For Maria Coplit, the decision to use traditional and laser acupuncture to complement her high-tech fertility treatments seemed a “no brainer,” especially after experiencing the toll of multiple miscarriages while trying to have a second child.
“We decided to empower ourselves as much as possible,” said Coplit, who gave birth to a daughter through in vitro fertilization (IVF) at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut. “Acupuncture helped create a calming environment, even if it was just having a blissful hour to myself where I wasn’t stressing out about the world or raising a toddler at home.”
Coplit, of Westport, is among many women and couples who are turning to the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture to supplement the assisted reproductive technology that helps infertile couples to become parents.
Although proponents concede that acupuncture alone won’t lead to pregnancy in complex fertility cases, they say it is an effective complement to traditional treatment.
“More women and couples are seeking a holistic approach to fertility treatment that takes into account the mind-body connection,” said Dr. Joshua Hurwitz, a reproductive endocrinologist at Reproductive Medicine Associates, which has four offices in Fairfield County. The practice offers advanced fertility options as well as acupuncture, yoga, nutrition guidance and support groups.
Acupuncture involves the painless placement of ultra thin needles into strategic points on the body. Used for thousands of years by Eastern practitioners, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanism by balancing Qi (pronounced chee) — a form of energy that flows throughout the body. Proponents believe a blocked Qi can impact physical and emotional well-being.
Growing scientific evidence shows acupuncture may improve a woman’s chance of conceiving when performed in conjunction with assisted reproductive techniques, including medication, artificial insemination and IVF, which involves the transfer of an embryo to the uterus.
Fertility experts took note of the ancient technique after a 2002 study of 160 women found that adding acupuncture to IVF treatment increased pregnancy rates by 42.5 percent compared with 26.3 percent for those who did not have acupuncture.
The use of laser acupuncture performed before and after embryo transfer during an IVF cycle improved a woman’s chance of implantation by up to 15 percent, according to a 2009 study of 1,000 people by Reproductive Medicine Associates. Laser acupuncture — which uses infrared light energy instead of needles — is gaining popularity in the United States after years of use in Europe.
“The study results are exciting because they provide additional support showing that acupuncture has a direct effect on improving fertility,” said Amy Matton, a licensed acupuncturist with Reproductive Medicine Associates. “Laser acupuncture is a viable alternative for people who may have a fear of needles and haven’t been willing to try acupuncture in the past.”
Acupuncture can help regulate menstrual cycles, trigger ovulation, reduce stress, improve blood flow to the pelvic area and uterine lining and reduce the side effects of medications associated with assisted reproductive technology, experts said. Acupuncturists also treat women with fertility problems, such as a lack of ovulation, who choose not to pursue modern medical options.
A licensed acupuncturist and founder of Healing Ways Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine in Manchester and Wethersfield, Edwin Brown treats women who are using assisted reproductive technology and others who are looking to conceive without technological interventions.
Acupuncture can trigger the release of hormones that are considered a “crucial step to achieving pregnancy,” Brown said. “We know that increasing the fitness of the uterine wall is important for embryo implantation. The chance of conception and carrying a baby to term are reduced if the uterine lining is not healthy and thick enough. Acupuncture also enhances the body’s immune system, which can increase a woman’s responsiveness to fertility drugs and therapies.”
Using acupuncture to restore the body’s natural balance increases the flow of nutrients and oxygen-rich blood to cells, said Sal Amadeo, a licensed acupuncturist and co-founder of the Amadeus Center for Health & Healing in New Haven.
“Think of your body when you haven’t had enough sleep, food or sunshine. You don’t feel fully alive,” he said. “The same things happen to cells, which make up every part of our body. The most important part of acupuncture is making sure that the cells are nourished.”
Amadeo has been assisting women with fertility issues for more than two decades. But despite the growing evidence of acupuncture’s effectiveness, skeptics remain and consumers are frustrated because many insurance plans don’t cover acupuncture for infertility, he said.
“The traditional medical community that relies only on scientific methods is having a tough time accepting acupuncture,” he said. “Acupuncture is one of the most popular and expanding types of medicine we have. Yet many people still refer to this as sham medicine.”
Hurwitz said more medical experts are beginning to recognize the value of acupuncture. Although scientific studies must be viewed with a “critical eye, even the most ardent scientists agree there’s something we cannot exactly quantify [about acupuncture], even if the benefit is just having the patient feel like they are in control,” he said.
As a complement to traditional treatment, acupuncture can help optimize physical and mental well-being, he said.
“It’s important to improve your overall health and wellness before and during fertility treatment and pregnancy,” Hurwitz said. “Women and couples don’t just want to conceive. They want a healthy pregnancy and baby.”
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