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Trouble getting pregnant? Try Chinese medicine

Israeli research finds that traditional herbs and acupuncture boost chances for conception in women undergoing intrauterine insemination.

By Abigail Klein Leichman

Israeli researchers have discovered that using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapies along with intrauterine insemination (IUI) is a winning combination for women having trouble conceiving.

TCM’s herbal preparations and acupuncture have long been used to ease pain, treat disease, boost fertility and prevent miscarriage. But these therapies also give a measurable boost to IUI, according to research by cellular biologist Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari, head of the integrative medicine unit of Tel Aviv University’s medical school, and Keren Sela, a TCM practitioner specializing in women’s health.

It’s the first study ever done to demonstrate the effectiveness of herbs and acupuncture in this procedure, as reported by Lev-Ari and Sela in an article published by the European Journal of Integrative Medicine.

When combining IUI with TCM treatments, 65.5 percent of the test group was able to conceive, compared with 39.4% of the control group, who received no herbal or acupuncture therapy. In the test group, 41.4% delivered healthy babies, compared with 26.9% of the control group.

Meeting of East and West

Lev-Ari works with both medical doctors and TCM practitioners at Tel Aviv Medical Center’s Fertility Research Institute. He and Sela have long been interested in how Eastern-style approaches could enhance the effectiveness of Western-style fertility treatments.

The two researchers followed the progress of 29 women between the ages of 30 and 45 who were receiving IUI treatment combined with TCM therapy, and compared their results to a control group of 94 women between the ages of 28 and 46 who were undergoing IUI treatment alone. The 29 women in the first group received weekly acupuncture sessions and individually prescribed doses of Chinese herbs such as PeoniaAlbae and Chuanxiong, which are approved by the Israeli Health Ministry.

The difference in success rates was even more significant given that the average age of the women in the test group was 39.4, while the average age of the control group participants was 37.1. Normally, pregnancy and delivery rates are lower among older women.

According to the researchers, TCM therapies attempt to correct imbalances in the body’s natural energy flow (“chi”). How that affects fertility isn’t known for sure, but it’s believed that herbal remedies and acupuncture balance the ovulation and menstrual cycle, enhance blood flow to the uterus and encourage the secretion of calm-inducing endorphins. All these factors aid in conception.

A previous Israeli study showed that in-vitro fertilization patients who are exposed to clown therapy right after implantation are more likely to become pregnant — presumably also related to the endorphin factor.

Now the researchers are planning to design randomized clinical trials to further validate their initial findings concerning TCM and its impact on the success of fertility treatments.

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