Since man and woman first walked on the earth, the existence of human beings has been dependent upon our ability to reproduce. This is, of course, true for all animals. Yet today, more and more people are surprised to find that reproducing is not as simple or straightforward as it may seem. Instead, for many couples, the happiness and excitement of planning a family has been replaced with the stress, anxiety, and frustration of infertility.
Infertility is defined as an inability to conceive after twelve months of well-timed, contraceptive-free intercourse. The time frame is reduced to six months if the woman is over the age of 35. This reflects the fact that a woman's egg quality declines after the age of 35 and a couple should consequently seek medical assistance earlier. In addition, women who are unable to carry a pregnancy to term are said to be infertile.
Just how common is infertility? About one in eight couples have problems conceiving, and statistically speaking, the cause of infertility is as likely to originate from the man as it is from the woman. One-third of infertility cases are caused by male issues and one-third are caused by female issues. In the remaining one-third of infertility cases, the cause is either a combination of male and female issues or the cause is simply unknown.
In order for a couple to successfully conceive, many complex processes must take place in the proper sequence. To start, a woman must release an egg from an ovary and that egg must flow through the fallopian tube to the uterus. While this is happening, a sperm must join with and fertilize the egg. This fertilized egg must then attach to the inside of the uterus. There are many factors which can interfere with these processes and result in infertility. Therefore, hormones must be balanced and reproductive systems must be operating at optimum levels in order to conceive. In considering all of the physiological, psychological, and hormonal events that must take place properly, it is no wonder that infertility is so common.
The possible causes of infertility are numerous. In men, a low sperm count or lack of sperm motility can result in the sperm's failure to reach the egg. In women, damaged fallopian tubes, physical problems with the uterus, or uterine fibroids can be a cause of infertility. In certain cases, there is a genetic cause, while in other cases, environmental factors are to blame, especially exposure to toxins. Also, egg production is adversely affected in women who are severely underweight or overweight and egg quality declines as a woman approaches the age of 40. With such a long list of variables, determining the possible cause of infertility can be difficult. This is further complicated by the fact that 15% of infertility cases have no known cause.
Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) has made great gains in recent years and offers a ray of hope for infertile couples. Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) is a general term referring to a variety of techniques that can help infertile couples become pregnant. One such technique is intrauterine insemination (IUI), or artificial insemination, in which sperm are introduced into the female uterus and fertilization takes place inside the woman's body. Another increasingly common approach is in vitro fertilization (IVF), in which ovulation is controlled hormonally, eggs are removed from the woman's ovaries, sperm fertilizes the eggs outside the woman's body, and the fertilized egg is transferred to the woman's uterus. In addition, there are many other ART techniques available depending upon a couple's unique situation.
However, most people are surprised to learn that modern, state-of-the-art reproductive technology is routinely combined with an ancient Chinese healing system that has been in use for thousands of years. The Chinese art of acupuncture has been shown clinically to play an important role in the treatment of infertility, and in ART specifically. In one study, women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) received acupuncture treatment 25 minutes before and 25 minutes after the fertilized egg was transferred to the uterus. These women had a significantly higher pregnancy rate than a group of women undergoing IVF without acupuncture treatment. This study is documented in the publication entitled Influence of Acupuncture on the Pregnancy Rate in Patients Who Undergo Assisted Reproduction Therapy.
How does acupuncture improve fertility rates? Acupuncture can help in regulating a woman's hormones and menstrual cycle, increasing blood flow to the ovaries and uterus, and improving the production and quality of follicles in the ovaries. For men, acupuncture can be helpful in improving sperm parameters. Acupuncture is becoming increasingly common in the treatment of infertility, given that it has been shown to improve rates of pregnancy and live birth. Whether used in conjunction with ART techniques or not, acupuncture can help increase a couple's chance of getting pregnant and creating the family of their dreams.
By Peter Games L. Ac., Dipl. O.M.
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