Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks


Acupuncture for Secondary Infertility
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc


I am a physician that practices acupuncture treatment with patients with musculoskeletal injuries and with palliative care patients.

I have a patient/friend who is suffering from unexplained secondary infertility. They have tried various forms of assisted reproductive therapies all the way to intracytoplasmic sperm insemination.

They are at wits end and asked if there is any efficacy in female reproductive hormone stimulation using acupuncture.

My question is, is there? What would we be thinking, Liver/Spleen? What points/protocol would you recommend in a healthy 36 year old female for infertility therapy.

Thank you,

Dr. TS

Dr. S,

Good question. It's been my experience that sometimes these difficult-to-diagnose (with western medicine) problems can be successfully treated by Chinese medicine (CM). And the German study does demonstrate efficacy.

I appreciate that you use acupuncture as part of your practice- I think it's great when we can blur the lines a bit between medicines, and not stay behind the walls of our own fortresses.

I'd like to help answer your questions, but need some more info from you first.

Can you clarify for me the western diagnosis, or if there isn't one, what pathomechanisms might be involved, and which have been eliminated? Sounds like - since you're not looking in that direction - the man's reproductive function is ok. Is the intracytoplasmic sperm insemination putting the sperm into the egg? Is it that her eggs are not functioning correctly? Or it's not implanting into the uterus?

I'm not sure how much training you have in CM; to answer your question about Liver/Spleen would require more information- also, I'm not sure if you meant the Liver and Spleen channels or organ-systems?

Pattern Diagnosis is Essential

Of course, the Chinese medicine perspective is not only the channel system but also the system of pattern diagnosis. We must do a differential diagnosis on the infertility. Which symptom pattern is present? If you haven't been trained in this system, I can help you differentiate it, but I'll need a complete list of all her symptoms in all bodily systems. I can email you an intake form if necessary.

With the pattern diagnosis, we can choose the appropriate acupuncture and herbal strategies. Also, we can add some single herbs (whose pharmacologic action we know) to a pattern-based formula, if we know the western pathomechanism. For example, there are herbs that stimulate the gonads (male and female), herbs that stimulate spermatogenesis, herbs that stimulate or inhibit galactogenesis, and herbs that inhibit uterine contractions.

Acupuncture Assisted In-Vitro Fertilization

Another option, though it may not fit their scenario, is acupuncture-assisted IVF. A German study (n=160) showed a 42.5% success rate with acu vs. 26.3% in the control group. Of note is the fact that the acu procedure was performed in the hospital, before and after. As an MD, you're more likely to have hospital privileges than most of us non-MD acupuncturists. I can get the acupuncture protocol for you if they want to go that route.

Brian Carter, MSci, LAc

Editor's Note: On re-reading this correspondence, a couple of things occurred to me: First, the doc asked for a protocol- MD's who practice acupuncture (medical acupuncturists) tend to think in terms of points combinations for specific western diseases (which do exist, but are rather basic and general), rather than the theory behind the point functions, why those points were chosen, and how to construct their own protocols. Of course, some medical acupuncturists are very good, and learn at least as much as the average non-physician acupuncturist.

But it's quite possible Dr. S may have no interest in diagnosing his patient in terms of pattern differentiation. For some reason, MD's tend to poo-poo it. I'm not sure why- patterns are basically syndromes, groups of symptoms. There are many western diseases that are really just syndromes… they have no idea what causes the condition, only a list of symptoms. Why they wouldn't want our set of syndromes, which come with effective treatments attached, I cannot fathom.

The second thought was, that an MD may not be able to allow an acupuncturist to help him diagnose in any way- and I don't mean legally- I'm talking about the MD ego. Not all docs have it, but it's still quite common… In some hospitals, for example, acupuncturists are the lowest on the totem pole, regardless of their level of training, knowledge, or effectiveness at healing patients.

In short, Dr. S may not have gotten the answer he liked.


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All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International, Brian Carter, MSci, LAc, Editor