6 questions about Acupuncture and IVF

People are often apprehensive and curious about needles – how on earth can they help you feel relaxed?  Here are the top 6 questions I get asked about Acupuncture and IVF by nearly every new patient.

1. How often do I need to come? If you follow my advice to start acupuncture 3 months before IVF, you are looking at every 2-3 weeks usually. If you leave it much later say 4 weeks beforehand – then every week.

2. How does it work?Acupuncture is thought to help with the stress response and promote blood flow specifically to the reproductive organs with certain acupuncture points. Other points are chosen that support you as an individual and take into account your physical, mental and emotional health. My patients also find that acupuncture is great at easing the headaches that sometimes accompany the IVF meds.

3. Will it hurt? Generally no! A few people are very sensitive (roughly 1/30) in which case I can use extra tiny needles and more acupressure. If still too sensitive I recommend Reflexology instead.

4. Do I need acupuncture before and after embryo transfer? Short answer NO! But yes I still do acupuncture after embryo transfer! A small trial (subsequently known as the Paulus protocol) looked at implantation rates with IVF comparing both with and without acupuncture at time of transfer. The implantation rates were significantly higher with the acupuncture group. However other trials have looked at other interventions; one notably involved a clown and getting patients to laugh. The implantation rates were higher in this clown watching group too. I take from this that doing something that brings you joy, happiness and relaxes you can possibly help. For my patients who love acupuncture we know it’s a good call for them to have it on the day of transfer as it’s a lovely end to the multitude of appointments the past 2 weeks. I also ask my patients to sing loudly and badly on the way to the IVF clinic and go for walks in nature afterwards. Anything that makes you giggle and happy is good in my opinion!

5. Are there any foods that can help me? I forgotten how many times I’ve been asked if pineapple will help implantation! Eating well in the 3 months beforehand is the most helpful. By eating well I mean regular meals at regular times. Snacking too if people are on the go all day. Eating plenty of low GI foods, complex carbohydrates, a variety of protein and vegetables. It’s not complicated! We all know really what a good diet looks like – but we often skip meals and pick sugary snacks as we suddenly crave some calories.

6. How much caffeine can I have? No coffee. No de-caff coffee – Sorry! Tea is fine in the morning. I’m interested in why someone would need to drink a lot of caffeine throughout the day. Usually it’s related to poor sleep or skipping breakfast and other meals.

To find out more about Acupuncture alongside IVF please arrange a time to speak with Kate by emailing me with your contact details and the best time of day to call you: kate_mcdougall@protonmail.com

Acupuncture for Headaches and Migraines

Acupuncture has always been a popular choice for people suffering with headaches and migraines –  in 2016 however I’ve really noticed a huge increase in the number of people coming to see me, so time I sat down and wrote about how I use acupuncture to help.

Starting off with headaches (as opposed to migraines) – the most common I see is ‘tension type headaches’ which often feel like the band of tightness or pressure across the sides of the head and forehead. They can affect the sides of the face and eyes too and most of us will have experienced these headaches a few times in our lives. They can be triggered by stress, dehydration and low blood sugar and will pass in time. However when these occasional headaches become frequent or even constant they really start in interfere with your quality of life and many people feel unhappy about taking pain relief for these headaches on a daily basis.

In my experience I have not yet (in 8 years of practice) seen a chronic tension headache sufferer without a significant degree of muscular tension somewhere in their neck and upper back muscles. My first step is to relieve the tension in the muscles supporting the head – using cupping therapy and more frequently Tui-Na on the sides and front aspects of the neck where cupping and acupuncture would be inappropriate. I think most of my patients would agree that it is pretty painful the first couple of times I work on these muscles, but that it soon becomes more tolerable – and the headaches decrease in severity at the same time. I use acupuncture for general tension and trigger points in the upper back, often the trapezius muscle is affected and sometimes into the forehead and jaw. I even find little trigger points all over the scalp sometimes and loosening off the scalp with massage and acupuncture is probably the most enjoyable part of the session. It’s important that my patients practice gentle neck stretches in between appointments and become aware of their posture if doing a desk based job for example.

From the view of Chinese medicine these headaches are often diagnosed as Liver Qi stagnation – the Qi or energy has got stuck and cannot flow properly through the meridians in the head and face. Liver Qi is most easily affected by strong emotions including stress, frustration and anger and for women the reproductive hormones can also affect Liver Qi. I add in acupuncture points often on the feet and legs that encourage the Liver Qi to get moving again. Broadly speaking I find acupuncture and Tui-Na to be very effective for tension type headaches and would expect most patients to see a significant improvement within 4-6 weekly sessions.

