Acupuncture; much more than teeny tiny needles. A chat with Hannah Watson, fertility acupuncturist.

I’ve been meaning to press go on this post for a while now.

So, acupuncture. One of those things many of us have no idea about how it works. Or if it works. Even those of us that have regular sessions and feel so much calmer and lighter afterwards don’t really know how to communicate the ‘how’ to our friends.

I have read a lot about the benefits of having Eastern medicine combined with Western medicine for a variety of ailments. In the West we are really good at surgeries and treating symptoms. And in the East, they focus on the body as a whole including the power of the mind as they focus on how to heal the underlying issues causing the symptoms in the first place.

Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed reflexology (still really love this as a therapy and might start it up again), Ayurvedic treatments and supplementation and have studied a short course in ‘food as medicine’.

Back when I was 20 I got something called Acne Conglobata. If you’re just sitting down to lunch I suggest you hold off googling what that is for now. It ain’t pretty. Typically it manifests in huge cysts and boils mainly concentrated on the face, shoulders, chest or….bum. In my case I got the face type. I’d have preferred it on the arse.

For 6 months I didn’t leave the house apart from to go to hospital. My face was covered. My confidence buried. I couldn’t smile without my face cracking and oozing, as boils of various sizes lined my lips.

As I write this, this will be news to some of my closest friends who I lied to at the time.

Back then I wanted a quick fix for this condition that no GP or dermatologist could explain the root cause of. And apart from dabbling in Yoga I really knew nothing of the power of diet, Mindfulness and ‘alternative’ therapies that maybe could’ve helped.

I shoved antibiotics, Roaccutane and steroids down my throat daily, for a very long time. Doctors orders. The Roaccutane alone made me so achey, manifesting in arthritic type pain. A listed side effect of this drug is depression and you know, casual suicide. The steroids made me want midnight feasts of sweets and chocolate while the antibiotics attacked all the good bacteria in my body as well as the bad, stripping my stomach lining. I was very depressed. This was a time of my life when I was always out and about with friends and my main concern was saving up enough money for the latest Miss Sixty ‘hipster’ trousers to wear down the pub.

The reason I mention this episode in my young adult life is because had I known back then all the wonderful, calming and balancing therapies available to me I think I would’ve been able to cope with it much better. Perhaps even healed quicker.

Fast forward to now and if I get ill, my number one go to is diet. What am I eating or not eating that could help my body fight it off. Rebalance, heal. My last resort is the doctors surgery.

There are enough books out there on fertility diets, one main one on the link between nutrition and endometriosis. I even met with the author of that one, Dian Shepperson Mills who told me something I will never forget; ‘no matter how good your diet is, if you cannot absorb the nutrients you might as well not bother’. This was in relation to my stomach environment. Since then, probiotics have been a staple of my supplement regimen.

I also met with Emma Cannon’s nutritionist, Victoria Wells. I went armed with alllll the supplements I had researched and prescribed myself on my mission to peak fertility. She helped strip them all back for me, focusing on one good multivitamin, probiotics, omega 3 and vitamin D. Magnesium at night.

Because let’s face it, right now is a bloody minefield in the realm of nutrition. Everyone’s an expert these days because they’ve read something. We’ve got to be so careful to not take wannabe experts advice. People like me who have done short courses. We are not experts.

I try and speak about food and nutrition purely from a personal point of view. What works for me, might not work for you. The best nutrition advice might simply be to remember that everything you put in or on your body is your choice. Before you select from a menu, bite or slice, you have a choice.

So when it comes to having tiny little needles tapped into various points of your body, I’ve called in a true expert to answer some questions.

Her name is Hannah Watson.

In the true spirit of how Western and Eastern medicine can work harmoniously together, Hannah was actually recommended to me by the gynaecologist consultant who had performed my laparoscopy and endo diagnosis. He suggested that acupuncture could be a brilliant complimentary therapy for me.

A few messages between Hannah and I and I was booked in.

Hannah is Australian. I have a few Aussies in my life that I really treasure (including family) for their laid back love of life.

Hannah is one of the most calming and nurturing people I’ve ever been around. Working out of a little place in St Albans (Ginger) and her own base in Much Hadam, she makes a little sanctuary where she welcomes ladies (and men) to have an hour of recalibration, balancing, aligning.

