A recent British trial using acupuncture alongside IVF has demonstrated that acupuncture more than doubles women’s chances of having a baby. There has been a suggestion that acupuncture should be offered on the NHS to support IVF cycles. I would fully support this, although my suggestion would be that it is acupuncture administered by practitioners who have undertaken a full 3 year training, rather than those who have done a minimal training in dry needle technique. In the recent trial; 71 women received acupuncture and IVF, 21 of these became pregnant. Compared to 6 of the 69 in the IVF only group. Of course, critics will say “there was no placebo and the study was small and therefore not significant”. But this will not deter women from seeking acupuncture. As acupuncturists we have known that acupuncture increases the chances of success during IVF, as well as optimizing natural fertility, for a long time; 14 years ago the Paulus (2002) study demonstrated excellent results. And couples have been flocking to acupuncturists ever since. The paper, published in Fertility and Sterility, demonstrated a 42.5% pregnancy rate in the acupuncture and IVF group verses a 26.3% success rate in the IVF group. Acupuncture is one of the oldest treatments in existence with a long recorded history of efficacy. Of course trials are difficult to run and it is not easy to find a suitable placebo for acupuncture. It is not like popping a pill. Researchers have struggled to find a placebo that does not create a change in the body in a similar way to acupuncture. Trials are also expensive to run and, unlike drugs companies who have huge budgets and make a lot of profit, no one stands to profit that much from promoting acupuncture. This is the conflict within medicine and it is only the couples that suffer if they are not offered effective treatments that are easy to administer, do no harm and are relatively inexpensive. I totally disagree with peddling treatments that do not work or give patients false hope. I am as angered as the pro-scientists about websites claiming that they cure everything from headaches to breast cancer. But I am also deeply angered by people who first say something does not work and then, when it is proven to work, they say it is not important. One can only imagine they have their own interests at heart and not the interests of their patients One of my personal frustrations has been that, to date, all the research has been focused on patients receiving acupuncture treatment before and after embryo transfer (although this recent study gave 4 not 2 treatments). 14 years after the Paulus study why are we still asking the same question? I would love to see the researchers look outside of this tiny window and extend their research question; ‘If acupuncture can do this during IVF then what can it do to optimize fertility outside of IVF?’ In my clinic, we find we have the best results when acupuncture is administered throughout the IVF cycle. Our experience has demonstrated that this may improve the growth of the follicles, helping to balance growth on each ovary. Help to prepare the endometrium so that the correct thickness is achieved. Acupuncture can also reduce discomfort, constipation and bloating around egg collection; helping to prepare the body for transfer. An additional benefit is that patients report feeling calmer and more relaxed, releasing endorphins. We also use acupuncture as preparation for IVF, or in between failed IVF cycles. Men too can benefit from using acupuncture prior to and during IVF, particularly if there is male factor infertility or they have high stress levels. Many men enjoy being involved in the process and find acupuncture helps them relax. We have a long way to go in order to design trials that can measure the efficacy of acupuncture. It is also important to remember that many procedures used in medicine have also not been rigorously tested. Early pregnancy scanning is one of these. Acupuncture has the longest documented record of safe and effective treatment, more than any other procedure. And now the scientific evidence is growing and couples will vote with their feet. As one open minded IVF consultant said to me last week; “why wouldn’t you use acupuncture alongside IVF?”
Further reading Clarke, R, Klock, S & Georghegan, A, (1999). “An Increased vulnerability to stress is associated with poor semen quality among in-vitro fertilisation patients”, Human Reprod, 14(3):753-8. Louis, G, Lum, K, Sundaram, R et al. (2011). “Stress reduces conception probabilities across the fertile window: Evidence in support of relaxation”, Fertility & Sterility, 95:2184-2189. Lynch, C, Sundaram, R, Maisog, J et al. (2014).”Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study – the LIFE study”, Human Reprod, 29(5):1067-75. Sanders, K & Bruce, N, (1997), “A prospective study of psychosocial stress and fertility in women”, Human Reprod, 12(10):2324-9.
For full analysis on IVF and Acupuncture studies please see: Journal of Chinese Medicine Vol No 99. June 2012 The Effects of Acupuncture Protocol Modification On Pregnancy Rates When Used As An Adjunct To IVF. Jo Hull https://www.jcm.co.uk/news/jcm-article-archive/