Coming on to migraines, which in themselves can vary hugely and include other problems such as vomiting and aura. In Chinese medicine migraines again involve the Liver Qi – though the diagnosis is often Liver Yang Rising or Liver Fire. The approach to try and let the body release tension gently and consistently so it doesn’t build up like a pressure cooker which suddenly pops. Once a migraine is established there is little you can do bar wait it out so it’s about using acupuncture to prevent them in the time between. I use the similar approach for migraines as I do with headaches – firstly loosening off all the upper back, neck and scalp tension and I find this reduces the symptom of pain dramatically in most patients. It’s important to include acupuncture points around the body that support that persons constitution and to look more closely at underlying triggers, whether they be food, light or hormonal fluctuations. Interestingly Chinese medicine relates smooth digestive functioning to be important in preventing migraines and a recent study looked at the gut bacteria in migraine vs non migraine sufferers finding a significant difference.

While a tension type headache can be more painful than a migraine and a migraine may present without pain but just visual disturbances – tension headaches do respond better and quicker than migraines most of the time. One of the biggest differences I would say is that with tension headaches I can really just focus on the area of pain from a physical aspect and still see good results. With migraine sufferers you often need to dramatically change your daily lifestyle and approach to life alongside acupuncture to see the best results.

Always speak with your GP if you suffer with chronic headaches – or suddenly experience a new headache which does not go away after a few days. Occasionally headaches can be a sign of something more serious so get their advice. If you’d like to try acupuncture for your headache or if you’d like to speak with me prior to booking in please ring clinic reception on 01603 665173 or email reception@holistic-care.com marked FAO Kate McDougall

The Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership’s 5th Birthday!

To celebrate our 5th birthday, the team at NNFP will be hosting all sorts of free consultations and giving away vouchers for treatment and running low cost clinics in the months of September and October. Watch our website for updates! From simple beginnings over our first shared case, Charlotte and I are now so proud of the results and happy families we’ve helped support. We’re constantly working to be better at what we do and to get even more BFP’S the next 5 years!

Acupuncture and Lower Back Pain

This year I have seen an increasing amount of people in the clinic with lower back pain (LBP). It’s a pretty vague term – there’s a lot going on connecting to the back; the spine, back muscles, pelvic muscles, muscles and tendons in the legs and the front of the body all play a part in a strong supple back.

So from my point of view the first thing is to try and work out where the pain is originating from – and to observe the body looking for signs that one group of muscles are working harder to compensate for another which might be under used. Then I look to see which acupuncture meridian these muscle groups correspond too and needle points along this channel both near the site of pain and then at the farthest point on the channel (on the tip of the toe for example). Sometimes more then one meridian is involved – the two most common are the ‘Foot Tai Yang’ meridian and the ‘Shao Yang’ meridian also known as the Bladder and Gall Bladder meridian. I find the Bladder meridian responds well to acupuncture but that the Gall Bladder meridian responds better to a bit of massage combined with the acupuncture.

Lower back pain linked to over active back muscles tends to respond well to acupuncture because the needles are very effective in relaxing tight muscles. I commonly see fit and healthy people with lower back pain which is greatly relieved by properly stretching out the backs of the legs after exercising – and this especially true for runners. Often I find the hip flexors are responsible, its easy to use these deep powerful muscles when trying to achieve a flat tummy instead of really working on the more superficial abdominal muscles. Tight hip flexors can tilt the pelvis and often this will show up as pain right at the base of the spine and sacral area. Acupuncture alongside some lovely stretches for the psoas muscles often works wonders. When dealing with pain resulting from degenerative changes like osteoarthritis, acupuncture can sometimes aggravate the pain if the muscles are loosened off too much. In these cases it’s always better to start very gently adding a couple more needles each session.

While loosening off tight muscles can often provide instant relief, to really prevent the pain from returning it is essential to learn to take the strain off the back by using all the other muscles effectively. I am a huge fan of Pilates for this and I recommend Hanna Dabbour a physiotherapist who runs Pilates classes all over Norwich. Her knowledge of the how all the muscles work together is second to none and she has helped many of my patients!

If you’d like to try acupuncture for LBP but are not sure if its right for you - please ring the clinic for a quick chat before booking in.

The Complementary Health Care Clinic, 34 Exchange St, Norwich.

Tel: 01603 665173



Anxiety and Acupuncture

More and more people seem to be turning to acupuncture to help with low level anxiety in their lives. Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree or another – and usually not without reason, trepidation before a big unknown journey or at a job interview perhaps.

People who suffer with chronic anxiety however can feel this uneasy and unsettled feeling pretty much all the time and it can have a crippling affect on their day to day lives. People can be aware that they should not be responding to their environment in such a way and rationally explain to themselves that they should be feeling calm and happy, yet their nervous system still continues in a state of panic and high alert. It’s exhausting after a while – which could explain why it’s not just in the head. Anxiety has physical manifestations such as palpitations, dizziness, headaches and muscle aches to name but a few.

So what’s the cause? Some people are thought to be genetically more prone to anxiety, but the biological mechanism itself is seen as an excessive response of the nervous system to non threatening stimulus. The reason or the way this response is triggered can depend on the individual. Some will be affected due to past trauma with specific triggers causing anxiety problems. Others might respond to a normal anxiety trigger for humans, but then for some reason their nervous system is unable to switch back to ‘calm’ mode. So much of our functioning is beyond our normal control, we really do depend on our internal auto-pilot to regulate our nervous system so we can get on with enjoying our lives.

Acupuncture stimulates certain nerves lying just under the skin. They give a dull tingly effect in the area and work alongside the para-sympathetic nervous system – the ‘calm’ part. I often find that people with chronic anxiety experience sensations more acutely, it is essential to use the thinnest acupuncture needles available. I use the ones I normally reserve for children (who also are very sensitive) as to not overwhelm the person. With successful management of the anxiety we can often move to the normal needles by the 4th session. Regular acupuncture helps the body to remember how to find balance and to switch healthily between both sympathetic and para-sympathetic at ease. Yoga is another technique that does this. The activity followed by conscious relaxation forces you to move between the two. I have seen that my clients who attend a weekly yoga class as well as fortnightly sessions with me experience a dramatic reduction in their anxiety symptoms.

In Chinese medicine, there are different ‘patterns’ within the term ‘anxiety’. Although it is important to work out what pattern you are working with, I have some favourite acupuncture points which nearly always make an appearance! PC 6, ST 36 and Ren14 is a wonderful combination for inducing instant calm and positivity.

ren 14

When I see people for anxiety we agree on a set of ‘key markers’. This a list of symptoms that we both agree are realistic to address. It might look like ‘ I want more energy, less insomnia, to feel more positive about myself and to not to respond to triggers’. Acupuncture can’t (as I am often asked) miraculously help you shed weight and regain your 19 year old figure overnight, but it can slowly begin to undo the negative effects of a highly alert and stressed nervous system. As well as acupuncture, it is essential to look at other general stimuli that affect the nervous system both positively and negatively. We have to look at caffeine intake, exercise – type and duration and the eating habits for example and try to find a way living that reassures the body and mind that just right now – right at this very moment, everything is just perfect and calm, that we can relax and feel safe.

Lower Back Pain Clinic – Thursday 6th March

This year Acupuncture Awareness Week (AAW) runs from March 3rd – 8th. The focus nationwide is on back pain and support comes from the dancer Camilla on BBC’s ‘Strictly’ – she uses acupuncture for her own back pain.
NICE have recently recommended that acupuncture be made available on the NHS for chronic lower back pain, however it is still currently difficult to obtain a referral for NHS acupuncture in Norfolk.
To celebrate AAW 2014 I am running a special pain clinic for lower back pain on Thursday 6th March. This is suitable for people who would like to try acupuncture before committing to a full course of acupuncture or speaking to their GP about options on the NHS.

  • Cost – £10 per acupuncture session
  • Must be suffering with lower back pain – in the small of the back, sacrum, coccyx and buttocks.
  • Must be aged between 18-79.
  • Must not have had any other form of physical treatment (physiotherapy / osteopathy for example) 48 hours prior to acupuncture

Please book your slot by calling clinic reception on 01603 665173. Clinic runs from The Complementary Health Care Clinic, 34 Exchange St, NR2 1AX.

Fertility statistics 2012-2013

2013 is not quite over yet – but here are the initial results from all women trying to conceive using acupuncture in the past 24 months. As well as acupuncture, patients were given advice on diet, lifestyle and over the counter herbal preparations. Please take notice of the inclusion criteria for each group. The most common reasons for women not being included in the statistics are;

i) Not having regular acupuncture sessions over 6 months (defined at the initial consultation as being between 2-3 sessions per month depending on the individual case).

ii) Not keeping in touch – so outcomes are currently unknown

GROUP 1 – Natural Fertility with Women aged 35 and under. Patients must not have used Clomid or undergone IVF with 3 months of commencing acupuncture. Women getting a positive pregnancy test during or within  6 weeks of their last appointment were included. All patients committed to regular sessions for at least 6 months. Several women have been included twice (due to initial miscarriage and then restarting acupuncture).

83% of women had a positive pregnancy test

Of these women 20% suffered early miscarriage before 12 weeks, (all women who experienced miscarriage recommenced acupuncture and are either currently in their 2nd or 3rd trimester OR are starting another 6 month course of acupuncture).

GROUP 2 – Natural Fertility with Women aged 36 and over. Patients must not have used Clomid or undergone IVF with 3 months of commencing acupuncture. Women getting a positive pregnancy test during or within  6 weeks of their last appointment were included. All patients committed to regular sessions for at least 6 months.

67% of women had a positive pregnancy test

Of these women 25% suffered early miscarriage before 12 weeks – all were over 44 years of age.

GROUP 3 – IVF Support for Women aged 35 and under. For patients having acupuncture for more than one round in this time frame  the most recent is included. A positive test is defined as one that is present at least 4 weeks after embryo transfer. To be included in the IVF category patients must have seen me as their primary complementary therapist.

80% got a positive pregnancy test

All women in this group started acupuncture at least 4 weeks before any IVF medication. There were no reported incident of miscarriage in this group.

20% did not get a positive pregnancy test

None of the women in this group started acupuncture before the IVF medication

Group 4 – IVF Support for Women aged 36 and over. For patients having acupuncture for more than one round in this time frame  the most recent is included. A positive test is defined as one that is present at least 4 weeks after embryo transfer. To be included in the IVF category patients must have seen me as their primary complementary therapist.

89% of women got a positive pregnancy test

All of these women had started acupuncture at least 4 weeks before the IVF medication. The miscarriage rate in this group was 13% (all before 12 weeks).

11% of women did not have a positive pregnancy test after 4 weeks.

All of these women also had started acupuncture at least 4 weeks before the IVF medication.

Group 5 – Pregnancy rates within The Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership. To be included in these statistics couples must commit to 12 months of regular appointments. Couples not included in these statistics are those that failed to keep to their given schedule and did not continue past the first block.

Couples whereby the woman is 35 and under – 100% pregnancy rate with no reported miscarriages (includes cases with both male and female fertility issues).

Couples whereby the woman is 36 and over – 100% pregnancy rate with no reported miscarriages (includes cases with both male and female fertility issues).

Currently the longest time it has taken for a couple to achieve pregnancy from the initial start date is 10 months.



National Fertility awareness week!

Did you know this week is National Fertility Awareness Week?

As part of The Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership team, I kicked off with our free open morning session which thanks to you lovely people was a huge success. Now, to continue helping to raise awareness, the team are offering a unique opportunity to have a one-to-one mini telephone consultation with one of with our founders. All you need to do is private message us on our Facebook page / via our email with your question and contact number and we will endeavour to call you back. Each consultation will last 15 minutes and run from 8pm to 9pm each evening until the 3rd of November.

We will call you back on a first come first serve basis so get your questions in quick!

Relieving pre-menstrual syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a set of unwanted physical, emotional and mental symptoms that occur after ovulation and are relieved as the period gets started. Most women (and their partners) are well aware of the changes in mood alongside minor physical complaints such as bloating just before the period, and there is nothing ‘wrong’ or unhealthy about this. However when the symptoms go on for up to 2 weeks and cause severe mental and emotional disturbance this can have a very real effect on a woman’s life – her work, her relationship and her self esteem. Women with severe PMS can feel like 2 completely different characters – and to some extent they are!

Below are some of the most common unwanted symptoms of PMS:                                                Mood swings, Irritability, Anxiety and tension, Bloating,                                                                Breast tenderness and swelling, Water retention                                                                 Acne, Tiredness, Weight gain,  Headaches/migraines,                                                            Crying Spells, Depression, Sugar and food cravings,                                                                       Constipation, Dizziness and Night sweats.

So whats going on in our bodies to cause all this? Typically, as with so many problems in women’s health, there is no single causative factor, but a combination of several smaller imbalances that all trigger each other off.

Firstly, just looking at our hormones – oestrogen levels are declining and progesterone is on the up. This shift can affect some women very strongly. A popular theory is that at a time when progesterone should be high, in women with PMS, their oestrogen is actually still too high in relation to progesterone. Many of the physical symptoms such as water retention, breast tenderness and bloating can be attributed to oestrogen.

Secondly, as well as regulating the menstrual cycle, oestrogen and progesterone influence neurotransmitters such as serotonin which will then fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle. Serotonin is just one of the several mood affecting neurotransmitters likely to be involved and can explain the panic attacks and severe depression and anger that some women experience.

