By Nicole Murray, L.Ac.

Acupuncture works to treat a wide range of conditions specific to women. While helping to balance the body so it can regain physiological function, acupuncture also reduces stress and restores a sense of calm. This gentle, natural medicine focuses on treating the whole person rather than the disease.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have proven effective in treating the following conditions relating to women’s health:
* PMS
* Menstrual cramps and irregularities
* Breast tenderness and fibrocystic breasts
* Endometriosis
* Uterine fibroids
* Fertility-related conditions
* Pregnancy-related conditions
* Menopause-related conditions
* Fertility

For women with fertility challenges, the use of acupuncture as a natural approach to pregnancy is well documented. A recent review of seven research trials of women undergoing in-vitro fertilization found evidence of improved rates of pregnancy and live births among groups using acupuncture (University of Maryland School of Medicine, 2008).

Acupuncture helps to restore the body’s balance. From a Western perspective, studies show that acupuncture might:
* Increase blood flow to the uterus to promote implantation.
* Improve ovarian function, which might help produce better-quality eggs and a larger number of follicles.
* Reduce side effects of drugs used in assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures.
* Decrease uterine contractions, intended to encourage implantation, and prevent early miscarriage.
* Reduce stress hormones and anxiety.
* Strengthen the immune system and support general health, possibly helping prevent miscarriage.

Pregnancy
Acupuncture is a safe, natural, effective treatment for many common problems that occur during pregnancy. Unlike many pharmaceutical products, it is not contraindicated, and will not cause harm to the mother or baby.

However, there are certain acupuncture points that need to be avoided during pregnancy because they are considered too strong. If there is a chance you might be pregnant, tell your acupuncturist, so he or she can modify your treatment to make it effective and gentler.

Acupuncture is famous for its success rate in turning breech babies. It has proven success in helping to induce labor near or past the due date. During labor, studies have shown that women having acupuncture overall have faster and less-painful deliveries. A recent study demonstrated that among women nearing their due dates, the randomized acupuncture group went into labor an average of 62 hours sooner than the control group, and had shorter labor times by more than two hours.
* Pregnancy-related conditions that may be treated using acupuncture include:
* Psychological issues
* Physical problems
* Fatigue
* Morning sickness
* Heartburn
* Constipation
* Hemorrhoids
* Back pain and sciatica
* Edema
* Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Post-partum moms also often face special problems that might be helped by acupuncture. These include:
* Fatigue
* Post-partum vaginal discharge
* Post-partum depression
* Mastitis
* Insufficient or excessive lactation
* Post-operative healing

Menopause
Acupuncture and herbal medicine often provide natural relief for symptoms associated with declining hormone levels.
The most widely researched menopause-related symptom is hot flashes. Western physicians commonly prescribe HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for menopausal symptoms. There is some controversy about this therapy; acupuncture and Chinese herbs are shown to be a safe and effective alternative. A recent Stanford study concluded that “acupuncture significantly reduced the severity of nocturnal hot flashes compared with placebo.”

Sources cited:
Manheimer, E. et al. Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilization: systematic review and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal. 2008 Mar 8, 336(7643):545-9. Epub 2008 Feb 7.
Gaudet L.M., et al. Effectiveness of acupuncture for the initiation of labor at term: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada. 2008 Dec 30(12):1118-23.
Huang, M.I., et al. A randomized controlled pilot study of acupuncture for postmenopausal hot flashes: effect on nocturnal hot flashes and sleep quality. Fertility and Sterility. 2006 Sep,86(3):700-10.