Acupuncture For Fertility?

A local acupuncturist and natural medicine specialist says “yes!”

When we think of acupuncture, it is often associated with pain relief. But Marcia-Elizabeth Thompson, LAc, MS, a licensed acupuncturist and natural medicine with offices in both New York City and Rye, has also had success using acupuncture to treat patients with fertility issues. We spoke to her recently about what acupuncture is, how it works, and how it is used to treat couples who are trying to conceive.


What, exactly, is acupuncture?

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“Acupuncture is a comprehensive system of medicine that predates what we currently define as Western medicine by approximately 3,000 years, according to carbon-dated records unearthed in China and Tibet. So basically, anything that can go amiss in the human (and canine, feline, equine, bovine, porcine) body, acupuncture treats effectively and efficiently, without many of the unwanted side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.”  


How does it work?

“The primary forms of diagnosis in acupuncture are assessment of the tongue and pulse. When I take your pulse, I’m not counting the number of times your heart beats per minute. I apply three fingers to each of your wrists, which correspond to 12 different organ systems in order to determine what is out of balance. Your tongue has different areas that reflect the state of these same 12 organ systems. By combining my assessment of your tongue and pulse presentations, I can determine the best point prescription for your treatment and how to adjust things over time. I usually take a picture of my patient’s tongue during their first appointment and go through a little ‘Chinese Medicine 101,’ so they can understand what I’m doing. As I explain what their tongue reveals, I invariably have patients say, ‘Wow, funny you should say that because I’ve always had a problem with (fill in the blank), and my doctor said there was nothing wrong.’


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So it’s not just about one condition, but about how different body systems work together?

“I often tell people who ask me how acupuncture works that in many ways I’m like Con Ed. Your body—and the nervous, lymphatic, endocrine, digestive, and circulatory systems contained therein—is this fascinating self-contained electrochemical network, and I’m like Con Ed who can flip a switch in Brooklyn and make the lights come on in Manhattan. In other words, the points I choose for a treatment are based on patterns of relationships between organ systems that are producing the symptom or symptoms with which a patient presents, so while you may have painful periods or migraines, I may need to treat your digestive function if the spleen and stomach meridians are out of balance with your other organ systems.”  


What makes an acupuncturist “good” or effective—that is, if there are certain standards, what makes one better or more effective than the next?

“Whoo; that’s a great question. Well, of course, there’s training. You want to choose a practitioner who is licensed—as opposed to certified—to ensure you’re getting someone with a complete education. There are a number of practitioners out there doing “dry needling,” a term coined for practitioners licensed in other fields to insert needles into their patients without going through the full Chinese Medicine education and the clinical hours required by a competitive program. Certification can require less than 300 hours. Licensing requires up to 2,000 for most programs in this country. There are other factors like attention to detail, integrity, willingness to listen and learn and partner with the patient, a desire to continue expanding one’s knowledge base, ethics. Then there’s the chemistry part. Do you feel comfortable when you speak to your practitioner? Do you enjoy your time with her/him? Do you feel like you can trust your practitioner?

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Marcia-Elizabeth Thompson, LAc, MS

How long does a treatment/session last and what is the cost?

“The first treatment is 90 minutes long, as there is a generous conversation that takes place in addition to the actual treatment, so I can get your full medical history. Successive treatments are generally one hour. The first treatment is $200. Follow-up visits are $125.”


How does acupuncture work for fertility problems?

“I assess the related organ systems that are out of balance—running too hot here, too cold there—and choose a point prescription based on my assessment of tongue and pulse. I may also prescribe herbs and/or supplements to support the treatment. After the first treatment, there are almost always quantifiable results, particularly with fertility cases, as it generally is a matter of adjusting thyroid function and related hormone levels.”


When working with a couple with fertility issues, do you generally work with the man, the woman, or both?

“Both, always. I need to know numbers like sperm count and motility in order to determine if I have to treat the male partner as well as the mom to be.”  


Can you give me a couple examples of how you’ve helped someone with fertility issues?

“I recently treated a woman with multiple miscarriages. All her numbers were good. There was nothing ‘wrong’ with her as far as her OB was able to determine through her testing methods. She displayed a pattern of what we refer to as yin deficiency. Oversimplifying things: She had burned up all her good juices and threw her hormones out of balance through poor diet and anxiety. She was also on the pill for two decades, throwing her hormones way out of balance. A combination of acupuncture, herbs, dietary and lifestyle modification, and stress reduction through meditation and yoga helped her conceive and carry her pregnancy to term. 

I also treated a woman who was completely unable to conceive. She had low progesterone and estrogen levels due to her age and was not ovulating. Through acupuncture and herbs, I got her ovulating regularly and educated her on the ovulatory cycle, so she could understand how the process of conception works. I’m always surprised to realize how uneducated we are on the process of conception. I’ve helped many women conceive who were simply ‘trying’ at the wrong time of the month.”


Do you work in tandem with MDs or other medical personnel?

“I do. I consider it essential. In order to truly provide our patients with integrated care, I contact my patients’ other care providers to partner in supporting each of our treatments.”


Are there any side effects or negative effects of treatment? Is it painful?

“The side effects come from misapplication of treatment and/or erroneous prescription of herbs and supplements. If your practitioner does not perform an accurate pattern diagnosis, you may get a headache or an extra heavy period that month. There is a small risk of bruising at the insertion site. It rarely happens and is considered an acceptable reaction to treatment.” 


What do you want people to know about acupuncture?

“You don’t need to have anything ‘wrong’ with you to receive acupuncture. I have many people who see me for weekly maintenance or because they have a family history of (fill in the blank) and want to prevent a condition’s development. I see my acupuncturist twice a month to maintain my constitution and to support my own well-being from season to season, and the only reason I don’t see him weekly is due to my own work schedule!”

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