If you haven’t experienced infertility thus far in your own family planning, chances are, you know at least one person who has. The truth is that 1 in 8 couples in the U.S. experiences infertility in some way – and the process and procedures can be scary for those who do.
This is compounded by the fact that not many of us talk about infertility within our friend groups, making the whole process even more confusing.
Many couples even turn to alternative medicine to help increase the efficacy of infertility treatments. In fact, 92 percent of people believe that alternative medicine practices (such as acupuncture, holistic medicine, yoga, nutrition, and diet) can impact one’s overall health. And when having difficulty getting pregnant or struggling with infertility, 37 percent of women are likely to consider alternative medicine to increase their chances of getting pregnant. But, though over half of these couples believe that alternative medicine and holistic practices might impact one’s health, they feel as though their experiences with holistic medicine is too limited to know for sure.
The CCRM (Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine), one of the nation’s leading fertility treatment centers with 11 centers in its network, offers prospective parents industry-leading approaches to their healthy baby – and they are pushing the conversation around infertility in order to de-stigmatize it. CCRM pioneers its own research in fertility science and treatment and leverage its own data, unlike many other fertility clinics that outsource their specialists and testing needs. And, they tout a dedicated team of in-house reproductive endocrinologists, embryologists, and geneticists – this results in some of the highest in vitro fertilization (IVF) success rates in the industry. Through its proven methods, it takes the average patient at CCRM 1.2 IVF cycles to get pregnant, while the national average for IVF success stands at 1.6 cycles.
Needless to say, they know their stuff.
In a recent survey, CCRM has found that 40 percent of surveyed Americans believe infertility is a socially taboo subject. As we know, holding infertility as a taboo only prevents those struggling with infertility from opening up about their own difficulties – and this can make them feel very alone while trying to manage things like alternative practices during infertility treatment.
Fortunately, CCRM is looking to change all that by talking openly, honestly, and positively about infertility and family planning.
We spoke with Dr. Sheeva Talebian, MD, who is named as one of the top doctors in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility and practices at CCRM New York. We asked her all of our questions about using holistic medicine in conjunction with infertility treatment – what it is, how to use it, and what we need to know about it. Read on for her answers.
Many women turn to alternative practices when experiencing infertility. Is there research to suggest that things like yoga, acupuncture, supplements, nutrition, and meditation can impact fertility?
“Studies evaluating the impact of alternative therapies on fertility generally are not very robust,” says Dr. Talebian. “So, they often may not show a ‘statistically significant’ improvement.” However, there are studies suggesting benefits and there are many, many anecdotal reports. “What we are finding,” Dr. Talebian explains, “is that measures to minimize stress keep patients ‘in the game for longer,’ ultimately improving chances of success.”
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Are there studies to support the benefits of certain holistic practices over others when considering them in regards to infertility?
There are studies evaluating the pairing of acupuncture treatment with more western treatments, like IVF, Dr. Talebian tells us. “The studies do suggest improved live birth rates when whole systems traditional and holistic medicine is paired with IVF.”
Why do you think so many women turn to holistic practices when dealing with infertility?
“Truthfully,” Dr. Talebian explains, “while Western medicine has dramatically improved (looking at IVF stats from 15 years ago compared to today), it still falls short when addressing the body as a whole as it relates to fertility.”
This is where holistic practices can be an extremely important adjunct to Western medicine. Once again, by minimizing stress and feeling supported, more patients will continue Western treatment which improves the likelihood of success, she tells us.
What are the recommended practices surrounding herbal supplements, yoga and exercise, acupuncture, massage, and meditation when going through infertility treatment?
As with anything, there is not one standard prescription that applies to every patient. “I’m a big advocate of the team approach,” Dr. Talebian says. A formal plan for herbal supplements, exercise, acupuncture, etc. should be formulated between the patient, the doctor (your reproductive endocrinologist) and any supporting practitioners (TCM specialist, dietician, etc.).
Because there are so many parts when it comes to infertility treatment, it’s vital that everyone is on the same page, Dr. Talebian tells us. For instance, some supplements are encouraged to be taken during IVF treatment and others are only pre-IVF and should stop during the treatment. Impact exercise should be avoided as one approaches an egg retrieval and post-egg retrieval as the ovaries are at risk of torsion at that time (twisting). Certain yoga positions should also be avoided as they can promote a torsion as well. Massage also might need to be avoided at certain points of a treatment cycle.
As a general rule, walking is always safe, and so is meditation.
What is the efficacy of these practices in conjunction with infertility treatment?
“Honestly, there are no great studies evaluating these adjuncts,” says Dr. Talebian. Some supplements have been studied in association with certain diagnoses, but most have not and are more anecdotal or theoretical.
Which of these holistic practices do you feel is worth women investing their time and money into during the process of infertility treatment?
Dr. Talebian says that she is a big advocate of adding in supplements and acupuncture treatment under the care of a fertility-trained TCM specialist. “I believe the Eastern and Western approaches to infertility treatment complement each other very well,” she tells us. But she emphasizes, “I do think it is important for there to be a collaboration between all practitioners and the patient.”
What do you suggest to women who are interested in adjusting their wellness practices with yoga, meditation, and massage during their infertility treatment?
“As mentioned, says Dr. Talebian, “I’m a big advocate of incorporating overall health and wellness to fertility treatment. The body and mind need to be as strong as possible to have a good outcome.”
That being said, certain practices may need to be modified (certain yoga/pilates positions or other exercises) when one is doing IVF, she notes. This should be discussed by the individual and her doctor. Individualized plans can be formulated. And again, the more support a patient has, the more likely they will continue care and achieve their goal.
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What would you recommend to women who would like to overhaul their nutritional intake during infertility treatment and are considering herbal supplements?
In general, an “anti-inflammatory” diet is beneficial for one’s fertility, Dr. Talebian explains. “I do advocate ‘cleaning’ up ones’ diet and starting supplements, if possible, two to three months in advance of fertility treatment,” she continues.
“However,” she notes, “I do not necessarily recommend delaying treatment to do this (depending on age and other factors) – but to truly see a benefit, you do need some time for the adjuncts to potentially help.”
What should women considering acupuncture to boost fertility know?
Acupuncture and TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) can be used alone or in conjunction with Western medicine. A good TCM practitioner should be able to guide you on whether it is appropriate to work solely with them or in conjunction with an RE, Dr. Talebian tells us.
And your history and age will determine what is the best route to take.
What are the most common misconceptions about holistic practices in the scope of infertility?
“There are still many who believe there is no benefit to holistic practices in the scope of fertility,” says Dr. Talebian. “However, there is mounting data and a plethora of anecdotal evidence that these practices can improve your outcome.”
This post was in partnership with CCRM, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board.