Acupuncture And Infertility

Acupuncture – Generally Speaking…

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Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles into specific locations on the body designated as ‘acupuncture points’, places where needling is believed to exert specific therapeutic effects. There are many ‘systems’ of acupuncture, including Japanese, Korean, Traditional Chinese, European-style Medical acupuncture and more.

Female acupuncture model showing channels and acupuncture points

Female acupuncture model showing channels and acupuncture points

Perhaps the best known acupuncture style in the UK used by people with problems starting or adding to a family is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Practitioners generally take a full TCM style health consultation and make a diagnosis according to TCM theory. TCM looks at the symptoms the patient describes, the signs of the body and emotions, the diet and lifestyle to help illuminate the condition.

TCM theory is necessarily complex, as you would expect in any major medical system. Very basic starting points are the concept of the body having smooth, ordered flowing of Qi (vital energy) in health. Treatment is aimed at influencing any imbalances in the flow of Qi to encourage the body back to the smoothest flow possible. Qi is believed to flow along energy pathways in the body, the jing luo, translated as channels (or meridians) and collaterals (collateral channels or meridians. This gives TCM a different anatomical basis to modern conventional medicine, which is also reflected in the different functions ascribed to the vital organs. Whilst some TCM concepts have been sometimes dismissed as ‘unscientific’, or ‘unworkable’, one observation may be the rise in popularity of TCM as a therapy is not yet matched by science’s ability to understand how it works.

On the basis of the TCM diagnosis, generally points are specifically chosen, meaning that different points may be used each time the patient has a fresh appointment. The needles are inserted and are sometimes stimulated to achieve ‘de qi’ – in very simple terms, sensations which are felt to indicate the Qi is active at the acupuncture point area (1). The needles are kept in place for some time; an average might be 20-30 minutes. Once the needles are in place, modern science suggests that endorphins are released, natural chemical messangers which assist in promoting relaxation. Generally speaking, patients are encouraged to gently relax and enjoy the sensations. Practitioners sometimes also use moxibustion, where mugwort is either burned in a tight roll, looking a bit like a cigar, and gently wafter over the skin, or by placing a little tight pinch of it on the end of some of the needles. This feels warm and often soothing, and will never burn the skin with a well-trained practitioner in charge.

Moxibustion - the gentle burning of herbs for their theraputic vapours- may be used alongside acupuncture

Moxibustion - the gentle burning of herbs for their theraputic vapours- may be used alongside acupuncture

Practitioners also sometimes use cupping – these are round glass  spheres, looking a little like old style fisher-men’s net weights (remember those greenish orbs by the seaside boats?). These spheres are usually clear heavy glass, and the practitioner uses a piece of burning cotton wool soaked in alcohol solution to make a flame with which they create a vacuum. The burning material is quickly placed inside the cup, then removed, then the cup placed rapidly onto the skin. The heat makes a vacuum, so the cup sucks a little skin into the cup, creating a dome shape. This can be done either on top of the needles, or sepeartely. another technique is sliding cupping, where oil is applied to the body and the cups are moved around – this can feel like a very very deep massage. Again, with a good practitioner the patient should come to no harm! Another way to use cups is the modern suction method, which uses a pump instead of the more theatrical looking flaming techniques.

A batch of cups used in Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture

A batch of cups used in Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture

The needles are then removed and placed into a sharps bin for safe disposal. In the UK today, the trend is definitely for standard use of disposable needles which are sterile until opened, only used once, and then disposed of, never to be used again. In other countries such as China, hospitals may autoclave to sterilise and then re-use needles, rather like surgical instruments are re-used, although patients can request disposables are used instead.

Auricular (ear) acupuncture work may involve an extra element: the practitioner may also offer ‘ear seeds’ or ‘ear magnets’ for use between appointments. These are generally a Chinese herbal seed, wang xing bu ling (Semen vaccariae) or special tiny magnetic ‘beads’ mounted on skin-friendly adhesive tape which is then stuck onto the ear skin like a tiny plaster. These are generally kept in place for a few days and are felt to encourage a beneficial flow of Qi.

