Fertility Acupuncture: Support for Natural Cycles & IVF

Many individuals have tried acupuncture for various health conditions. Did you know acupuncture has also demonstrated in research to be an effective tool for fertility support?

Wondering how this may be?

Research suggests that there are 3 potential mechanisms for acupuncture’s effects on fertility.

  1. Acupuncture may release neurotransmitters which may stimulate the release of GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) that has an influence on the menstrual cycle and ovulation.
  2. Acupuncture may increase blood flow to the uterus and nourish reproductive organs.
  3.  Acupuncture may stimulate the production of endogenous opioids (which decrease pain in the body) and may therefore inhibit the stress response.

 According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is believed that acupuncture ‘works’ by promoting the proper flow of Qi and Blood in the body. This energy is then directed to the reproductive organs when the focus is on fertility support.

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In practice,  Dr. Erin Enns and I often use acupuncture for assisting with concerns that are often linked with fertility challenges such as anovulation, menstrual irregularities, lack of period, and PCOS. Once regular cycles are achieved, we determine peak ovulation days. At this stage, we then establish an individualized acupuncture protocol. This may include an acupuncture treatment around the time of ovulation and then approximately 2 weeks after this session, depending on cycle length.

The benefits of acupuncture are often experienced  immediately. Patients usually report a feeling of calmness and a deep sense of relaxation. When the body is calm, this impact can also aid in hormonal regulation and a decrease in cortisol levels, the stress hormone. A reduction in frustration and anxiety which is often encountered in the fertility process, is also a valuable side benefit.

Whether you are trying to conceive for the first time, or planning for IVF, consider adding acupuncture to your routine. Dr. Erin and I have privileges around various Fertility Centers around the GTA including but not limited to ReproMed, Hannam, and Create. We can perform onsite acupuncture for Pre- and Post Embryo transfers.

The fertility journey can be challenging. Many of our patients who have had unsuccessful attempts often tell us they wish they had tried acupuncture sooner. It may not be the answer for everyone, but it is one of the best tools we use for fertility support.

 

Unexplained Infertility: Biofeedback as a Tool

One of the most frustrating diagnoses I encounter in my practice is “Unexplained Infertility.” Most couples that come to my office with this new medical label are despondent and teary-eyed. My role as a Naturopathic Doctor is to inform them that besides ultrasounds and hormone tests, there are other ways to evaluate fertility. What about the role of stress? What about dietary deficiencies? What about the role of the mind and the countless messages we send ourselves daily? Do you love your body? Do you believe you can get pregnant? Naturopathic medicine aims to uncover the “unexplained” with a new paradigm of understanding the human body and fertility.

Biofeedback is yet another tool that may be able to support women on this journey.

What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a treatment technique in which people are trained to improve their health by using signals from their own bodies. It is a therapeutic tool that may help people to change the way their bodies respond to a variety of conditions, including stress and anxiety.
The National Institute of Health has approved biofeedback for the management of pain and insomnia. Biofeedback has applications for the use of many health concerns including anxiety disorders, constipation, fibromyalgia, ADHD, headaches, mild depression, stress, PMS and other conditions.

Role in Fertility Management?
Research indicates that women who are trying to conceive often experience elevated levels of stress. One study revealed that women who had higher levels of alpha-amylase (a biomarker for stress) showed a 29% decrease in the ability to conceive. Another study suggested that reducing levels of cortisol (another biomarker for stress) prior to IVF could improve the chances for conception.

At Aspire Health, our goal is to support fertility and to promote a healthy pregnancy naturally. One of the ways that we seek to achieve this is by reducing stress levels. Biofeedback is a recognized therapy for addressing stress and anxiety. Biofeedback may be beneficial for fertility support, particularly when there is a diagnosis of unexplained infertility.

 

 

 

Fertility Acupuncture: How does it work?

Patients often tell me that they heard or read that acupuncture can improve fertility. Some patients ask how does acupuncture achieve this? This is an important question. I believe that when you understand the ‘why’, you can visualize the positive effects during the process. For first-time acupuncture patients this can also help promote relaxation and a ‘letting go’ during the treatment.

Research suggests that there are 3 potential mechanisms for acupuncture’s effects on fertility.

  1. Acupuncture may release neurotransmitters which may stimulate the release of GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) that has an influence on the menstrual cycle and ovulation.
  2. Acupuncture may increase blood flow to the uterus and nourish reproductive organs.
  3.  Acupuncture may stimulate the production of endogenous opioids (which decrease pain in the body) and may therefore inhibit the stress response.

   yoga-2176668_1280In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is believed that acupuncture ‘works’ by promoting the proper flow of Qi and Blood in the body. Qi refers to the circulating Life Force or vital energy of the body. When there is stagnation or a blockage of this energy, it is believed that this creates physical ailments and disease.

