Acupuncture has been proven to hold many health benefits, and among those is its ability to aid in fertility. Fertility refers to the ability of an individual to produce reproductive components of the right quality and quantity, which in turn leads to conception. However, many couples find themselves unable to conceive children due to problems with their reproductive health.
Achieving Conception in Western Medicine
The male and female reproductive systems are very complex and a number of complications may occur when trying to conceive; however, Western Medicine has found intricate ways of correcting many of these issues. Some of the most common methods to promote fertility or achieve conception in Western Medicine include hormone therapy and in-vitro fertilization. However, there are other effective methods that are non-invasive and have been practiced for generations.
The Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture has been proven as an effective treatment for fertility, which relies on concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The theory behind Traditional Chinese Medicine, as it relates to infertility, is that there is an imbalance in the flow of energy, or Qi, which is disrupting the reproductive cycle, and therefore preventing conception. By rebalancing the flow of Qi, an acupuncturist can help a couple achieve their goals of successfully starting a family.
How Does Acupuncture Achieve This?
The link between acupuncture and reproductive health has to do with stress. An individual’s stress response can lead the body to produce certain steroids, which in turn affect reproductive health and capacity. Stress has an effect on the release of hormones by the endocrine system that is quite complex, but can provide an explanation as to why many have issues with fertility. Acupuncture has been proven to help relieve stress related to chronic pain, while also offering a therapeutic session that results in improved emotional stability.
How Does Stress Affect Fertility?
Stress is a survival mechanism that our bodies have, which is also known as the “fight or flight” response. During this response, the body undergoes a series of hormonal and chemical changes that will help an individual survive a potentially dangerous situation. The release of adrenaline and cortisol, for example, help the individual reach an instant level of alertness, followed by a surge of energy that will help them fight or escape.
Among the hormones released in response to stress are the steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids. Studies show that glucocorticoids affect fertility through their effect on the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis, or HPG axis (Whirledge, 2010). During this process, the body makes survival a priority and reallocates its resources to maximize the chance of survival, in turn suppressing the reproductive axis.
Glucocorticoids and the HPG axis
The release of glucocorticoids by the adrenal cortex plays a role in survival. These steroid hormones trigger what is known as gluconeogenesis, a process in which the body generates glucose, in this case to fuel the “fight-or-flight” response. However, excess levels of glucocorticoids have an effect on the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and reproductive organs.
At a hypothalamic level, glucocorticoids suppress the release of gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH), which in turn decreases the release of luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone from the anterior pituitary gland. Both luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone have important functions in the male and female reproductive systems. For example, luteinizing hormone in women helps trigger ovulation, and follicle stimulating hormone helps regulate the menstrual cycle and produce eggs.
Therefore, using acupuncture to reduce stress can have a direct effect on fertility and reproductive health. For more information on acupuncture at Santa Cruz CORE, contact us at (831) 425-9500.
Whirledge, Shannon, and John A. Cidlowski. “Glucocorticoids, Stress, and Fertility.” Minerva Endocrinologica. U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2010. Web. 09 May 2017. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3547681/>.