The origins of the practice of acupuncture can be traced back more than 30 centuries ago to the heart of ancient China. The first practitioners were highly skilled at making accurate diagnoses through detailed observation of their patients. Based on the belief that the body can be mapped with energy channels called meridians, associated with the various body systems in which energy, or qi (chi) flows, they suggested that obstructions to the flow of energy along these channels could result in physical, mental and emotional imbalance, which eventually led to disease. By stimulating the acupuncture points the free flow of energy could be restored, allowing the body to re-establish its natural balance. This approach remains central to the practice of acupuncture today.
There has been much comment in the press in recent years about the benefit of acupuncture for fertility concerns. Here at the Zita West Clinic, acupuncture is always carried out in conjunction with mainstream Western medicine to ensure the best possible level of reproductive health. Our team carries out over 6000 sessions of fertility-focused treatments each year and we consistently update our methods by consulting the latest research as part of fertility treatment.
Zita West has over twenty years’ experience as an acupuncturist, and heads up our team of practitioners. They always have access to Zita for advice, as well as to a whole medical team of highly experienced doctors and midwives at the clinic. Zita also frequently reviews individual cases to ensure that clients receive the highest standard of care.
The results of some research studies into acupuncture are very promising and we remain strong supporters of its use as part of a coordinated approach, though there is often very little hard evidence to prove its effectiveness in terms of accepted Western medical standards. There are many research studies that suggest acupuncture may help in various areas relating to fertility and conception but none can be considered proven in those terms. Research has been conducted into its use in the following areas:
• Regulating the menstrual cycle
• Reducing stress by decreasing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. High stress levels are associated with reduced chances of conceiving
• Improving blood circulation to the pelvic organs, including the ovaries and uterus, allowing the reproductive organs to work to their full potential
• Increasing blood circulation to the uterus ensures optimal endometrial thickness
• Helping to trigger ovulation in some women with ovulatory dysfunction
• Helping women with PCOS, endemetriosis, dysmenorrhea, pelvic inflammation
• Improving sperm count, motility and structural abnormalities
It’s clear that more well-designed, large prospective studies are needed into the use of acupuncture in the field of natural fertility (and alongside IVF treatments) However, the feedback from the majority of women and men up and down the country who have had acupuncture is that they have benefited enormously, feeling proactive, relaxed, acknowledged, supported and nurtured through what is a very stressful time for many.
What to expect
In our experience, women and men are often slightly anxious on their first visit, especially if they have never had acupuncture before. The sensation you experience is quite personal, and can be experienced initially as dullness or tingling around the insertion site but this is often very pleasant. Once this feeling settles down, your body can feel heavy, easing you into a very restful state and make the session deeply relaxing and enjoyable.
We believe it’s important to make sure you are treated according to your own individual circumstances. On your first visit your practitioner will take into consideration your medical history and lifestyle, as well as making observational diagnoses. Our clinical questionnaires are carefully compiled to provide our practitioners with this important information, and will be emailed to you at the time of booking. On the day of your first treatment, please bring your completed forms with you. This information can be crucial for your practitioner to identify where the imbalances in your body are, and therefore making the correct selection of acupuncture points to focus on with you.
It was during a really tough time in my life about 25 years ago. I was suffering with post-natal depression following the birth of my second child and felt extremely low. Although my G.P was supportive, he could only offer anti-depressants – a route I didn’t want to take – so I started exploring natural options. Back then, there wasn’t much to choose from, but eventually I came across acupuncture and was overwhelmed by the affect it had on me. As a result, I decided to train to become an acupuncturist myself, with a view of using it alongside my skills as a midwife. It led me to set up one of the UK’s first NHS acupuncture clinics for pregnancy, offering women a natural remedy for common pregnancy ailments without the need for pills.
The practice of acupuncture can be traced back over 30 centuries ago to ancient China. It is based on the belief that the body can be mapped with energy channels called meridians, associated with the various body systems in which energy, or qi (chi), flows. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), obstructions to the flow of energy along these channels can result in physical, mental and emotional imbalance, which may eventually lead to disease. Stimulating acupuncture points frees the flow of energy so the body can re-establish its natural balance. TCM draws on the philosophy that there is a connection between human beings and nature. Many of us have lost innate knowledge surrounding our bodies - especially women and their cycles. We work hard and play hard, with no rest in between to recuperate. It’s not surprising that our qi becomes depleted. Acupuncture helps restore balance and create harmony. It treats the whole system, not just one part of the body.