Acupuncture has addressed fertility concerns for over 2,000 years. Numerous research studies demonstrate its effectiveness in assisting with increased pregnancy outcomes. More research studies are often recommended to provide more ‘concrete’ and ‘reproducible’ results. To any TCM Doctor, this may appear difficult to prove as acupuncture protocols are meant to be individually prescribed. In this way, each patient has its own unique treatment for fertility.

In practice, I often see the benefits of treatment immediately. Patients report a feeling of calmness which is often accompanied by a more optimistic view regarding the fertility process. This is important as many women often struggle with negative self-talk. They wonder ‘why their body is failing them’ or ‘why everyone else is pregnant.’ Reducing the stress response has a positive impact on both physical and mental-emotional health.

Acupuncture has been helpful in menstrual irregularities, in PCOS patients, anovulation and in improving fertility naturally or as an adjunctive treatment to IVF.

Acupuncture is often timed to cycles so I recommend patients have a consultation ahead of their next cycle. This allows for proper timing and more successful incorporation of acupuncture. After a treatment, I usually recommend minimal physical activity. When possible, acupuncture may also be available on site at fertility clinics just prior to embryo transfers. Research suggests this may be helpful ahead of any surgical procedures.

Acupuncture is definitely worth a try if there have been unsuccessful past pregnancy attempts. Besides fertility, acupuncture is a beneficial therapy for promoting health, reducing pain and relieving stress. The goal in TCM is to create a healthy mind and body which thereby increases one’s chance for conception.

 

Fertility Lessons: A Shift in Perspective

Over the years, working with couples to improve their fertility has taught me many lessons. The most important lessons are ones that cannot be found in research articles, textbooks or Dr. Google. Having a positive mindset is more beneficial than any acupuncture treatment or prescription that I can provide.

Every woman on this journey knows quite well all the ups and downs associated with the fertility process. There is hope felt during an embryo transfer, insemination, or a natural timed cycle, and then a feeling of defeat if the attempt is unsuccessful. One woman I work with explained that she felt as if she were experiencing a ‘mini death’ where parts of her had given up and she was mourning the loss of a potential life. I get it. It is devastating, exhausting, and painful. No one else understands this more than other women going through this process. Many self-proclaimed Type-A women often describe this aspect of their life as a ‘repeated failure’ and they take it quite personally! Here is a goal, unlike everything else in their lives, that they are unable to attain.AShiftinPerspectiveDrGill

Is there a magic pill, diet, hormone that can address it all? No, of course not. What I have seen in many successful cases is a belief that pregnancy is possible, even against all odds. I have seen women with low AMH scores, 4.0 and below, conceive naturally. I have witnessed women aged 41 plus who were told IVF was their only chance to get pregnant take a month break and then conceive naturally. Other women have been told that surrogacy or adoption was their only option and these women too had conceived on their own. I have seen couples in the adoption process have a child of their own. I have also seen couples down to their last frozen embryo transfer, be successful! What did these women have in common? I believe they allowed themselves to ‘let go.’ There was a shift in their thoughts from ‘this can’t happen’, ‘why is my body failing me?’, ‘why am I the only one not pregnant?’ to ‘This will happen, when it is the right time’, ‘I love my body and know it can get pregnant’, ‘I am not alone!’

I believe all women are fertile. I believe our bodies possess this wonderful, amazing capacity to bring forth new life. Some women require a little assistance and others need a lot more. Whether it’s the body or the mind that needs balancing, the two must be addressed. I believe this journey can teach us much more about ourselves. When you are at a ‘low’, dig deep and find strength. You are stronger than you know. Have faith and have courage. It is only a matter of time. Be resilient and never, ever give up hope.

7 Tips to for Optimize Fertility:

– Seek support. Feel supported by a comforting friend or therapist.
– Find an outlet. Dance or sing or run out your stress.
– Record your thoughts. Create a journal and let your thoughts find peace.
– Take a break. Don’t hesitate on booking that trip! A quick escape to Niagara-on- the-lake can do wonders for changing perspective.
– Avoid Dr. Google (limit yourself to 1 search on fertility sites per week!)
– Remain positive. Seek the company of others who share your positive thoughts and words.

Good-luck on your fertility journey!