Thirdly, stress is nearly always involved in some way. Although it is unlikely to cause it, it will undoubtedly worsen PMS symptoms. Overworking, not enough sleep or over worrying will all cause stress to pile up. One of the stress hormones, cortisol is thought to block progesterone receptor sites, thereby aggravating the oestrogen / progesterone balance.

The Chinese medicine approach is to look at the whole menstrual cycle. What’s going on the rest of the time? – does the diet support the liver in breaking down oestrogen for elimination and is stress being managed before ovulation for example.                               In acupuncture the first half of the cycle is ‘Yin’ This is a time for nourishing the body and mind, eating and sleeping well. The second phase between ovulation and bleeding is ‘Yang’ which represents movement, warmth and energy. PMS in acupuncture is sometimes seen as too much Yang rushing around the body causing mental and emotional upset so the aim is to ground this energy, and to keep in circulating round the entire body in a more balanced way. We do this by building up the Yin in the first half of the cycle so it is strong and abundant – so strong that in anchors the Yang later on!                 In other cases there is not enough Yang – and so the Yin starts getting sticky, heavy, sluggish and obstructs the Yang from coursing through the body. This leads to stagnation such as constipation, bloating and so the aim is to get the Yang / energy of the body freed up so it can zip through the body, moving all the sludge on the way.

I work with women of all ages to help combat the PMS once and for all. We follow a plan of acupuncture twice a month in between ovulation and her period. This really focuses on getting her yang moving evenly throughout her body and head, and this is the time to keep things moving physically with yoga or swimming. We change her diet slightly to support her Yin in the first half of her cycle and ask her to spend some time slowing down just with herself. I also add in herbs alongside Andrew Chevallier to really support a healthy progesterone / oestrogen balance. After 3 menstrual cycles a substantial improvement is nearly always seen, with most women not needing to continue with the acupuncture.


Acupuncture and Bells Palsy

Acupuncture is a great choice for patients with Bells Palsy –  I recommend acupuncture once or twice a week to speed up recovery. My patients tell me they feel an improvement within several hours of the acupuncture session, which then plateaus until the next session and then so on. Often we massage the neck and shoulders of Bells Palsy sufferers.  This is because in acupuncture the meridians that nourish the face pass through the back and sides of the neck so we like to start by getting the blood moving here first. Acupuncturists have a special set of ultra fine needles kept for delicate areas like the face, and these are inserted into the affected facial muscles and slowly turned. On an unaffected person this will hardly be noticeable but often with Bells Palsy the patient will feel the needles as prickly warmth spreading across the face.

Bells Palsy is often classified as ‘Wind-cold invasion’. In Chinese medicine they often describe what they see! ‘Wind’ means it is created from something outside the body (like a virus or environmental factor) but was strong enough to break through the body’s natural defenses. Acupuncture therefore aims to strengthen the person so they can push the invasion back out again. For this reason we also advise plenty of rest and avoidance of both coffee and alcohol until the facial muscles return to normal. ‘Cold’ in Chinese medicine is constrictive and blocks movement, so again the acupuncturist tries to balance this out by creating warmth and movement in the facial muscles to get them moving again. Difficult as it may be to slow down in the modern world – if Bells Palsy strikes, taking a couple of weeks out is simply the best thing you can do for yourself to speed up recovery.

It is worth noting that that most cases of Bells Palsy are self limiting – and many people first start to notice an improvement within 2-3 weeks from the start. NICE are clear that most people will make a full recovery in 9 months –  this is a general figure based on patients and not the therapies involved. So we have two groups – The first being those who do naturally make a full recovery and perhaps for them the real question should be ‘is there anything that can speed up my recovery time?’ The second group is those who do not make a full recovery and so the question is ‘can acupuncture help Bells Palsy 9 months on?’  A third question would be ‘is there anything I can do early on to minimise my chance of having long term problems?’  A review of various Bells Palsy treatments including acupuncture, physiotherapy, and medication is provided by The Cochran Database, where it is shown that the use of corticosteriods early on can lead to better outcomes long term – however using the corticosteriods more than 72 hours after onset appears to have to no significant benefit. A separate recent study compared the type of acupuncture used in Bells Palsy and found that those who received strong needling sensations in the face (compared to those who did not) were more likely to experience long term recovery.

Most people I see with Bells Palsy are through the low-cost community acupuncture clinic which runs every Thursday. Please ring reception on 01603 665173 or click here for more details.