If you’re one of the 10-15% of couples who find their attempts to conceive challenged by infertility, investigating your options and receiving treatments can be enormously stressful. As part of our focus on patient-centric care, we make a concerted effort to ensure that your consultation, treatment, and pregnancy are as personalized, informed, and as stress-free as possible.
In addition to the counselling session available at any point during in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, we also work with Dr. Spence Pentland to offer acupuncture as a supportive and Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) for patients receiving IVF treatments.
We took some time to speak with Dr Pentland about his Traditional Chinese Medicine practice and the benefits of acupuncture to IVF.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in a small town and my father was a pharmacist. Being that it was a small town, the pharmacist gets to know everyone on a first-name basis, so personal customer relationships are something I’ve come to expect as part of good service.
You’re a father?
I am. I have three boys all under age seven. They keep me on my feet.
How did you get started with Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Growing up where I did, I developed an early love of plants. When I was studying horticulture and botany in university I learned that there are a lot of plants with medicinal properties. I had studied western herbalism to some degree and with my father being a pharmacist, this resonated with me on a personal level.
Through my research I discovered Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is a complete medical system operating within the natural world which has been empirically practiced and documented for thousands of years.
How do you see the fit of your practice with PCRM?
I provide acupuncture to patients receiving IVF with PCRM. They’re specialists in what they do, and I work with them to be part of a strategic, allied health force to help outcomes.
This relationship has served to deepen my understanding of what the women and couples are going through, and how to better support them on their IVF journey.
Is acupuncture safe?
Absolutely. Acupuncture works to facilitate the body’s natural function and help remove emotional blockages. It’s safe, because it’s not a drug that works to override the patient’s biology. When used with modern medical treatments, acupuncture is considered CAM.
How does this work as a CAM with the treatments I’ll receive from PCRM?
Acupuncture has a positive impact on inflammation and circulation. It improves and increases blood-flow to the ovaries, uterus, and the uterine lining, and helps improve the delivery of IVF medications to the vital areas for conception.
Acupuncture also works to balance hormones which release gonadotrophins (which control sexual development and are essential in the menstrual cycle). These are the same drugs that PCRM gives in ovarian stimulation injections, essentially supercharging the body’s natural capacity. Acupuncture works to modulate the body’s ability to work with the hormones as they naturally occur within the body, increasing the efficiency of received medication.
What the literature is saying is that acupuncture also has a regulatory effect on an aspect of the immune system which impacts implantation and early pregnancy. Acupuncture helps to reduce the intensity of immune reaction or inflammatory response. When inflammatory markers are lowered, this helps to improve implantation and reduces the incidence of miscarriage.
You mentioned emotional blockages. How does emotional state affect conception?
Becoming a parent is stressful when everything’s going right. If something complicates the process, it’s natural to become worried, confused, angry, or depressed. Even with an excellent team to support you, the stress of navigating your treatment options and treatment itself can feel overwhelming.
Stress isn’t good for the body. When you get stressed your body goes into defence mode and dedicates oxygenated blood to the large muscles, heart, and lungs (fight or flight). PCRM’s Dr. Jeff Roberts and I worked with a UBC researcher to carry out a small population analysis of patients who received acupuncture leading up to IVF and found that many patients benefit from a significant reduction in perceived stress scores.
Acupuncture helps with the soothing of emotional stress and helps patients to achieve a state where the sympathetic nervous system (which regulates stress and adrenal response) is essentially shut down. When you can shut off the part of the system which takes blood primarily from big muscles and organs and allows it to redirect to the parasympathetic system (feed and breed) it optimizes fertility and chances of IVF success.
Besides acupuncture, what makes your practice successful?
I believe nothing is more important than family. Everyone who wants a family should be able to experience the gift of becoming a parent. I understand that the struggles of infertility can be extremely difficult. At Yinstill we believe holistic support is necessary during these times and are passionate about delivering the care required along this journey.
Dr. Pentland is a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the founder of Yinstill Reproductive Wellness and the IVF Acupuncture Group of Greater Vancouver. He is the former president of the TCM Association of British Columbia, author of Being Fertile, and a respected fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine.