Fertility Enhancement and Chinese Medicine

By Jiang Liu, Diplomate of Oriental Medicine
AR Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist
Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Clinic
2024 Arkansas Valley Dr., Suite 402
Little Rock, AR 72212


In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a process by which egg cells are fertilized by sperm outside of the womb, in vitro. The process involves collecting eggs and sperm from you and your partner and placing them together in a laboratory dish for fertilization. Days later the embryos are transferred into the uterus where implantation and pregnancy will hopefully occur, as in a normal pregnancy. IVF is a major treatment in infertility when other methods of assisted reproductive technology have failed. Studies demonstrate that acupuncture (before and after embryo transfer) increase the success rate of IVF, reduce miscarriage rate, enhance the live birth rate, and improve the quality of life of patients undergoing IVF. An increasing number of fertility specialists and centers start to recognize the benefits of acupuncture, offer acupuncture as a part of their IVF protocol, and suggest acupuncture as an adjunct therapy of IVF. How does IVF benefit from acupuncture? A number of physiological effects may contribute to its effectiveness:

  • Reduce stress, anxiety and depression
  • Normalize abnormal immune system
  • Improve uterine ability of anti-oxidation
  • Regulate hormones-mediating receptors in the uterus
  • Modulate neuroendocrinological factors
  • Regulate the menstrual cycle
  • Increase blood circulation to uterus and ovaries
  • Improve endometrial lining of uterus
  • Reduce uterine contraction

Women experiencing infertility often have higher levels of physical and psychological symptoms, which include insomnia, headache, back pain, fatigue, anxiety or depression. These symptoms may affect the ability to implant successfully through abnormalities in the immune system. A study from Italy demonstrates that patients doing IVF who have higher scores for anxiety, also have abnormalities within their immune systems, and that this group of patients has lower implantation rates and lower success with IVF compared with patients who were less anxious and were found to have less disturbance of their immunological systems. Acupuncture and herbal treatment regulate the autonomic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system to decrease stress, muscle tension, anxiety and irritability, resulting in the improvement of immunological system, as well as the quality of life of IVF patients.

During the implantation of embryos, the uterus often has small contractions, which could cause expulsion of the transferred IVF embryos and result in the failure of implantation or early miscarriage. Acupuncture helps to relax uterine muscles around the time of the transfer and reduces the uterine contractions, which increases successful implantation of embryos.

The condition of endometrial lining of uterus, especially its thickness, is an important factor for successful pregnancy. Studies show that acupuncture stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, improves uterine and ovarian blood flow, and increases the thickness of endometrial lining, therefore making the uterus ready for implantation of embryos and for the changes that take place in the uterus at the site where the embryo implants itself.

In Chinese medicine, the common diagnosis of female infertility includes the following:

  • qi and blood deficiency
  • kidney deficiency: kidney yin deficiency or kidney yang deficiency
  • Liver qi stagnation
  • Blood stagnation
  • Phlegm dampness

Acupuncture is often combined with other modalities of Chinese medicine such as herbs, cupping, TuiNa, or maxibustion in the regimen of enhancing IVF. The purpose of Chinese medicine is: to tonify qi,nurture blood, improve deficient kidney yin or deficient kidney yang, disperse liver qi to reduce stagnation, strengthen spleen and clear phlegm, drain the dampness, stimulate blood circulation, and eliminate dampness. The beauty of Chinese Medicine is that it treats each patient individually, thus each patient’s protocol is tailored to their specific needs, like personalized medicine.

It is recommended to have eight acupuncture treatments (2-3 times per week) before embryo transfer. It starts at the beginning of the fertility cycle (usually with the start of Lupron) and continues until the embryo transfer date or until 12-14 mm of endometrial thickness. After the embryo transfer, acupuncture can be continued once per week for the first trimester to help prevent miscarriage by strengthening the kidney qi. However, if the patient has one of above-mentioned diagnosis, I strongly suggest that patients be given acupuncture or other modalities of Chinese medicine to improve abnormal situation before Lupron is given.