Hannah specialises in fertility, pregnancy and all kinds of gynae issues effecting her….clients? Patients? Neither of these words are fitting. Hannah seems more like a support, a friend. It’s like she is on this course to fulfilment with you.

Her genuine care for you is palpable. As you lay there and she gets to know what’s going on inside your body at that very moment, checking your pulses and tongue for clues. There is never a sense of rush in her sessions even though she is largely fully booked.

The fertility thing can be fraught with fear. And you know how people are wanging on just now about ‘finding your tribe’ and all that? Well Hannah is in mine. She wants me to have a baby probably on a par with how much I want to have a baby. And she believes she has the skills to help me, and others, get there.

Before we get into the questions I had for Hannah (including some from fellow blogger and ectopic pregnancy friend who has a blog called Mothership Club here ) I can say from my own personal experience is that acupuncture gets me out of my head. Relaxed beyond belief. Maybe it’s because I now study meditation and mindfulness that helps but when the little needles are tapped in to me and Hannah selects an accompanying soundtrack for me to listen to as she leaves the room I have been known to relax to a point where I can easily visualise myself giving birth, the panic melting away.

I have no idea if I’ll ever achieve a successful pregnancy but as with food we all have a choice about whether we toe dip into therapies like acupuncture and I’m a firm believer of trying to get to the bottom of ailments and to help the body heal as naturally as possible….

Enjoy!
Vx

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HW: Firstly, I want to thank you Vicky for giving me the opportunity to talk about Chinese Medicine and women’s health. Two subjects that I am deeply passionate about.

VG: So for anyone who hasn’t considered having little needles tapped into various parts of their bod for different ailments, could you give us an overview of the principles behind acupuncture? How does having little needles applied to certain points help the body?

HW: Principals of Chinese Medicine:
Chinese Medicine principals are founded on the belief that each of us are unique. Although some of us share similar traits, we also each have differences. Some of us love spicy food, some of us suffer migraines every month, some have cold hands and feet and others have dreams every night. These little unique traits fit into patterns, which communicate how each organ is functioning and how one’s energy is flowing.
Energy or Qi (“chee”) flows through each of us in different ways. Acupuncture points are selected according to how the body is functioning and its presentation today. We combine symptoms, palpation of the pulses and observation of the tongue to establish a diagnosis and treatment principal. These are formulated individually with the aim of creating a harmonious free flow of energy and blood throughout the body to create even moods, stable energy levels, strong digestive function and regular menstrual cycles. Even if two clients present seeking treatment for PCOS, their diagnosis and treatment can be completely different. It is never a ‘one size fits all policy’, you are unique and so are treated that way.

How it helps the body:
Stress causes the body to function in a heightened state. It speeds up the release of adrenalin, breathing becomes short and shallow, heart rate increases as the body is on high alert preparing for any perceived threat. This heightened state causes the nervous system to operate faster, which although this can be helpful in response to short-term threats, over time, it can result in fatigue, exhaustion and illness. Eventually, this results in inflammation in the form of diseases such as arthritis, endometriosis or cystitis and while the body is distracted by current stress, it can fail to heal these inflammatory reactions. The end result is disease, dis-ease, the body not being in a state of calm.
Studies now show that acupuncture lowers heart rate, slows breathing rate and lessens the rate at which cortisol is released from the adrenals, which is the hormone responsible for the fight or flight response we have to stress. Decreasing the bodies breathing rate communicates to the adrenals that the body isn’t under stress, allowing it to commence its natural self-healing abilities.
Acupuncture produces an anti-inflammatory reaction, which assists in reducing pain, aids wound healing and treats inflammatory conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS.
As we slow the functioning of the nervous systems, it allows the body to relax and can effect more than the hormonal systems we focus on. I’ve had clients report regular bowel movements after one session, where they had previously had years of twice per week movements. Sleep is often of a better quality because of this relaxation, and moods more even.

VG: Given what’s happened to me recently (cervical ectopic pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage) and deciding to blog about it, I’ve gained some social media interest around the area of sub fertility. So those struggling to get pregnant, going through IVF, suffering miscarriages, endometriosis etc. How can acupuncture help with fertility issues?

