Integrative approaches provide promise for fertility patients


For patients who are struggling to get pregnant, integrative medicine modalities including acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), have shown promise in treating infertility. Integrative practices don’t replace traditional Western medical approaches to infertility, but rather enhance treatments, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), while also addressing lifestyle factors that can affect fertility such as stress, nutrition, and low-quality sleep. Such protocols can support both female and male patients. 

When a patient comes to see Rose Tan-Knight, Lac, MS, of Lotus Acupuncture in Walnut Creek, California, with fertility issues, she begins by conducting a thorough health history. This includes detailed questions about their menstrual cycle, general health, dietary habits, and where they are on their fertility journey.

Knight also conducts a tongue and medical pulse examination on patients to determine which organ systems are out of balance. From there, she can begin to formulate an individualized treatment plan for each patient.

“I see most of my patients once a week over the course of 2-3 months,” Knight said. “Their treatment plan may include acupuncture, breathwork, qigong, and a blend of custom herbs.”

According to Knight, acupuncture is great at balancing hormones, managing stress, and increasing pelvic blood flow, which is important for many reasons, including helping a patient’s egg quality and development of the endometrium each month.”

As a treatment for fertility, acupuncture works by placing needles along the acupuncture points relating to the reproductive organs and nervous system.

For women going through IVF, a study published in the Taiwanese Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that three sessions of acupuncture before and after embryo transfer (ET), among women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), increased pregnancy rates in women with unexplained infertility. In addition, the study found that acupuncture also reduced anxiety levels that occurred before ET.

“I might prescribe a formula using Dong Quai, an herb known for its ability to improve the timing of the menstrual cycle and also strengthen the uterus by regulating hormone control,” Knight said.

One study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found TCM increased a woman’s fertility, improving pregnancy rates two-fold over a three to six-month period when compared to Western medicine.

For women who are trying to conceive who are experiencing stress and anxiety, Knight teaches them breathwork, meditation exercises, and moxa therapy, they can do at home.

“I’ll also encourage them to use a Moxa stick, made from the Mugwort plant, at home in between acupuncture treatments,” Knight said. “It’s an herb that can penetrate heat deeply into the patient’s body to promote circulation, enhance the immune system, reduce stress, and improve ovarian function.”

Knight instructs her patients to light the moxa stick and then hold it like a pen, approximately two centimeters from their ovaries and uterus, to maintain and improve blood circulation.

A study published in Integrative Medicine Alert found that acupuncture and moxibustion in addition to IVF significantly improved clinical pregnancy rates in women who had embroyo implantation failure.

Teaching Patients to Feed Fertility Naturally

At Mother Nurture Wellness in Los Angeles, California, Laura Erlich, LAc, FABORM, co-author of the book, Feed Your Fertility, a guide to optimizing fertility through nutrition and TCM, says her patients span the fertility spectrum. While some are looking for integrative treatments that will help them to achieve the best possible outcome with IVF, others are looking to address lifestyle factors that affect their overall health, including their fertility.

In both her book, and practice, Erlich offers easy solutions that both her patients and their partners can implement to boost their fertility.

A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that for women trying to become pregnant naturally, without IVF, the following vitamins and nutrients had a positive effect on fertility: folic acid, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and adhering to a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet.

Erlich does a deep dive to understand the cause of each patient’s fertility issues and then works with them to modify lifestyle factors that can arise when trying to conceive. She looks at a patient’s sleep schedule, how they manage stress, their digestive system, and whether they may benefit from supplements or herbs.

“TCM is so much more than acupuncture,” Erlich said. “Using TCM, a trained integrative medicine practitioner can guide patients to optimal health through improved nutrition, and managing stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness, that can all arise when trying to conceive.”

She recommends patients who are trying to conceive work with an acupuncturist or TCM practitioner trained in reproductive medicine. The Acupuncture and TCM Board of Reproductive Medicine (ABORM), offers certification for integrative medicine practitioners to ensure patients receive the highest level of acupuncture and TCM from qualified practitioners. ABORM members work closely with reproductive endocrinologists to address all aspects of a patient’s mind, body, and spirit.