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A manicured hand sits on a table with 3 acupuncture needles in between the knuckles.

If you’re considering freezing your eggs, you’re probably open to trying just about anything to make your cycle as successful as possible. You’re doing all the things: taking supplements, eating a healthy diet, and being mindful of your lifestyle choices. When it comes to acupuncture, though, you may have heard mixed advice. Can acupuncture really help improve egg freezing outcomes? Let’s find out. 

What exactly is acupuncture, anyway?

Acupuncture is a medical treatment based on the disciplines of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It’s built on the theory that there are channels that flow through the body, kind of like the circulatory system. 

When someone goes in for an acupuncture treatment, the practitioner inserts teeny-tiny, stainless steel, disposable needles into the patient’s body at specific points along those channels (typically between eight and twelve points, but sometimes up to twenty). Different points are used depending on any symptoms you might be experiencing — back aches, anxiety, acid name it! — and practitioners view the body as totally interconnected. It is considered to be generally painless.

What does acupuncture (supposedly) do?

The goal of acupuncture is to regulate each of your systems to get them to work optimally and in harmony with each other. For example, a 2002 Fertility and Sterility study published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) indicated that receiving regular acupuncture treatments can regulate patients’ endocrine systems (where sex, mood, and sleep hormones are manufactured). 

Regulating your endocrine system via acupuncture can dial down your stress response, which may be heightened during an egg freezing cycle. But the question remains, will decreased stress translate to improvement in actual egg freezing cycle outcomes, in terms of quantity and quality of eggs?

Egg freezing and acupuncture: what the data says

Remember: beta endorphin levels regulate and balance a woman’s Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) levels, which do impact the ability of her ovaries to grow and mature eggs. So when we see a 1998 Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine study demonstrate dramatically increased beta endorphins among those who received acupuncture vs. those who hadn’t, that’s worth noting.  

But by and large, when it comes to acupuncture and egg freezing, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. The vast majority of available studies focus primarily on IVF success measures: embryo fertilization, positive pregnancy results, and live births. While embryo fertilization is the primary indicator of egg quality, (though many other factors also contribute to fertilization), only looking at acupuncture’s relationship with IVF outcomes can be problematic, because we are viewing a limited population who already may have fertility challenges. 

Some studies have explored the potential influence of acupuncture on the number of eggs retrieved during ovarian stimulation, the egg freezing phase during which a patient takes injectable hormone medications to stimulate her ovaries to mature more eggs for retrieval and freezing. This is helpful for us to explore, but it’s important to note if those studies are only looking at a population who needs to undergo IVF to conceive, as this is different from the population of those looking to electively freeze their eggs.

All of this being said, there is some data out there that’s worth investigating. 

Stress and fertility

In some cases, we may be able to triangulate studies about acupuncture’s impact upon stress and anxiety with studies about the impact of stress upon egg retrieval outcomes. But we need to acknowledge that these are assumptions and hypotheses, taking a transitive property into account rather than studying the direct impact of acupuncture upon egg retrieval outcomes. 

Even then, when only looking at the impact of stress upon fertility and egg retrieval outcomes (largely related to egg quantity), the data is mixed:

  • A 2011 British Medical Journal study noted that “pretreatment emotional distress was NOT associated with treatment outcome” (in this case, it’s important to consider that “outcome” = successful pregnancy and live birth using eggs from that treatment cycle).
  • A 2009 Psychological Reports article showed a significant correlation between depression and number of eggs retrieved, with fewer eggs retrieved associated with higher instances of depression.
  • A 2001 Fertility and Sterility article stated that “baseline (acute and chronic) stress affected biologic endpoints (i.e., number of oocytes retrieved and fertilized).”
  • A 2015 General and Comparative Endocrinology study concluded that increased cortisol levels may cause anovulation in stressed mice.
  • A 2016 Journal of Biomedical Science study showed that increased cortisol and oxidative stress levels affect our granulosa cell functions, possibly by inducing apoptosis — which results in changes to our estradiol hormones and egg growth, development, and quality.

Some more direct evidence

While there is lots of (mixed) data out there about the relationship between stress and fertility, and some data about how acupuncture reduces stress, there are a handful of studies that actually look directly at the correlation between acupuncture treatments, number of eggs retrieved, and potential egg quality conclusions based on fertilization and live birth outcomes. It’s important to remember that quantity does not necessarily translate directly to quality. Meaning, there is a chance you could have many eggs and very few (or even zero) could result in a fertilized embryo or pregnancy. The general principle is, the more eggs you retrieve, the greater chances you’ll have of having enough high quality eggs for future use. 

