I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Liz Strong a licensed mental health counselor and certified cognitive therapist who started a website dedicated to those dealing with infertility. Infertility Out Loud, is a space for people to share their experiences and read about what others have been through. Infertility is so rarely spoken about out loud, more often something individuals and couples struggle with alone. It can be a confusing, frustrating, and lonely journey. I’m honored to be able to contribute to her project from an acupuncturists’ standpoint. Here’s what we talked about:
Liz: How does acupuncture help treat infertility?
Dr. Prieto: There are two major ways acupuncture can treat infertility. One is by calming the nervous system and the other is by increasing blood flow into the reproductive organs. I often tell my patients that the acupuncture tricks the body into thinking you’re on a remote beach overlooking the sunset. Many studies show that when blood is drawn before and after an acupuncture treatment, there is a physiological response on a chemical level, such as: a release of endorphins and neurotransmitters; anti-inflammatory components; and hormone fluctuations. This reaction is what promotes healing in the body.
Liz: Who is a good candidate for acupuncture for infertility?
Dr. Prieto: Anyone who is open to integrating acupuncture into their fertility journey is a candidate. I see patients who range from a completely natural approach to those who are undergoing more invasive IVF protocols. The beauty of acupuncture is that there are no outside factors other than what your body is capable of doing on its own, so everyone is a candidate.
Liz: At what point in someone’s infertility journey should they begin acupuncture?
Dr. Prieto: Ideally, it’s great to start acupuncture as soon as possible in the journey. When patients are gearing up for IVF or IUI, I recommend they start 3 months before the onset of their treatment plan. This helps the body achieve the best possible state so that the patient can better respond to their fertility treatment.
Liz: What are your thoughts on the mind/body connection regarding infertility?
Dr. Prieto: The mind and body connection is the missing link in conventional medical approaches, in my opinion. Not only with infertility, but with every disease that exists. I believe that imbalances in our physical body aren’t random, rather they are a reflection of all the things we’ve experienced in life from emotional traumas to the unhealthy things we’ve eaten to our spiritual beliefs, and beyond. That’s quite a large statement but according to Chinese medicine, every emotion, every food, and even our living environment, is associated with a particular organ system in the body and can either help or harm the body’s inner harmony.
Liz: Do you suggest supplements as part of your protocol? (I recall taking royal jelly)
Dr. Prieto: YES! I am a huge fan of royal jelly. Did you know that a queen bee’s sole function is to be the reproducer of all the bees in her hive? See, in Chinese medicine we aren’t too concerned with calories or carb counting – we look at the nature of the food, where it comes from and how it relates to the body. Seeds, nuts and eggs are also popular fertility foods because all of those things have the potential for expansion and new life.
Liz: Is there anything else you recommend to complement a patient’s treatment?
Dr. Prieto: Meditation, prayer, counseling, journaling, moderate exercise, positive affirmations, gentle yoga, dietary changes, and lots of self-care! Not necessarily in that order.
Liz: Is acupuncture often used in conjunction with medical treatments?
Dr. Prieto: More often than not, actually.
Liz: How many of your patients use acupuncture in addition to medical treatments?
Dr. Prieto: I would say 70% of my fertility patients are also undergoing some kind of conventional medical treatment.
Liz: Can patients find success with only acupuncture (and no medical treatments)?
Dr. Prieto: Often I have patients that are not ready to go the conventional route, for a multitude of reasons. Gratefully and humbly, I can say that a large number of couples have conceived by just integrating the acupuncture treatments and being compliant with other lifestyle, diet and herbal recommendations.
Liz: Do you treat men for infertility?
Dr. Prieto: Yes. I often say that men are “easier to fix” because their anatomy is a bit less complicated than the female. Although it’s less common for me to see a male for infertility, I’ve had many male factor infertility patients get amazing results. I had one patient with zero live sperm in his sample. His second sample had 1 live sperm and then he went up from there into hundreds. He eventually was be able to be a candidate for IVF with ICSI. They have beautiful twin girls.
Liz: Can you describe a typical visit for someone seeking acupuncture for infertility?
Dr. Prieto: First, we sit down together and do a full intake where I ask about one hundred questions regarding their fertility, digestion, sleep, diet, mood, energy level, and a bunch of other health-related questions. At this point, I gather enough information to make a diagnosis, treatment plan, herbal and dietary recommendations and so on. Also, the patient usually has questions that we can address. If they choose to do the treatment, I generally recommend that they come in at a certain time in the cycle where it’s optimal to have a session, generally this is 4 times per cycle.
Liz: What kind of success have you seen working with infertility patients?
Dr. Prieto: At one point in my career I tried to keep statistics, but I soon realized there were just too many factors to be able to have solid conclusions. I have so many different types of cases, age ranges, and levels of compliance, so it was impossible to log the patient results without going back to college for another degree, ha! I would say that the success is high enough to keep testimonials rolling in on a regular basis. If I had to guess, I would say 1 out of 3 patients who are compliant and consistent with treatments will end up pregnant.
Liz: What do you wish all your patients knew before coming to an appointment?
Dr. Prieto: More than anything, I wish they knew they aren’t alone. I can treat up to 3 patients at one time and quite often, I have 3 women undergoing infertility treatments just one wall apart. I wish my patients knew that they aren’t broken, that their body is truly trying to run optimally. I wish my patients knew that this is a process and that it may take time, but that they have the potential to produce the miracle of new life. And that every time they show up for a treatment and will find themselves laying alone in a dim, quiet room, with their beautiful and capable bodies, that it’s a chance to love themselves exactly how they are.
Liz: What are the top three most frequently asked questions you hear from fertility patients? What are your answers?
Dr. Prieto: 1. How often should I come? Once weekly or 4 times per cycle. 2. Does my insurance cover treatments? Every policy is different. Some of my patients have great coverage, others do not. 3. Is this going to hurt? No. There is a sensation associated with acupuncture, but it’s not pain. It can vary from no sensation whatsoever to an electric current. But if anything “hurts,” I can adjust the needle or select a different point, no biggie!
Liz: What is your favorite thing about working with your patients?
Dr. Prieto: It never feels like work. I would argue that I have the most rewarding job on the planet because I get to work together with my patients to achieve something that is the ultimate miracle: a baby. When I get a photo in my email inbox, or a birth announcement in the mail, my heart overflows and I know that I’ve found my calling.
Dr. Christina Prieto is a Board Certified and Licensed Acupuncture Physician and owner of Harmony Wellness Center in Maitland, Florida. A Florida native, she studied at the Florida College of Integrative Medicine, graduating Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Professional Health Studies and a Masters of Science in Oriental Medicine. Please read more about Dr. Prieto, her experience, expertise and adventures here:
youtube video about Dr. Prieto’s practice: https://youtu.be/k2BVR7sP8fY?list=PLJyywL7N1AusspLUdVQ0HfWiaEy4H68ZQ