Naturopathic Medicine & IVF

Written by: Dr. Eleonora Shilo

IVF, or In Vitro Fertilization, is now responsible for one per cent of all births in North America. This assisted reproductive technology is definitely on the rise and is something I come across every day in practice at my clinic, Yinstill Reproductive Wellness. Patients come to naturopathic doctors because there is something missing from their treatment regimen at the standard fertility clinic.

Often times women seek care from an ND with a focus on fertility wanting to know how they can complement their upcoming IVF, FET (frozen embryo transfer) or IUI (intrauterine insemination) cycle with natural treatments. There is lots that can be done naturally to support women through this process from a naturopathic standpoint. If you have an upcoming cycle of IVF or IUI, read on to find out how we can support you throughout this process.

When a woman is undergoing fertility treatments, her stress levels can skyrocket. IVF is associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and divorce. No wonder! The cost alone would be a huge source of stress for anybody. Add to that daily hormone treatments and injections and you’ve got the perfect recipe for stress, anxiety, irritability, and strained relationships. What many people don’t realize is how their diet and lifestyle can affect and further perpetuate this stress response. But when we change the diet, correct nutrient deficiencies and implement stress management techniques, you are better equipped to handle the stresses of life and IVF. It might seem like a lot initially, but once you start implementing these positive habits into your life you will feel the difference and realize that it’s actually not hard at all. Remember that it always seems impossible until it’s done.

If you choose to see a naturopathic doctor, you will most likely find a collaborative approach. NDs are able to discern the factors that can have the most impact on your wellbeing and success with an upcoming treatment. We are able to reduce your perceived stress levels, improve resilience to stress, improve overall sense of wellbeing, increase your nutrient status in the body, increase blood flow to the reproductive organs, and help you release both physical and mental tension. This way, each time you leave our clinic you feel a little bit less stressed and a little bit more vital – and these effects build more and more with each treatment. This is done in 3 main steps:

  • Release

    This generally refers to letting go of things, both mental and physical, that no longer serve you. We generally start with food but this can also apply to emotions, trauma, habits, etc. Foods that don’t serve you are ones that are causing more stress and inflammation in the body, promoting weight gain, or disrupting the mircobiome (healthy gut bacteria). Due to the profound effects of the mircobiome on the brain and mental health, it is important to support a healthy gut through a healthy diet. There is also a huge connection between gut health and autoimmunity, and autoimmunity has been linked to recurrent pregnancy loss due to the autoimmune response causing the body to attack the embryo.

  • Restart

    Some of the treatments that I provide in my clinic can be thought of as “restarting” the body. We restart the nervous system using Bowen Therapy. This helps us uncover blockages (physical and emotional) and release them. We also restart the gut function by removing toxic foods and healing the lining of the gut as it is now known as our “second brain” and has tremendous impact on your overall health. Restarting often allows us to see where the true imbalance lies and helps point us in the right direction with treatment.

  • Replenish

    Finally, we replenish. We load the body up with intravenous vitamins, nutrients, and minerals required for healthy eggs, a good retrieval, and for the maintenance of pregnancy in the first trimester. If necessary, we replenish the body with bio-identical hormones after conducting comprehensive testing that tells us exactly where there is a hormonal imbalance in the body that might be affecting your fertility or clinical symptoms. When indicated, we replenish the building blocks for neurotransmitters – the signalling hormones of the brain, which play a huge role in how we feel on a day to day basis. Neurotransmitters like serotonin – the “happy chemical”, or GABA, which is responsible for relaxation.

All of these combined treatments make up a holistic approach to compliment the treatment you are undergoing at the fertility clinic. My clinic has countless testimonials from women who have tried IVF with and without complementary interventions and felt the difference. Research looking at the effects of acupuncture on IVF outcomes showed that on average, women receiving acupuncture before and after embryo transfers had 20 per cent more success (live births) than women who did not receive treatment. There is also evidence that diets and weight loss help to improve outcomes of IVF in women who are overweight. In my clinic we help you lose weight more effectively by considering hormonal fluctuations as well as the thyroid or other endocrine disorders that contribute to weight regulation. We also come up with a diet that is personalized for you, which takes the guesswork out of trying to figure out what and how to eat.

What can you expect if you choose to see an ND when undergoing IVF? Treatments may vary across the province, but at my clinic we perform an initial consultation where we review your health history. We proceed with some comprehensive testing to assess your current overall health—testing geared toward thriving, not just surviving. At your second visit, we review personalized dietary recommendations, lifestyle recommendations, and the overall treatment plan. To prepare you for your IVF cycle, I recommend starting with three Bowen treatments, followed by acupuncture one to two times per week, and weekly IV drips leading up to retrieval/transfer. The extent of the treatment plan depends on how much time we have to work together before your IVF cycle, which is why it’s best to start early. Our own clinical research shows that women receiving treatment for over a month leading up to their transfer day have lower perceived stress levels than women not receiving any complimentary treatment. Furthermore, we can be there on the day of your embryo transfer to provide acupuncture treatment as we work with PCRM, Genesis and Grace fertility centres to provide this service to our patients.

This article by Dr. Eleonora Shilo, BSc, ND of Yinstill Reproductive Wellness.;

1. ANZJOG. 2011 Oct;51(5)455-459
2. Westergaard LG, Mao Q, Krogslund M, Sandrini S, Lenz S, Grinsted J. (2006). Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer significantly improves the reproductive outcome in infertile women: a prospective, randomized trial. F ertility and Sterility. May;85(5):1341¬6. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2005.08.070
3. Rong Zhang Ph.D., Xiao¬Jun Feng B.S., Qun Guan B.S., Wei Cui M.S., Ying Zheng M.S., Wei Sun B.S., Ji¬Sheng Han M.D. (2011) Increase of success rate for women undergoing embryo transfer by transcutaneous electrical acupoint stimulation: a prospective randomized placebo controlled study. Fertility and Sterility. Volume 96, Issue 4, Pages 912¬916. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.07.1093
4. Wolfgang E Paulus, M.D., Mingmin Zhang, M.D., Erwin Strehler, M.D., Imam El¬Danasouri, Ph.D., Karl Sterzik, M.D. (2002) Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. Fertility and Sterility. Vol 77, No 4. doi:10.1016/S0015-0282(01)03273¬3
5. Domar, A. Ph.D., Rooney, K., B.A., et el., (2011). Impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients. F ertility and Sterility. Volume 95, Issue 7, Pages 2269–2273. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.03.046