Research Update: Acupuncture for Women's Health and Fertility

Research Update: Acupuncture for Women’s Health & Fertility 

There have been several new studies in the past couple years that support the use of acupuncture for several women’s health conditions, including infertility. 

The following summaries highlight these studies; full articles may be available upon request and we at ilumina are always happy to chat about the findings of a specific study if you would like more information. 

Fertility 

A 2016 study looked at the effects of weekly acupuncture vs. a diet & lifestyle program for 56 women who were having difficulty achieving pregnancy, but who had not sought treatment from a reproductive endocrinologist or conventional fertility specialist. This study found that women in the acupuncture group had improved wellbeing and shortened time to conception by half when compared to the diet & lifestyle group. 1 

A 2015 study out of China sought to determine whether acupuncture, with or without chinese herbal medicine improved fertility for 120 women with PCOS using clomid. The researchers found that the combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine and clomiphene improved pregnancy rates and decreased miscarriage rates better than any other combination of the therapies or their use alone. The researchers surmised that this effect was due to improvement in cervical mucus, endometrial thickness and morphology. 2 

Another study in 2015 reviewed over 1000 IVF cycles of women who received acupuncture in addition to in-vito fertilization and found that the combination of the two was associated with a greater chance of live birth than IVF alone. 3 

Menopause 

Hot flashes are the most common menopausal symptom for which women seek medical care. There have been several recent studies to suggest that acupuncture is not only safer than hormone therapy, but may be just as effective for mild-moderate symptoms. A study out last month demonstrated this and suggested that most women noted a 50% decrease in hot flashes and that this improvement could last for months after the last treatment.4 Another study found similar improvement with acupuncture in women with breast cancer who are suffering from hot flashes. 5 

A recent meta-analysis of research studies demonstrated that acupuncture significantly reduced perimenopausal sleep disturbance and that this benefit was likely due to an acupuncture-mediated increase in serum estrogen and decrease in serum follicle stimulating hormone. 6 

It should be noted that the current edition of the North American Menopause Society publication Menopause Practice: A Clinician’s Guide (5th edition) includes several references supporting the use of acupuncture and chinese herbal medicine in the treatment of menopausal hot flashes, sleep disturbance, joint pain and mood disorders. 

Menstrual-related Complaints 

There are a number of studies that have suggested acupuncture is a useful treatment for painful menstruation, however, one recently looked at acupuncture vs. oral contraceptive pills in the management of such pain. Over 3 cycles this study found that while the OCPs and acupuncture both significantly decreased maximal pain scores, days suffering from menstrual pain, rescue pain medication needed and general quality of life, the acupuncture group had minimal treatment-related side effects when compared to the OCP group. 7 

A recent review of studies looking at acupuncture and both eastern (xiao yao san) and western (hypericum, vitex) herbal medicine effects on PMS and other menstrually-related mood disorders found that both acupuncture and herbal therapies consistently showed an average of 50% decrease in symptoms, with the acupuncture and herbal therapies being superior to either therapy alone. 8 In addition, another study showed 16 sessions of acupuncture to be effective at decreasing both premenstrual anxiety and depression by over 50% when compared to sham acupuncture. 9 

1. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Epub 2016 May 3. 

2. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2015 Feb;35(2):114-8. 

3. Reprod Biomed Online. Epub 2015 Feb 24. 

4. Menopause 2016 September 26. 

5. J Clin Oncol. Epub 2016 Mar 28. 

6. Obstet Gynecol. 2016 Mar;127(3):507-15. 

7. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Epub 2015 Aug 4. 

8. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Jan 10;14:11. 

9. Acupunct Med. Epub 2013 Sep 12.