Acupuncture is something that I’ve always been curious about. I know many women who have had success with it as a tool for improving fertility outcomes, and I wanted to learn more about how this healing technique actually works. After hearing Aimee Raupp speak at a Sakara Life event on fertility, I knew that she was just the person to answer all my questions.
Aimee Raupp, MS, LAc, is a renowned women’s health & wellness expert and the author of the books Chill Out & Get Healthy, Yes, You Can Get Pregnant, and Body Belief. A licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in private practice in New York, she holds a Master of Science degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and a Bachelor’s degree in biology from Rutgers University.
Aimee is also the founder of the Aimee Raupp Beauty line of hand-crafted, organic skincare products. She has appeared on “The View” and has been featured in Glamour, Allure, Well + Good, GOOP, Shape, and Redbook. Her commitment to helping women to believe in their bodies and to support them holistically came through in our conversation, and her advice on approaching fertility issues alone makes the interview well worth the read!
What brought you to this work and how has your perspective on health changed over time?
My original goal in life was to become a medical doctor and I was en route to that in my early 20’s – and I consider it a blessing that I didn’t get into medical school when I first applied. That set me on a path of neuroscience and biology research, which led me to feeling frustrated by how we were compartmentalizing the research and not looking at the whole picture. As luck would have it, I was working with a mentor whose wife was going through acupuncture for some issues with her health, and he had become fascinated by it. He had purchased a book The Web That Has No Weaver by Ted Kaptchuk, and he gave that to me. Ted is an acupuncturist by trade but he is also one of the biggest placebo research scientists up at Harvard. I wound up enrolling in acupuncturist school, which is where I started, and I’ve never looked back.
I started a general clinic when I graduated, but I was seeing a lot of women, and a lot of hormonal issues, and menopausal issues, and that’s where my passion for not just nutrition and Chinese herbs, but lifestyle and the mind-body piece, really came together. Now, with every book I write I get to go even deeper, and learn more – and as I get older, I get wiser.
So that’s how it all unfolded. I never sought out infertility or any specific health issue, and they’re not separate to me. When I’m optimizing wellness, I’m optimizing fertility, and vice versa.
To me, health is mental, physical, emotional, nutritional, and when we work on all four of those pillars, we will see the shifts that we want to see.
When it comes to acupuncture, I feel like it’s a tool that comes up when addressing infertility — partly because of pop culture references, like Charlotte York getting acupuncture to improve fertility in Sex and the City — but many women don’t know how it actually works. Can you speak to that?
The whole premise is that any “dis-ease” – disharmony, illness, physical problems – is a sign that chi, the body’s energy, isn’t flowing properly and is getting stuck somewhere. Acupuncture helps to direct that energy to the right places.
There are over 300 acupuncture points in the body, and twelve to fourteen meridians, which the energy runs through. Each meridian correlates with an organ like the liver or the spleen or the kidney. Based on the intake form, and my observations of pulse and palpating certain areas of the body, I come up with a diagnosis – that the kidney is weak, or the spleen is in need of support. Then I choose points on the body that will support those organs.
From a research prospective, acupuncture seems to have an effect on the entire endocrine system – the adrenals, the thyroid, the HPA access – and it has a strong regulatory effect and can bring about homeostasis. Hormonal issues are really just imbalances, and acupuncture restores balance.
In reading your book Yes, You Can Get Pregnant, I was fascinated by the connection you make between the kidneys and courage, and how that supports fertility. Can you tell us more about that?
I think that a big thing that we see right now in society when it comes to women is all this fear around their fertility. They know someone who had issues in that area, or their doctor told them that they should be worried about their fertility because of their age or some other factor. So, the environment we live in is taking a toll on our courage and our kidney energy, because the two are connected.
I really tap into that in Yes, You Can Get Pregnant, and also in my most recent book Body Belief, but a key thing is starting to believe in your body again. That is a big shift for a lot of women because they come in and they are so disconnected, they’re living in fear, and are so focused on the problem that the solution isn’t available to them.
I see my job as getting them to connect with themselves again. When I ask my clients if they believe they can get pregnant, most of them will say “yes.” It’s a matter of getting them back to their own truth and shifting belief systems.
This also relates to stress because fear produces a stress response, and so many women are living with chronic stress anyway. This depletes our adrenals and our thyroid, which effects our entire endocrine system. It’s the same premise – if I can get them to stop living in fear, in fight-or-flight, then their hormones will shift and come back into balance.
I was also surprised by where some of these age numbers come from – that we should be mindful about our fertility at 30 and that its in rapid decline at 35 – and you discuss this in the book. Is age as big a deal as we think it is?
Age is just one small piece of it, and these numbers are taken from fertility clinics, and from a study conducted on French birth records centuries ago, back before antibiotics were even invented. So, this fixation on the numbers is really invalid. It can be a problem in the research world because people often manipulate the data to support what they want to prove.
We can’t collect data on fertility because more women get pregnant than don’t. These studies look at women who are already struggling – by the time a woman gets to a fertility clinic she’s been trying at least six to nine months, so it’s a skewed sample. On the flipside, women get pregnant at 40 all the time. I did, and it was pretty easy for me. I also have clients come through my clinic who get pregnant naturally, without IVF and with their own eggs, at 42, 43, 45.