 

 

When To Seek Fertility Care By Erin Enns

Learning and understanding when to seek care for conception health can be a grey area for women. Naturopathic Doctors focus on identifying potential physical, emotional and environmental risk factors for adverse pregnancy outcomes early in order to optimizing health outcomes for mom and baby. Through education and counseling, Naturopathic Doctors help you get to know your body and prepare it so that when the time comes, you can optimize your chances of conceiving naturally.

Biological clock, family planning

(1) Are you thinking about conceiving within the next year?

If you and your partner are ready to conceive in the near future it is important to make sure that your body is ready to support itself and baby. Cleansing your body allows for restoration of health and preparation for conception. Look to remove dietary allergens through IgG Testing or an Elimination Diet to reduce inflammation in the body that could negatively impact fertility. Manage your stress. Not all stress can be avoided, however focus on eliminating the stressors in your life that you can. By doing this, you will create space in your life for you to have fun and relax. Implementing these early will give your body to have the time and support it needs for healthy conception.

(2) Have you discontinued oral contraception?

When discontinuing any oral contraceptive pill (OCP), many nutritional deficiencies are often seen. This is a result of long-term use of the OCP. Deficiencies of these vitamins and minerals can lead to fertility issues, among many others. A Prenatal Vitamin is advised for women who are looking to conceive as they contain a number of vitamin and minerals that are protective against birth defects. Naturopathic Doctors recommend taking a Prenatal Vitamin a minimum of 6 months before trying to conceive. Additional testing and supplementation may be required for women to re-fill their levels.

(3) Do you have irregular or absent periods?

Absent or irregular periods can be due to a number of different factors. Naturopathic Doctors offer support to promote healthy monthly menstrual cycles. They have numerous tools in their toolbox that they can access, including herbal medicine and acupuncture, to assist your body in supporting a natural menstrual cycle. Work with a Naturopathic Doctor to regulate your menstrual cycle and enhance your chance of conceiving naturally.

(4) Do you have a known reproductive issue?

There are different endocrine disorders that can affect ones chances of conceiving. A diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Endometriosis, Premature Ovarian Failure, to name a few, may lead to troubles conceiving. This is often a result of hormonal imbalances or deficiencies, along with a dysregulation in the immune system. Naturopathic Doctors can provide treatment to optimize the body’s ability to process hormones, as well as support the immune system. Dependent on the condition, implementation of dietary and lifestyle approaches are done to best support the individual.

(5) Do you have a thyroid condition?

Thyroid Disorders are one of the most common conditions affecting pregnancy. Both an under-functioning or over-functioning thyroid can impact fertility. Naturopathic Doctors can request more extensive thyroid lab tests, which may not be done by your family doctor. The thyroid panel investigates TSH, T3, T4, and anti-TPO levels, which gives more information about thyroid health. It is recommended women have their thyroid assessed 6 months prior to conceiving.

Seek the care that you need! Naturopathic doctors work in collaboration with your health practitioner to improve maternal and fetal outcomes by offering preconception care when you need it.

Fertility Spring Cleanse

woman-1235716_1280Spring equinox occurs on March 20th this year and it marks the beginning of an abundance of sunlight and an increase in yang energy until the summer solstice. From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, it is the time of year to create the foundation for future projects (like conception), build new relationships and restore health. Cleansing is considered to be a crucial part of this process.

If you are currently trying to conceive or using hormonal therapies, a traditional approach of using cleansing herbs may not be appropriate for you. Instead, focus on diet and eliminate any suspected allergens. Naturopathic Doctors often use an IgG Food Sensitivity test to help pinpoint the body’s reaction to any food allergens.  It is a test that can be performed when a couple is trying to conceive and one that I often recommend in cases of unexplained fertility. Some practitioners (myself included) believe that gluten is a hidden cause for many health concerns, including fertility issues. If there are also digestion problems, altered bowel habits or skin concerns this can be an indication for performing the test as part of a routine fertility screen.

TCM dietary recommendations suggest avoiding foods that create ‘stagnation’ in the body. These include red meat, cream, eggs, butter, margarine and alcohol. Coffee and decaffeinated coffee are also believed to congest the liver and fuel the stress response that could impact reproduction. Other recommendations would be including good sources of healthy fats like organic extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, flaxseed oil, pumpkin seed oil. These can be added to foods or taken directly. Making simple additions to diet or eliminating caffeinated beverages overtime can have a beneficial effect on fertility.

