Pacific Wellness Institute Clinic: Bloor-Yorkville Toronto

Treatment of infertility by acupuncture and breathing exercise: Part 3 Acupuncture administered according to circalunar menstrual rhythm

Treatment of Infertility by Acupuncture According to Circalunar and Cardiac Variability Rhythms

Tim H. Tanaka, Ph.D.
Director, The Pacific Wellness Institute, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Visiting Research Fellow, School of Health Sciences, Tsukuba University of Technology, Japan

A part of this paper was presented at WFAS International Acupuncture Congress, cosponsored by World Health Organization, in Beijing, China, Oct. 2007.

Page updated on January 31, 2008

Acupuncture treatment for infertility according to circalunar menstrual rhythm

The acupuncture system used at The Pacific Wellness Institute is a holistic treatment system and symptoms are considered to be a manifestation of the body’s disharmony.  Treatment is based on each individual’s constitution, Western diagnosis (i.e. endometriosis, PCOS, thin lining, high FSH, etc.), and whether or not the woman is conceiving naturally or in conjunction with modern fertility treatment (i.e. hormone administration, IUI, IVF, etc.).  The exact location of the needles varies between each individual; however, in general, needling points are chosen on the entire body regardless of health condition. Female hormones are centrally regulated through the hypothalamus-pituitary axis; thus, ‘systemic regulation points’ are always included as an important part of treatment. A SES technique (repetitive superficial needling stimulation applied synchronically with autonomic alteration upon respiratory and postural changes), for example, has been shown to induce a systemic reaction mainly through activation of vagal nerves [22, 23]. Our treatments are complimented with other empirical techniques such as indirect moxibustion.  Over thousands of years, moxibustion has traditionally been used in conjunction with acupuncture.  Indirect moxibustion is used to increase local blood flow and to further promote the relaxation response.

Selection of acupuncture points for fertility

In addition to systemic acupuncture treatment, we utilize more specific treatment points for various fertility situations for patients who have fertility concerns. For many women, the menstrual cycle is typically divided into 4 phases: menstruation, follicular (pre ovulation), pre-implantation (ovulation) and luteal phases. During each phase, a different combination of acupuncture points and stimulation methods are used to maximize the potential benefits and safety of each treatment. For patients undergoing modern fertility treatment such as IVF or IUI, the acupuncture treatment is modified according to the stage of fertility treatment.

Treatment of infertility by acupuncture and breathing exercise: Part 3 Acupuncture administered according to circalunar menstrual rhythm

While selection of acupuncture points varies between patient to patient and session to session, in general, points are chosen based on both Eastern meridian theory and Western anatomy (autonomic nerve innervations).

  • Ancient Chinese medicine: There are several well known acupuncture points that are traditionally used to influence reproductive organs (e.g. conception vessel 2-4 in the low abdomen, spleen 6 near the ankle, and other points along spleen, liver, kidney, bladder meridians and conception vessel).
  • Western anatomy/physiology: From a Western anatomical perspective, acupuncture points along T11 to L2 dermatomes (sympathetic, mainly lower abdominal, low back and upper buttock areas) and S2 to S4 (parasympathetic, mainly sacrum, buttocks, and back of the legs) dermatomes are the focus, according to autonomic nerve innervations to female reproductive organs [24].  A series of experiments conducted by a group of Japanese and Swedish researchers demonstrated that stimulating different spinal and sacral nerve segments in a specific manner increased or decreased blood flow of ovaries or uterus [3, 25-27].  Those research findings have profound implications for the treatment of various fertility problems.

Treatment of infertility by acupuncture and breathing exercise: Part 3 Acupuncture administered according to circalunar menstrual rhythm

Acupuncture stimulation methods

It is important to note that effectiveness of acupuncture is not solely dependent on selection of acupuncture points, but also on other factors such as depth of needle insertion and intensity of stimulation.  At The Pacific Wellness Institute, needles are superficially inserted (2-3 mm in depth) and manually stimulated in most cases. Previous experiments suggest that superficial needling stimulates the receptors in skin and subcutaneous tissue as one of the crucial elements in inducing a parasympathetic activation response [22].  This is important because while the exact mechanism of how acupuncture enhances fertility is not known, the involvement of relaxation response through modification of autonomic nervous system balance (sympathetic and parasympathetic) has been frequently suggested [19, 28].

The pelvic viscera contain dense autonomic fibers [29]. The acupuncture treatment used at The Pacific Wellness Institute is targeted to balance the autonomic nervous system and enhance blood flow to reproductive organs. It has been demonstrated in experiments using rats, that excitation of α-adrenergic receptors causes a decrease of uterine and ovarian blood flow [25-27]; whereas, an excitation of parasympathetic nerves will increase uterine blood flow [27].  Our acupuncture treatment is a virtually non-invasive procedure involving an extremely gentle superficial needling technique that is targeted to elicit relaxation through activation of a parasympathetic response. It is important to note that stress-induced neural and hormonal response (i.e.: sympathetic activation, increased plasma cortisol, adrenalin etc.) may negatively influence reproduction [29, 30]. Thus, in most cases, acupuncture administration should be very gentle and ‘painless’; intense and deep acupuncture needling technique that cause unpleasant pain or stress to patients should generally be  avoided.