Acupuncture has been part of traditional medicine in China for 3000 years. It is very different from Western medicine because it is based on the history, philosophy and sociology of the individual, developing a unique understanding of the function of the body. In Chinese medicine, the human body is composed of meridians (energy channels) which maintain a balance of mind, body and spirit. These meridians are associated with the internal organs and when imbalances ocur between them this can be the main factor in contributing to poor health. Obstruction and weakness of energy flow in the meridians cause these imbalances. Each ailment is treated as a whole with an individual treatment strategy based on the patient’s constitution rather than just symptoms.
French researcher Pieere de Vernejoul established that energy meridians exist in a human body as described in Traditional Chinese medicine. This has stimulated interest from Western medical practitioners to explore more about how acupuncture treatment can improve health ailments or increase fertility. The World Health Organisation has recognised acupuncture as showing some effective outcomes on health ailments, ranging from musculoskeletal pain, migraines, osteo-arthritic pain and many others.
Pregnancy is a natural process for a female reproductive system to anticipate eventually. The failure to process this naturally can cause intense emotional turmoil for the woman and her partner. Emotional stress can influence the functions of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This specialised axis is responsible for controlling sexual behaviour and secretion of some hormones. In layman’s terms, hormonal alteration can happen due to stress and this has a further impact on the menstrual cycle. Sex drive can be affected when stress or pressures happen in our daily lives.
Women have experienced delayed periods or the onset of an irregular cycle when their life style becomes stressful or overstretched. Furthermore, the hormonal changes can increase the onset of anxiety and depression depending on the individual’s constitution or medical history. Some women are more vulnerable in comparison to others. This effect is a reflection on how health is influenced by the mind, body and emotion. The model of acupuncture’s approach is to provide treatment as a whole, rather than based on treatment of individual symptoms.
Infertility is consistently a hot topic among women when natural conception has failed over a period of 6 months or more. The next option is referral to a specialist for considering Clomid or IVF. Whatever decision is made, the journey to anticipate assistance in conception can be the start of an emotional roller coaster. Sex becomes more clinical rather than pleasurable. This can pressurise the relationship or marriage regardless of how stable it is.
It is known factually that acupuncture has an influence in stimulating the release of endorphins. This chemical has a calming effect on the individual in promoting a better coping mechanism. By lowering stress, it reduces the influence of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenalaxis on the secretion of hormonal chemicals.
Acupuncture treats energy known as Qi within the human body. IVF is an invasive process in manipulating the reproductive system and this disrupts the flow of energy within the human body. This can cause the onset of mood swings, lassitude, bloated sensations and hyperstimulation. Although it sounds drastic, the intention of acupuncture treatment is to help in minimising this disruption by putting the woman in better health for the start of her IVF programme. The model of Traditional ChineseMedicine is that acupuncture treatment promotes a smoother flow of blood and stronger Qi within the human body. This holistic approach enhances the functions of the reproductive system. This could be a debatable question for those who are sceptical about non-conventional medicine. However, one cannot overlook the importance of a harmonious state of health, particularly when medical drugs inflict harsh side effects.
Physician scientists at New York Weill Cornell Medical Centre (2003) have raised the potential benefits of acupuncture increasing blood flow to the uterus in thickening its lining and normalising the process of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis. This is currently the subject of further study.
Evidence from a study in 2002 carried out by the Christian-Lauritzen -Institut, Ulm, Germany has suggested acupuncture can improve pregnancy rates. Acupuncture is not considered a complementary therapy by many medical professionals due to its effectiveness on some heath ailments. Rather, it is a treatment recognised and accepted by the majority of Western medical practitioners and IVF centres. Therefore, health investment from acupuncture treatment is an option women can explore as part of their care. It is a small expense to commit to for increasing the chances of conception by complementing medical science with the acupunture approach. Every acupuncturist will use her own skill and knowledge to prepare the treatment based on the individual’s history of infertility. This is why the frequency and aims of acupuncture treatment vary for each woman.
Acupuncturists are easily available from the local High Street, in complementary health centres or at the practitioner’s own home. There is a network of affiliated acupuncturists set up by the well-known holistic approach infertility expert Zita West since 2008. This could be the start of contact for women looking for an acupuncturist within their area. However, acupuncturists are knowledgeable about Western medicine as well as Traditional Chinese medicine and should also be registered with the British Acupuncture Council. Therefore, it is unnecessary to search for an acupuncturist with medical background.
A successful conception is joyful news for a couple. However, during the first trimester of the pregnancy there is an increase in hormone levels that can cause excessive morning sickness, fatigue, insomnia, or poor appetite for the woman. There is absolutely no Western medicine that a doctor would not feel cautious to prescribe. Equally, women are reluctant to consider drugs and yet struggle to cope with the symptoms. Acupuncture is an ideal form of treatment as it offers women drug-free relief to minimise the minor disorders as the body is adapting to the changes brought about by pregnancy.
(by Elaine Yew Bsc (Hons) Acupuncture, Registered Midwife and Registered Nurse)
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