References

1. Bovey, M. (2006). Deqi. Journal of Chinese Medicine. 81 (6), pp. 18-29.

DISCLAIMER: NO information here is intended to be taken as medical advice – or used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Any person with any health concerns is advised instead to consult their doctor. In the case of persons seeking therapy using Traditional Chinese Medicine, this information cannot be taken as medical advice and persons are advised instead to consult a suitably qualified professional practitioner.  Styles do vary between practitioners so this introduction should not be taken as a definitive guide to any practitioners practice standards. Many thanks.

Acupuncture And Female Conception Difficulties Overview

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Traditional Chinese Medicine was used with patients with female fertility issues for centuries. In modern times it has been combined with assisted reproduction medicine such as IVF (click on the right hand side to explore) or has sometimes been used on its own in many clinics in the West.

Most practitioners offer acupuncture and some also may offer Chinese Herbal Medicine alongside it. The theory of TCM gynaecology is highly advanced, having been honed over the centuries.

Modern women may have children later and many try acupuncture to help them concieve

Modern women may have children later and many try acupuncture to help them concieve

A Little Theory Overview

The following is of course a very condensed view, as TCM theory is complex and has become highly developed over the centuries. TCM maintains that Qi (vital energy) circulates throughout the body in an orderly fashion in the healthy individual. TCM practice always aims to correct imbalances in flow, impediments to flow or unusual Qi movement to help restore the body towards harmony. Qi flows in twelve regular channels (meridians) and eight extraordinary channels, which traverse the body in the same ‘map’ for every person. Acupuncture points exist along these pathways where the Qi is said to gather, therefore the channel Qi is held to be influenced by needling these points.

Acupuncture model with female points

Acupuncture model with female points

A (Very) Little TCM Acupuncture Gynaecology Theory

The Chinese term bao gong is often translated as ‘uterus’, however it refers to all the internal female reproductive organs. The actual uterus is termed ‘zi gong’. It is supplied with all the ‘necessary materials’ for menstruation, conception, pregnancy and delivery by the organs, via the  extraordinary channels Ren, Chong, Dai and Du. Those connect to the twelve regular channels  and the organs.

Modern authors suggest perhaps the circuit of the Ren and Du channels via the Brain, Heart and Kidneys can relate to the modern equivalent, the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis controlling gynaecological functions (1).

Studies in the West have tended to focus on combining acupuncture with in vitro fertilisation technique (IVF). However, TCM traditionally had to be used for patients without the benefit of any modern technology. Today, recent media reports state the Chinese trend for trying TCM first has not diminished (2), although in the West, it may be they choose modern conventional medicine first and a small number then complement it with TCM. Should any patient choose to try acupuncture, with or without other treatments, finding a properly qualified acupuncture practitioner is essential.  In many larger cities, patients can also choose to save money by taking acupuncture at the local acupuncture teaching school, often staffed by highly experienced senior staff and final year training practitioners. Patients should always be free to choose conventional medicine if they wish to, good practitioners are not averse to patients’ rights to choose.

DISCLAIMER: NO information here is intended to be taken as medical advice – or used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Any person with any health concerns is advised instead to consult their doctor. In the case of persons seeking therapy using Traditional Chinese Medicine, this information cannot be taken as medical advice and persons are advised instead to consult a suitably qualified professional practitioner.  TCM theory is fascinating but can only really be interpreted in any meaningful way by a qualified practitioner – please do not attempt to use this information in any other way than as an interesting introduction to some topics. Many thanks.

Silhouette photo credit http://www.sxc.hu/profile/katagaci

References

1. Maciocia, G. (1998). Obstetrics and gynaecology in Chinese medicine. London: Churchill Livingstone.

2. Chang, E. (2009) Breaking the silence on Chinas infertility treatments. [online]. CNN News, Available at:  http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/08/11/china.fertility/index.html

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