One of the more applicable studies is a 2023 Frontiers in Endocrinology meta-analysis, which looked at seven clinical randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that ultimately included 516 women. Although the quality of those studies may have been questionable, this meta-analysis showed that the use of acupuncture increased the number of eggs retrieved and the antral follicle count, while improving the patients’ estradiol and FSH levels. However, there was no difference in fertilization rate or pregnancy rate. This analysis suggests that acupuncture does not improve the ultimate outcome most egg freezers care about: chances of a healthy baby down the line. 

On the flip side, a 2006 Fertility and Sterility study of 273 women in Denmark showed no statistical difference in the number of eggs retrieved between those who received acupuncture and those who did not. For what it’s worth, this study did, however, show a substantial improvement in pregnancy and live birth rates among those who received acupuncture on the day of their embryo transfer.  

What to expect at your acupuncture appointment

If you’ve decided to move forward with acupuncture, you’ll first need to find a local practitioner. At your first treatment, your acupuncturist will ask you tons of questions about your medical history, just like any Western doctor would. Then they’ll take your pulse and look at your tongue (seriously). 

Here’s what they’re looking for: patterns of disharmony, which may be missed by your regular doctor because they don’t show up as illnesses. Let’s say you have trouble sleeping and you feel anxious and your skin is dry and your hair is falling out. In Chinese medicine, that grouping of symptoms together indicates a “blood deficiency.” It wouldn’t be severe enough for your main doctor to call it anemia, but there may be enough symptoms to show some imbalance is going on in your body. With that information, your acupuncturist can determine where to insert the needles to best address your individual needs.

When it’s time for your treatment, you may be asked to undress and put on a gown or cover yourself with a sheet and lay down or face up on a table, like you’re getting ready for a facial. The practitioner will then reenter the room and begin “tapping” the needles into the points they’ve selected specifically for your needs.

The insertion of the needles doesn’t usually hurt — maybe just a pinch — but it shouldn’t stay painful because the needles are as fine as a strand of hair. If you’re not comfortable, just let your practitioner know and he/she will make an adjustment. Comfort is key. Once all the needles are in, the acupuncturist will leave the room (ideally turning on some music or relaxing white noise) and you’ll rest there on the table for about 30 minutes. You may fall asleep right away, or you may need a couple of sessions to get used to it.

To experience the full desired effects of acupuncture, some practitioners say it could take about 3 months of weekly treatments. Think of it this way: it takes about 100 days for red blood cells or sperm to mature, so according to acupuncturists, if you want acupuncture to make changes in your body’s functioning, you’ll want to give it the time it naturally needs. At the very least, you should leave your treatment feeling like you just got a really good night’s rest.

The TLDR on acupuncture and egg freezing

There’s so much more research to be done regarding the relationship between acupuncture and egg freezing outcomes. But, based on the scouring we’ve done through existing studies, there does not appear to be evidence that acupuncture could directly help your egg freezing experience. Acupuncture cannot influence structural issues, like fallopian tube blockages, for example. 

But while it may not help you retrieve more eggs or increase your chances of pregnancy down the line, it may be something you want to do purely for relaxation. You can think about it like a massage or day at the spa. 

With that in mind, the only nuisances may be appointment scheduling or dealing with insurance to see what’s covered. But, beyond that — the goal of acupuncture is to make your mind and body feel good. So, if you have the time and willingness to pay, we support that! In my case, I’m incredibly lucky; my insurance covers unlimited acupuncture visits throughout the year, including for pain or anxiety (note: I do not believe fertility is a billable reason for my acupuncture coverage). If you’re interested in pursuing acupuncture, it is definitely worth having a conversation with your acupuncture clinic and with your insurance provider. But if you can’t squeeze it in or justify the cost…please do not worry about it. You’ve got enough going on as it is.

Remember, when freezing your eggs with Freeze by Co, our team of medical experts (plus our free member community of others freezing their eggs, just like you!) will be with you every step of the way to answer questions like this and more. Our Split program even offers those ages 21-33 the chance to freeze their eggs for free! With a Split cycle, you would donate half of the eggs retrieved to a family that’s trying to conceive and freeze the remaining half for yourself. 

If you’re over 34 or not interested in donating half of the eggs retrieved, you can still participate in our Keep program up to age 40. With Keep, you can freeze your eggs and keep them all for yourself, on your timeline while having access to valuable community support. 

Regardless of which path you choose, our team is here to guide you through the process to keep your family-building options on the table.