I encourage women to notice all the fertility that’s around them instead of focusing on the negatives.
I’m sure it does vary a little bit along the age spectrum, but at what point would you encourage a couple to seek help and alternative therapies like acupuncture if they’ve been trying to get pregnant without success?
I think acupuncture is an amazing pre-conception tool, and it’s great to start even before you realize there may be an issue. It’s smart to be ahead of the game. The women in the clinic who have been working with me on other things like anxiety or digestive disorders, for example, when they try to get pregnant, they get pregnant right away.
If you are trying and it doesn’t happen right away, I would say after three to six months, either read my book and other books on Amazon in the same category, start seeing an acupuncturist, focus on your health – and not specifically on your fertility. Then, if it doesn’t happen within a year and you’ve been working on your stress levels, your diet and have been getting acupuncture, then you should go to a fertility clinic. And even then, look at it like you’re just collecting information – it doesn’t have to mean that you’re going straight to IVF.
As far as age goes, if a woman is 45 and comes to me, we will work together and change some things – diet, lifestyle, herbs – but if it doesn’t happen then I will recommend going to the fertility clinic sooner, after about three months, because she’s 45. I’m not worried about 43 even, but 45 seems to be the cutoff for me where there is a reality that we need to be aware of.
But, I’m guessing that even with a 45-year old who ends up going the fertility clinic route, you’re still supporting her throughout her fertility journey.
Right, because she’ll have a better IVF outcome. I have a lot of clients who come to me after they’ve done a few rounds of IVF unsuccessfully, and after working with me they either get pregnant naturally or the next IVF cycle they do is the best one they’ve ever had. Their egg quality can be better at 43 than it was at 38, and that goes against every statistic.
We’ve focused a lot on the infertility piece, but there are a lot of conditions that can contribute to it like PCOS, endometriosis, irregular periods – can acupuncture help with these, too?
Oh, yes. Again, it’s the same thing. We’re looking at the whole system and using acupuncture as a tool to bring it into balance. With my PCOS clients, for instance, I want them working with me before they start trying because we can correct the imbalance, and then they won’t have an issue when they want to get pregnant.
What are the biggest things women should be focusing on in terms of their reproductive health?
The top priority is diet – don’t eat any processed foods, eat lots of healthy fats. Then look at your skincare routine because what you put on your skin gets into your bloodstream and effects your hormones. They say that the average woman is exposed to something like 500 chemicals before she leaves the house in the morning – so really take that seriously.
And then, tune into your body in a way that you are supporting it rather than ignoring it. Ask your body what you can do to support it, and tune into your beliefs and address any pressure that you’re putting on yourself. Accept the unfolding instead of trying to force the process.
When it comes to finding an acupuncturist or Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, is there a resource you advise women to use to make sure that they find the right type of professional?
I love the website nccaom.org, the National Certification for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. That is the national acupuncture certification, so I recommend that you only see acupuncturists that have that. And then there is aborm.org, which is a resource for finding acupuncturists with infertility-knowledge, so that can be a good one. I am not ABORM-certified, since I already have such a strong Western medicine background. There is no special fertility acupuncture, but knowledge of the western medicine protocols in this area can be helpful.
You should also look for referrals from friends or family members who went and had a good experience.
For women who are interested in acupuncture but might not be able to see an acupuncturist regularly – if they can’t afford it or if it’s not readily available to them for whatever reason – are their home practices or anything they can practice on their own that you would recommend?
I have a great acupressure guide on my site that I love – it comes with a video and it enables you to achieve some of the therapeutic results on your own. My book Yes, You Can Get Pregnant is also a great place to start since there are so many other things you can focus on to align your energy and improve your health. I also have the “Yes, You Can Get Pregnant” e-course, which provides online instruction and resources, and we have women joining us there from all over the world.
I also have women who cannot afford the full regimen, so they come in once a month for acupuncture or every six weeks. Some is certainly better than none, if you can make some of it work.
Do you ever have clients interested in what are considered “alternative therapies” who experience pushback from their Western medicine doctors wanting to push them to a more conventional route? What advice do you give them?
Unfortunately, yes. But, I should say that there are also a lot of docs out there, especially fertility docs, who love acupuncture because there’s research that shows that acupuncture improves IVF outcomes. They don’t love Chinese herbs, but they love acupuncture. I also have doctors who recommend me for the dietary stuff, and there are a handful of clinics in the city now that are recommending gluten-free, dairy-free, high-healthy-fat diets with animal protein. So, some of those doctors have me on their website now as a resource.
What I typically find is that doctors will be supportive of some things but not other things. What I tell women is to know who you’re going to for what. You’re seeing me for the diet, the lifestyle and the emotional support. You’re seeing your doctor, and different specialists, for other things. Have confidence in what feels right to you instead of trying to get everyone to agree. Think of it as a team – I am one team member and your reproductive endocrinologist is another team member, and we don’t necessarily have to agree on everything. You have to be connected enough to your body to know what’s best for you.
Photo via Aimee Raupp
Kara Ferreira is a fertility health expert who works with women to troubleshoot their monthly cycles and digestion so that they can feel their best and be their best selves. Read her full bio here.