AcupunctureIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Ancient Chinese medicine is known to ease pain, treat diseases and boost fertility for women who already have babies, but Israeli researchers at Tel Aviv University now think it can help women who have never conceived.

Traditional herbal preparations and acupuncture, remedies that the Western medical community calls by the acronym TCM, can be combined with intrauterine insemination (IUI) for women hoping to be mothers, according to Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari and Keren Sela.

Their research, published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, shows a significant increase in fertility when the therapies are administered side-by-side.

When combining IUI with TCM treatments, 65.5 percent of the test group of 29 women were able to conceive, compared with 39.4 percent of the control group, who received no herbal or acupuncture therapy. About two-thirds of the women who conceived in each group ended up delivering healthy babies.

The method is as “close to nature” as possible and can be used by women employing sperm donors, or after a partner's sperm is centrifuged to enhance its motility in the uterus.

Dr. Lev-Ari, a cellular biologist, and Sela, a TCM practitioner specializing in women's health, 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.

In addition to their IUI treatments, the 29 women in the first group received weekly sessions of acupuncture and a regime of Chinese medicines, which consisted of powdered or raw Chinese herbs such as Peonia Albae and Chuanxiong, designed to meet each woman's specific needs. All herbal preparations were approved by the Israeli Health Ministry.

The vast difference in success rates is even more surprising when the age of the average participant was taken into account, Dr. Lev-Ari and Sela note. "The average age of the women in the study group was 39.4, while that of the control group was 37.1. Normally, the older the mother, the lower the pregnancy and delivery rates," they explain.