The concept of qi energy has always hindered western medicine, and yet we’re all guilty of spending a lot of time discussing our energy levels. For instance, how many times in the past week have you complained of feeling tired or exhausted? For health harmony, the qi has to flow smoothly and uninterrupted through the meridians. Once you understand this key principle, everything surrounding TCM makes sense.
My training as a midwife was highly medicalised, however, when it came to learning acupuncture I had to leave my medical hat at the door. The ancient Chinese didn't have all the scans and blood tests we have today, so instead they had to make a diagnosis based on observation and took into account attributes such as the colour of the skin, heat distribution throughout the body and the emotional aspects of that person. They did this by looking at the tongue, taking the pulses and working out where the patterns of disharmony lay within the body which linked to a Meridan system (12 in total which correspond to different organs) and as a result, were able to offer a treatment specific to each individual. I am so grateful for both my eastern and western training as I’m able to bridge the gap between the two systems of medicine – a combination that works so well together.
It has transformed the way I view and handle their emotions. Moods, hormones and cycles govern women who are trying for a baby. TCM makes a connection between the heart and the uterus, following the principle that qi becomes blocked by strong emotions. In western medicine, the heart has a physical function to circulate blood around the body; in eastern medicine the heart encompasses the mind and spirit. If the qi is unable to flow down to the uterus because of stress, worry or anger blocking the way, it will inevitably be harder to maintain regular cycles and fall pregnant. I do a lot of work with women (through both acupuncture and counseling) to help them reconnect on every level and dispel emotions that may be blocking energy flow.
At the beginning, we recommend a four to six week course of acupuncture, administered on a weekly basis. After that, it may reduce to fortnightly, and eventually monthly sessions. The client’s needs dictate the amount of acupuncture required. Studies have shown that having weekly acupuncture during the two-month lead-up to IVF can be incredibly beneficial, although this can be difficult and expensive. At the clinic, we do treatments at specific stages of the IVF cycle, as well as on the day of transfer.
I believe in evidence-based medicine, but unfortunately there isn’t evidence to back-up everything in life. There are studies that show acupuncture’s efficiency when treating morning sickness, stress, blood-flow, and used prior to IVF and on the day of embryo transfer, for example. Because it is so different to mainstream medicine there will always be critics who struggle with the concept and consequently doubt what it does. Beyond inserting needles, acupuncture is also an incredible source of support, particularly for those struggling with fertility issues. Women who are trying to get pregnant naturally feel anxious and emotional. TCM looks at the whole picture, and as a result women feel cared for and listened to. They will often develop a strong rapport with their acupuncturists and experience a greater sense of wellbeing as a result.
A lot of people feel slightly anxious on their first visit, especially if they have never had acupuncture before. I would say that the sensation a person experiences is often unique to them. They may initially feel a dullness or tingling around the insertion site, but this is often very pleasant. Once this feeling settles down, the body may begin to feel heavy, easing you into a very restful state.
I don't believe any one system of medicine works for everyone. I think the practitioner makes a big difference. It’s important for them to build a rapport with their client. Generally, people do feel an increased sense of wellbeing. I get angry when I hear of women asking doctors whether acupuncture will help them get pregnant and the reply is, ‘no, there's no evidence to prove it will’. That really frustrates me.
Besides being a highly trained and certified practitioner, kindness and understanding is high on my list of priorities. An acupuncturist needs to really be with their client in order for them to reach full potential. They need to recognise boundaries and instinctively know when an issue needs referring to a doctor or midwife. Knowing your limits is a skill in itself.
Every year it seems to be growing more and more popular, particularly for couples wanting to boost their fertility. People have become more conscious of their bodies and are willing to try a more holistic approach. After all these years, I still have acupuncture at times of need. It reminds me of why I do what I do.
Zita West has a team of experienced acupuncturists at her London clinic, and also an affiliated network of acupuncturists in the UK and Ireland trained in the Zita west integrated approach. To find an accredited practitioner, please search for acupuncturists in the UK or acupuncturists in Ireland.