterine cavity. Exclusion criteria was Kruger morphology <4%.

Results: Seventeen subjects were enrolled and seven subjects completed both arms of the study. The mean age was 36.2 years (range 28-41 years). The mean Day 3 FSH=3D6.8 IU (range 3-13 IU). There were four ongoing pregnancies after the first cycle, equally distributed. Seven subjects were crossed over after the first cycle. Of these, four from the standard acupuncture group and one from the sham acupuncture group attained pregnancy.

Two subjects of the standard acupuncture group were on-going pregnancies and one from the sham group. Only the sham group had two IVF cancellations. An unpaired Mann-Whitney Test using a two-sided p value was performed.

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This trial (also included above in the Embryo Transfer trials) examined the effect of acupuncture using real or placebo needles on blood flow to the lining of the uterus and found that when certain acupuncture points were stimulated whether by pricking or by penetration the blood flow increased significantly.

BACKGROUND: Acupuncture has been used during IVF treatment as it may improve outcome, however, there are concerns about the true efficacy of this approach. This randomized double blind study aimed to compare real acupuncture with placebo acupuncture in patients undergoing IVF treatment.

METHODS: On the day of embryo transfer (ET), 370 patients were randomly allocated to either real or placebo acupuncture according to a computer-generated randomization list in sealed opaque envelopes. They received 25 min of real or placebo acupuncture before and after ET. The endometrial and subendometrial vascularity, serum cortisol concentration and the anxiety level were evaluated before and after real and placebo acupuncture. RESULTS: The overall pregnancy rate was significantly higher in the placebo acupuncture group than that in the real acupuncture group (55.1 versus 43.8%, respectively, P 5 0.038; Common odds ratio 1.578 95% confidence interval 1.047–2.378). No significant differences were found in rates of ongoing pregnancy and live birth between the two groups. Reduction of endometrial and subendometrial vascularity, serum cortisol concentration and the anxiety level were observed following both real and placebo acupuncture, although there were no significant differences in the changes in all these indices between the two groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Placebo acupuncture was associated with a significantly higher overall pregnancy rate when compared with real acupuncture. Placebo acupuncture may not be inert.

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This pilot studied is included here because it is the first of many studies which followed in subsequent years examining the effects of acupuncture on IVF patients. In this case several women were referred for acupuncture as a last resort after very poor response to high doses of FSH. More eggs were collected and more pregnancies were recorded in the acupuncture cycles compared to the non acupuncture cycles, possibly due to increased blood supply to the ovaries.

Background Little information exists regarding the use of acupuncture in combination with allopathic treatment of infertility.

Objective To describe the use of acupuncture to stimulate follicle development in women undergoing in vitro fertilization.


Design, Setting, and Patients Prospective case series of 6 women receiving intracytoplasmic sperm injection and acupuncture along with agents for ovarian stimulation.

Main Outcome Measures Number of follicles retrieved, conception, and pregnancy past the 1st trimester before and after acupuncture treatment.


Results No pregnancies occurred in the non-acupuncture cycles. Three women produced more follicles with acupuncture treatment (mean, 11.3 vs 3.9 prior to acupuncture; P=.005). All 3 women conceived, but only 1 pregnancy lasted past the 1st trimester.


Conclusion Acupuncture may be a useful adjunct to gonadotropin therapy to produce follicles in women undergoing in vitro fertilization.

Click here for more information on IVF acupuncture in Vancouver, and the IVF Acupuncture Group founder Dr. Spence Pentland