HW: Acupuncture can assist fertility via its influences upon the endocrine system and hormonal functioning. By treating patterns present in the body, harmonious energy flow is restored and hormones are regulated. This is particularly effective at treating women presenting with ‘undiagnosed infertility’. From a western perspective there may be no measureable causes, but looking at the body from a different angle, through the diagnostic tools of Chinese Medicine, we can treat the person and watch their patterns change.
In cases of PCOS and endometriosis, the anti-inflammatory effect acupuncture delivers assists in calming the symptoms and regulating cycles. Polycystic ovaries isthe presentation of multiple under developed follicles in the ovary. In the right environment, the cysts are reabsorbed, allowing timely ovulation to take place and androgen levels to reduce to within normal range. Studies have proven the effectiveness of electro-acupuncture in treating polycystic ovaries, resulting in reduced number and size of cysts, and reduced ovarian size.
I am affiliated with Create Fertility and Herts and Essex Fertility Centre. I have a close collaborative relationship with the doctors and specialists in these IVF clinics. They respect what Chinese medicine can offer their patients and often refer them to me for treatment. The ways that acupuncture can compliment and enhance IVF outcomes is vast. It has now been proven that acupuncture can; increase follicular count, eggs retrieved, endometrial lining thickness, pregnancy rates and live birth outcomes. Aligning the body creates an optimal environment in which follicular development can take place, implantation can occur and pregnancy can develop. It also assists the uptake of medication, assists in the treatment of side effects such as headaches, constipation and nausea, and assists stress levels.
Acupuncture can assist in securing pregnancy, supporting growth and development, especially in women with a history of recurrent miscarriage. Weekly supportive treatments are suggested by the European Society for Human reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), whom concluded that supportive care is the only intervention that does not require further randomised controlled trials after it was found that a staggering 86% live birth rate vs. 33% in those whom didn’t receive weekly supportive care.

Because acupuncture can be focused on the lower abdomen, we can specifically influence the ovaries. Pin pointing the bodies’ attention to this area enables increased uptake of follicle-stimulating hormone, and awakens the ovaries, stimulating them to complete follicular development and ovulation.
Male factor infertility is increasingly common, and responds wonderfully to acupuncture. Again, men are assessed individually and treatments are formulated according to their presentation. I have had clients report increased motility, morphology and count after just a few sessions of acupuncture.

VG: As an endometriosis sufferer, even if I wasn’t looking to get pregnant just now, could acupuncture help with the chronic pain?

HW: Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition that feeds off oestrogen. The natural anti-inflammatory effect of acupuncture aids in reducing the pain associated with the condition, regulates cycles and bleeding patterns. Treating the condition can be to aid lifestyle, reduce pain and growth of the condition, not necessarily for fertility. I have previously treated women whom have reported entire cure of symptoms, and others whom have fallen pregnant, despite the previous diagnosis of endometriosis.

VG: For a lady looking to start acupuncture for fertility support, how often would you recommend being seen and when is the best time during her cycle to start?

HW: I would recommended women to start as soon as they are ready, your specialist practitioner will know how best to treat you, how frequently you require treatments, regardless of where you currently are in your cycle.

VG: Do the effects of acupuncture last beyond the actual sessions?

HW: The effects of acupuncture continue working after the actual time of treatment. It continues to have an inhibitory effect upon the nervous system, regulating hormones and calming the bodies’ functioning.

VG: Quite often when you’re battling infertility, stress levels and personal confidence can be really effected. Can acupuncture help in these areas too?

HW: Although acupuncture can effectively treat stress, it is, again, a very individual emotion. Specialist training has enlightened me to the complexity of emotions that women, and their support network, carry. There are specific points that can be selected to aid stress levels, according to the clients’ presentation. There are selective points that can influence the mind, heart, chest or stomach, to pin point where stress is being held.
Personal confidence can come into question for women. Some may feel their body is failing at doing its job, lose faith and trust. Acupuncture gives women the chance to restore faith, feel supported and restore faith in their body. We track changes that may otherwise go unnoticed. Breast distension, bowel patterns, food cravings can all change, indicating great progress to changing patterns and creating the ideal environment for conception.

VG: As part of my treatments with you, you’ve used Moxa on me. I love the warmth and comfort it brings but had never heard of it as a form of therapy before. What is it and what does it do?

