East meets West to help parents-to-be

November 18, 2008

Jackie Koren and her husband had no trouble conceiving their son Jacob. But when the Cherry Hill, N.J., couple wanted a second child -

Jackie says, "It just didn't happen unfortunately."

After years of miscarriages, and a variety of traditional fertility treatments, Heather Bilson of Boothwyn, Pa., was told -

"Really, you should go get counseling, and consider adoption, because you probably will never carry a pregnancy."

But both Heather and Jackie did get pregnant. Jackie had little Gabriella. Heather first had Juliana, then later twins... Eliza and Amanda.

Both women underwent in-vitro fertilization. It has a first time success rate of just 28-percent, but both got pregnant the first time.

They think acupuncture made the difference.

Jackie says, "I think it made me less stressful, it made my body do what it naturally should do."

Heather says, "I felt healthier with the acupuncture. It forced me to focus on my overall body health, rather than on what injection you were getting next."

Acupuncturist Meredith Murphy, who treated Heather, says more women are using acupuncture alone, or with fertility treatments, to up their chances of pregnancy. She has an album filled with pictures of babies from the hundreds of women she's treated.

Murphy says acupuncture taps into the powerful mind-body connection, to change the body's chemistry.

She sees a big difference after acupuncture. "What they're going through in their life doesn't change- their job, their fertility treatment, their life, their stressors- but how it affects them changes."

And Dr. Jingduan Yang of Jefferson University Hospital says the ancient technique doesn't just address the mind, but also the body.

Dr. Yang, a psychiatrist also trained in Chinese medicine, says, "Acupuncture has proved it has improved the circulation in the uterus, and it helped regulate the hormones."

Murphy concurs, "What imbalance in your body is causing the infertility? What is causing you to have endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, lack of periods? irregular periods? And from there we can work on balancing the energy."

The hormones regulate a variety of factors, including the number and quality of eggs produced by the ovaries, when those eggs are released, and whether the womb can support a pregnancy.

Both women say acupuncture treatments do have some discomfort. Heather said some needles made her wince, but she realized that it was because Murphy had reached a crucial spot.

Jackie describes the experience, "It just felt burny - but I knew he was where he needed to be."

The treatments are done in several ways. The most common are weekly sessions for the 6 to 8 weeks leading up to in-vitro fertilization, or sessions before and after the embryo transfer in IVF.

There's been a lot of anecdotal support for acupuncture for infertility, however, there's been very little large-scale data. Most of what is on record comes from Europe or Asia.

In one recent study, German researchers looked at doing acupuncture before & after in-vitro fertilization. Acupuncture increased the success rate by nearly 20-percent. And both Dr. Yang and Murphy say they've seen success rates up to 70-percent in their practices.

Murphy notes, "I've had patients who almost came in against their will and ended up being very successful."

But fertility specialist Dr. Jerome Check of the Cooper Center for In Vitro Fertilization isn't as convinced. Although he offers acupuncture in his practice, a small study done among his patients showed no benefit.

Dr. Check told Action News. There was no significant difference, there was no trend toward acupuncture. In fact, there was a trend the other way."

He called for more extensive studies, but admits they are hard to do. In one past study, of 9 practitioners, each had slight differences in needle placement.

But Heather says her three girls are all the evidence she needs.

"I would not have gotten pregnant, let alone stayed pregnant," she says of acupuncture.

Jackie says her family feels complete. "It's just a miracle, it's a pure miracle- words can't describe it."

Doctors say acupuncture isn't a guaranteed solution to infertility, because there are so many subtle factors playing a role. But many doctors say because it's a low-tech, low-cost, low side-effect measure, it's worth a try. And it is at least partially covered by most insurance plans.

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