Stress reduction is also part of Fertility Spring Cleaning. This requires taking a proactive role and reducing stressors in your life where possible. If your job is stressful and work demands are overwhelming, be good to yourself in all other respects!!! Eat well, sleep well and take time to laugh. Go for that kombucha tea with a long-lost girlfriend and talk about your concerns. Cleansing the mind of unwanted or negative thoughts creates space for positive ones.

Movement further enhances this cleansing effect. A walk in the beautiful crisp air during March can do wonders to relieve stress. A Naturopathic Fertility Cleanse addresses all aspects of self, mind, body and spirit. It may be time to book that relaxing massage. It may be time to avoid conversations with that toxic co-worker. Surround yourself with people, food, and environments that act to nourish you.  If you need some inspiration or a nudge in this direction, consider working with a Naturopathic Doctor who has a special focus on fertility and can prepare a customized protocol for you. March is the season for renewal and change. Let this be your time to awaken and prepare the path for conception.

Vitamin D and Fertility

New Beginnings: Starting the Fertility New Year Right

Fertility Naturopathic Doctor

The Fertility Journey is often faced with many challenges. Here are my top 5 Fertility Lifestyle tips for keeping motivated in 2017:

 

  • New perspective. If you have been working with a fertility doctor for a lengthy period of time you may want to consider a second opinion. Each fertility doctor has their own unique approach to treatment protocols. Many patients have often shared their stories where a fresh start with a new doctor has made all the difference.

 

  • Rally your support. The fertility journey can be very isolating. Oftentimes it may seem like everyone around you is getting pregnant, and easily! One woman shared her experience where her sister, sister-in-law, best friend and even hairdresser became pregnant in the same month. She felt badly that she harboured resentment to people she liked and cared for but could no longer talk to on a regular basis. I encouraged her to release her emotions in our sessions and to confide in a good friend about her recent failed IVF attempt. After sharing her feelings with a trusted confidante, she was able to let go and concentrate on improving her own general health. She also discovered that she was not alone. Her friend with two young children had also experienced problems with conception. The message here is to allow yourself the comfort and support of those who care for you and who can also act as your champions along the way.

 

  • Eat well. To eat well, not only do we consider what we eat, but how we eat. If lunch is consumed hurriedly at your desk while answering emails, you are likely not properly absorbing the nutrients from that delicious salad. Likewise, when eating dinner at home in front of the TV or while on the phone with a friend, digestion can be compromised. For proper absorption of your prenatal vitamin, CoQ10 and other supplements, optimal digestion is required. Avoid consuming large amounts of liquid before and during meals which dilutes important enzymes that assist in the digestion process. Conscious eating involves conscious planning of creating mealtimes that foster a relaxed atmosphere and mindset.

 

  • Sleep well. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the hours between 9 to 11pm are the best times to promote a healthy sleep. This means turning off your cell phone, TV, laptop and any other electrical device before 9pm. In TCM there is an organ clock that represents when each organ is functioning optimally. The ‘TCM kidney’ is responsible for reproduction. Acupuncture is often used to strengthen these organ meridians. Good quality sleep is essential for any fertility protocol and often does not get addressed. Seek support if you struggle with insomnia or unrefreshed sleep. It could be impacting your fertility. Sleep is often compromised during the 3rd trimester and definitely after baby is born, so bank your sleep now!

 

  • Relax well. In my practice, I often focus on stress reduction when addressing fertility concerns. This can be supported by acupuncture and some nutritional supplements like a B-complex and a magnesium. Relaxing well actually requires planning. In our busy lives filled with endless tasks, relaxation is not seen as a priority. I recommend adding relaxation to your schedule. This may involve attending a yoga class or listening to a fertility meditation or reading a book. It may seem indulgent at first but it is necessary to recharge. Give to yourself and you will find you will have more to give to others. Giving to yourself also creates the right environment for conception. Nourish your body, your mind and spirit.

 

Good-luck on your fertility journey in 2017.

 

Acupuncture for Male Infertility

Male Are you trying to conceive? Ever wonder if your male partner may have fertility concerns?     Did you know male infertility is just as much of a concern as female infertility? Some studies suggest male infertility may account for 20% to 50% of a couple’s fertility concerns! Male infertility rates vary greatly but it is now understood to be a greater problem than once considered.

 

 

Here are some of the top reasons for male infertility:

  • Injury
  • Infection
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Recreational drug use
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Obesity
  • Certain medications

The above reasons may all contribute to:

  • Low sperm count
  • Abnormal morphology (shape and size of sperm)
  • Decreased motility of sperm

 

As a Naturopathic Doctor, I use acupuncture (among other therapies) to address these concerns. Acupuncture is a non-invasive and relatively quick treatment for some causes of male infertility. Many clinical trials using acupuncture in male infertility studies have shown significant positive outcomes.