HW: Moxa is created from Ai Ye, a herb used in Chinese Medicine. When alight, it is held over certain points to facilitate the turning of breech babies, stop bleeding in pregnancy, it has been proven to increase red and white blood cell count, treating anaemia and strengthening the immune system. Moxa dispels cold to warm the womb. This serves as a very effective treatment in menstrual cramps, such as endometriosis, and endometrial lining thickness in fertility and IVF.

VG: In my recent experience of getting pregnant for the very first time, as soon as I found out that I was I became very protective of it. Having spoken to a few other ladies too, are there any risks in having acupuncture once you know you’re pregnant, in the very early stages?

HW: An array of studies have been conducted studying the effects of acupuncture during pregnancy, which have revealed no side effects from acupuncture, however the benefits are incredible. Oxytocin levels have found to be enhanced in women who receive acupuncture. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone produced in increasing amounts throughout pregnancy. It assists in bonding, milk production and with labour. Acupuncture provides women with a safe, effective treatment option to not only support the pregnancy, but treat morning sickness, headaches, migraines, indigestion, sleep, moods, fatigue and bleeding, without using any medication, in a peaceful relaxing environment.

VG: You specialise in treating ladies for fertility support. They must be from all walks of life and have very different journeys to becoming a mum. Would you say though, that the ones that go on to get successfully pregnant share any similar characteristics?

HW: I have indeed seen women of all characteristics, histories, patterns and ages in my clinic. It is difficult to say, but I believe there may be some link between their commitment to the treatment and their lifestyle that contributes to fertility outcomes. Nutrition and exercise are very individualised according to one’s presentation. There isn’t one set menu for all, however the client’s adherence to recommendations definitely makes a difference. I look at the entire person and see where tweaks can be made in order to optimise their overall health. When lifestyle and treatments are united in their treatment goal, patterns change rapidly and the body is more aligned, more receptive to conception and pregnancy.

VG: I can vouch that it doesn’t hurt, but what could someone new to acupuncture expect sensation wise during the treatment?

HW: There is a slight tap with the needle goes in, a small awareness of the needle at the beginning, which fades within a few seconds. I use very fine, smooth needles, and use a tapping technique to reduce your sensation of the needles.

VG: Even though I’m going through IVF, I am a big fan of complimentary natural and holistic therapies. Aside from acupuncture, do you have one tip for ladies experiencing infertility?

HW: Honesty. Sometimes its scary and seems really hard, but I would say that being honest with yourself and your partner is so important. Honest about where your heart is with your job, your life, your hobbies and enjoyment of life. Not always, but often there are small changes that hugely contribute to the overall picture of fertility.
As many couples given the diagnosis of unexplained infertility will know, sometimes it isn’t physiology that is inhibiting conception. So, I believe in looking at the big picture. How happy are you, right now, where you are. What could you change in order to feel more content and joyful now. Sometimes it’s a change of job, change of house, doing mindfulness, taking up yoga, cleaning up their diet or planning more quality time with their partner. Clients know what they need to change, it’s just about taking the first step and moving towards change that can catapult their treatment.

VG: If you’re in early pregnancy and you don’t know you’re pregnant, could acupuncture be harmful?

HW: It wouldn’t be harmful to have acupuncture in early pregnancy. It still contributes towards creating a harmonious environment in which foetal development can take place. Reducing stress, increasing serotonin and aiding blood flow can only serve to benefit mum and bub. I personally always use the points that I know are going to benefit pregnancy anytime there is the possibility of pregnancy having taken place. Often I can feel in the pulses the slight change signalling pregnancy before the woman is aware herself, but I always play it safe to ensure full benefits are delivered with each treatment.

VG: Does acupuncture alone help with POS or will it need to be a lifestyle change and acupuncture combined that works best?

HW: Treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome requires commitment from practitioner and patient. Women will be advised on nutritional changes best found to assist in the treatment of PCOS. Because nutrition is daily choice any habits quickly contribute to patterns of the body. Although acupuncture is remarkable at treating PCOS, if the diet is ignored and constantly contributes to the accumulation of cysts, then progress will be slower. Making small changes to the lifestyle will enable quicker reduction in symptoms, reduce the appearance of cysts and harmonise the system for optimal health and energy.

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To get in touch with Hannah, head to her website here: www.hwchinesemedicine.com

Or give her a call on 07534545041

Her delightful Instagram is here: www.Instagram.com/hannahwatsonchinesemedicine

PS – she also does anti-aging facial acupuncture. Just sayin’.

 

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