Studies have demonstrated that acupuncture increased the percentage of normal sperm (healthy shape and size), sperm counts and improved overall motility of sperm.  The research trials involved acupuncture treatments occurring either once or twice a week over a 5 to 10 week period.

In my practice, I have seen beneficial effects from acupuncture treatments occurring once per week for 6 weeks. Ideally, a first visit entails a detailed medical history intake including conversations about the aforementioned lifestyle factors. After the consult, acupuncture sessions may be scheduled. Acupuncture treatments are booked for 45 minutes with a 20 minute session where acupuncture needles are positioned in specific parts in the body. I often like to inform male clients of the location of these points prior to a treatment. Following male fertility research protocols, I insert needles on the stomach, feet, ankles, knees and on the back. One of the most common questions I get asked by male clients is if acupuncture hurts. Patients are calmed when I tell them that many people often fall asleep during the treatment. As well, I recommend to patients to avoid eating large meals prior to the treatment and to refrain from vigorous physical activity immediately after the session.

Acupuncture is a beneficial tool for treating male infertility. It also useful in reducing stress levels during the often emotionally-taxing process of conception. If a fertility doctor has discussed  suboptimal sperm results with you, consider acupuncture as a supportive therapy. Infertility is largely seen as a ‘female’ issue. I hope this article demonstrates the importance of including men in fertility discussions and brings to light another treatment option for couples.

‘Unexplained Fertility’

medical-563427_640I have practiced Naturopathic Medicine in Bloor West Village for over 12 years now and the most frustrating diagnosis that I encounter is that of ‘unexplained fertility.’  What does this mean? Generally, it translates to a Fertility Specialist informing a couple that there is no specific problem detected in a Western medicine evaluation. In these cases, all hormone levels are in the normal range, ultrasounds reveal no abnormality with the ovarian follicles, and ovulation seems to be occurring properly. It also suggests that all the reproductive organs appear to be functioning normally, and the endometrial lining is building adequately. In addition, there are no male factors at issue; sperm count, morphology and motility are all within normal limits. So for a couple, it means, ‘Now what?’

At this point, many patients come to my office. They hear that acupuncture is a great tool in fertility treatment and can be used in conjunction with IUI and IVF procedures. From a Naturopathic Medicine perspective, I inform patients that reproductive health is not separate from overall health. It is part of a woman’s health and thus should not be treated in isolation. If you are searching for more answers when you are diagnosed with unexplained fertility, consider other options for treatment. For example, if you also have concerns of gas, bloating or heartburn, I would recognize that there is an imbalance with the digestive system. This may also point to nutrient deficiencies. How is this addressed and what does this have to do with fertility? Good question! By increasing the vitality of one’s overall health we can improve fertility outcomes. In this case, I would test for food sensitivities, inflammatory markers and determine vitamin status by doing blood tests. The goal is to reduce inflammation, increase antioxidants, and also create a more favourable internal environment, one that would be more receptive and allow for conception to occur.

Another area of interest for me is that of ‘environmental toxins.’ Did you know that chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol A have been implicated in the rising rates of miscarriage and male and female infertility? Phthalates are found in many personal care products such as soap, shampoo, hair spray and nail polish. How many of these have you used today? These factors are usually not considered by a Fertility Specialist. As an ND, I believe these external environmental factors require more evaluation. ND’s can test for heavy metal burden and toxic elements.

For many of my female patients, this diagnosis is the hardest to hear. They are told by their Fertility Doctor that there is no immediate solution. I believe this is where Naturopathic Medicine treatment may be beneficial. It helps to create a clear path.  As your health partner, it is my role to help reduce that stress burden. I offer many recommendations. For example, I encourage you to eat healthier, to take that dance class you have been considering, to stop talking to that co-worker who gives unwelcomed advice, to say ‘no’ to that everyday latte. Reducing your stress levels is the key to fertility treatment. Therefore acupuncture and counselling are part of my Fertility prescription.

If you have been told there is no medical reason why you and your partner cannot conceive, I urge you to meet with a Naturopathic Doctor. An ND will work with you to elevate your body to a better state of health.  If you have been told that your age is the assumed problem, I urge you to seek a second opinion. For many reasons, Naturopathic Doctors are in a unique position to be an effective health care provider for the couple with the diagnosis of ‘unexplained fertility.’